Category Archives: Free will

John 6:44: God’s drawing power for salvation

Image result for clipart image No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day

By Spencer D Gear PhD

What does this verse mean? ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day’ (John 6:44 ESV).

1. Questions emerge

  • Does the context of the verse shed any light on understanding?
  • Does God the Father ‘draw’ only some people in his predestination to eternal life?
  • What happens to those who are not drawn? Are they left to be damned?
  • If the person drawn is ‘raised up’ at the last day, what does that mean?

On an Internet Christian forum I met a person with this understanding:

The same people that insist on telling me that “every person without exception” was drawn in John 3, refuse to touch the fact that in John 6:44 everyone drawn comes to Jesus and is raised to eternal life at the last day. I know it does not say “to eternal life” in John 6:44 but what is the point of the verse in its context if God draws and teaches and raises you to eternal damnation? [… and people accuse the God of Calvinism of being a monster.][1]

Does John 6:44 teach what this fellow claims?

2. The context

To gain a perspective on what Jesus was communicating, the context states:

41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me — 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life (John 6:41-47 ESV).

  • The Jews confused Jesus metaphorical statement, ‘I am the bread … from heaven’ with Jesus’ being the child of Joseph and Mary whom they knew (vv 41-42).
  • Then he taught that nobody can come to him ‘unless the Father who sent me draws him’ (v 44) and that person will be raised up ‘on the last day’ (v 44).
  • The teaching from the Prophets was that everyone who heard and learned from the Father comes to Jesus (v 45).
  • Only Jesus, the one from God, has seen the Father (v 46).
  • He is teaching about eternal life: ‘whoever believes has eternal life’ (v 47).

3. Who is drawn by God for eternal life?

Go back to John 6:37 to gain some clarity: ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out’ (ESV).

That sounds like it’s done and dusted:

All that the Father gives me will come to me. Jesus’ confidence in the success of his mission is frankly predestinarian….

The flow of the verse is then as follows: All that (a singular neuter is used to refer to the elect collectively) the Father gives to Jesus, as his gift to his Son, will surely come to him; and whoever in fact comes (by virtue of being given by the Father to the Son), Jesus undertakes to keep in, to preserve (Carson 1991:290).

This kind of Calvinistic thinking causes Jacob Gerber to conclude with Carson:

All that the Father gives to the Son will irresistibly come to the Son by the work of the Holy Spirit, and of all those who do come (that is, the entirety of the elect), the Son will unfailingly preserve them, including by raising them up from the dead on the last day. In the Five Points of Calvinism, this doctrine that the Son cannot lose a single one of all whom the Father give to him—including you—is commonly referred to as the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints (Gerber 2017:8)

Really? Carson and Gerber are Calvinistic commentators/writers.

In my view, Gerber has imposed his Calvinistic TULIP (especially the P) onto this text. John 6:37 teaches that …

  • Those chosen by the Father will come to Jesus, and
  • Those who come to Jesus will never be cast out.

But …

4. Are there limitations on God’s drawing power?

Does God choose some for salvation and leave the rest, as Calvinists teach through their TULIP doctrine?

This is taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith (a confession of the Presbyterian & Reformed Churches): (2) WCF 3:3-4 – Some are predestined to eternal life, others foreordained to death; this number is fixed.

4.1   D A Carson’s view

Carson considers that John 6:37 teaches Calvinistic predestination. How does he interpret John 6:44?

The combination of v. 37a and v.44 prove that this ‘drawing’ activity of the Father cannot be reduced to what theologians sometimes call ‘prevenient grace’ dispensed to every individual, for this ‘drawing’ is selective, or else the negative note in v. 44 is meaningless (Carson 1991:393).

So, for him, God’s drawing power is selective, i.e. some are chosen for salvation, which means by application that the rest are chosen by God for damnation. What’s the point of God’s wrath being poured out on people if they have no opportunity to flee from his wrath by which they are damned deterministically?

Image result for image And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myselfHow, then, does Carson interpret John 12:32,? Is it possible for ‘all’ to be drawn when ‘all’ actually  means ‘only some’?

Carson applies a typical Calvinistic technique:

There, (6:44) the focus is on those individuals whom the Father gives to the Son, whom the Son infallibly preserves and raises up at the last day. Here, ‘all men’ reminds the reader of what triggered these statements, viz. the arrival of the Greeks, and means ‘all people without distinction, Jews and Gentiles alike’, not all individuals without exception, since the surrounding context has just established judgment as a major theme (v. 31), a time for distinguishing between those who love their lives (and therefore lose them) and those who hate their lives (and therefore keep them for eternal life, v. 25). The critical event in Jesus’ ministry that sanctions his drawing of all people without distinction, and not Jews only (cf. 10:16; 11:52), is his cross/exaltation, his being ‘lifted up’. This is the implicit answer to the Greeks: the hour has come for him to die and be exalted, and in the wake of that passion/ glorification they will be able to approach him as freely as do the children of the old covenant (Carson 1991:444).

He makes ‘all men’ mean ‘all people without distinction’ and not ‘all individuals without exception’. He uses John 10:16 and 11:52 to support this view.

  • John 10:16 states, ‘And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd’. The context of John 9:40 indicates Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees and the ‘other sheep’ indicates non-Jews – all the peoples of the world. Surely Jesus had no need to indicate that his ‘other sheep’ includes all individual Egyptians, Syrians, Ethiopians, Bereans, etc.
  • John 11:52 states, ‘and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad’. The context deals with what followed Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead.

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs (John 11:45-47 ESV).

The immediate context of v. 52 states:

Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death (John 11:49-52).

One man, Jesus, was to die ‘for the people’ and the ‘whole nation should not perish’. What are we to make of the statement that ‘Jesus would die for the nation’ and ‘to gather into one the children of God’ who are scattered’? I can’t see anything here that states clearly that Jesus’ death ‘for the nation’ was not for all the people of the nation.

Let’s check out a Lutheran exegete and commentator:

4.2   R C H Lenski

We’ll look at the disputed verses one at a time. Please refer to the quotation of these verses above.

Verse 37:

  • ‘all that’ refers to the mass of people, ‘each individual’;
  • The neuter ‘him that’ (‘whoever’ ESV) is ‘the neuter singular and is used as an abstract expression and as such sums up the whole mass of believers of all ages and speaks of them as a unit’ (Lenski 1943:463).
  • ‘All believers are regarded as one complete unit’ (Vincent 1887/1946:150).

Lenski considers this passage teaches,

the gift as having been made once for all and now being permanent as such a gift…. For all that the Father “gives to me,” Jesus says, “shall get to me … because the Father’s gift cannot possibly fail…. In v. 39 the perfect tense, “all that he has given to me,” pictures the gift from the viewpoint of the last day when Jesus will appear and will not have lost any part of the gift (Lenski 1887/1946:464).

Lenski’s interpretation of this passage in John 6 seems to be open to contextual interpretation, without Calvinistic imposition:

But in these expressions, “all that the Father gives,” and, “all that he has given” Jesus speaks of all believers of all ages as already being present to the eyes of God, he also thus is giving them to Jesus … There, however, is not a fixed number, in some mysterious way chosen by an absolute decree of God to be such a gift to Jesus. Such an exegesis is wholly dogmatic and carries into what Jesus says a thought that is not contained in his words. On the other hand, equally dogmatic is the view that those who constitute God’s gift to Jesus are not those who in the first place are morally better than the rest, or who at least act better than the rest when the gospel is brought to them. These words of Jesus are without a trace of either predestinarian of synergism.[2] God’s grace is universal. He would give all men to Jesus. The only reason he does not do so is because so many men obdurately refuse to be part of that gift. On the other hand, God’s grace is alone efficacious….

Do they want to be part of this gift, or do they mean to exclude themselves?” (Lenski 1946/1961:464-465).

So, he does not consider John 6 teaches predestination (monergism)[3] or human responsibility (synergism).

Lenski’s interpretation of this chapter is that ‘Him that comes to me’ (‘whoever comes to me’, Jn 6:37 ESV) ‘makes the matter individual, personal, and a voluntary act. The Father’s drawing (v. 44) is one of grace alone, thus it is efficacious, wholly sufficient, able to change the unwilling into the willing, but not by coercion, not irresistibly. Man can obdurately [stubbornly] refuse to come. Yet when he comes he does so only through the blessed power of grace’ (Lenski 1946/1961:465).

John 12:32

‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’ (ESV).

Lenski demonstrates that the same ‘drawing power’ of 6:44 (cf. 6:37) also is used here, not for the Father, but for Jesus.

This is the drawing exerted by grace …[4] alike in effectiveness and seriousness for all men, not in any way limited on God’s part. Yet here, as in 6:37; 6:44; 10:16; 11:52, and other connections, Jesus is speaking of this universal and unlimited grace only insofar as it succeeds in actually drawing men from the world to himself. All are alike drawn, but by their perverse obduracy [stubbornness] many nullify all the power of grace and harden themselves in unbelief (Matt. 23:37), while others, in equal sin and guilt, are converted by this same power of grace. Why some are thus lost and others won, all being under the same grace, constitutes a mystery insoluble by our minds, about which we know only this, that those who are lost are lost solely by their own guilt, while those who are won are won solely by divine grace. Jesus is speaking only of the latter when he says, “I will draw all unto me.”

Lenski is careful to point out that this cannot be by irresistible grace because of the totality of Scripture. Matt 23:37 is clear that the stubborn can resist God, ‘’Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (NRSVA)

5. Conclusion

The battles between Calvinism (monergism) and non-Calvinism (e.g. synergism) are seen in exegesis of John 6 and John 12.

The Calvinist interprets 6:37, 44 as referring to predestination of an elect group while the Lutheran exegete provides evidence to counter this irresistible grace view.

I conclude with Lenski that the biblical emphasis is that God provides salvation, extends his grace to all people, but they can be stubborn and resist his offer of salvation.

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality (Rom 2:6-11 ESV).

See my related articles:

Image result for clipart single color arrow pointing to right What is the nature of human free will?

Image result for clipart single color arrow pointing to rightCalvinists, free will and a better alternative

Image result for clipart single color arrow pointing to rightCan people choose to reject salvation?

Image result for clipart single color arrow pointing to rightSproul damns Arminianism by association with semi-Pelagianism

6.   Works consulted

Carson, D A 1991. The Gospel according to John. Leicester, England / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Inter-Varsity Press / William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Gerber, J 2017. Chapter 14: The Food of Jesus (online). Available at: https://jacobgerber.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/John-6-22-59.pdf (Accessed

Lenski, R C H 1943. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (1943 Lutheran Book Concern; assigned 1961 to Augsburg Publishing House).

Vincent, M R 1887/1946. Word studies in the New Testament, vol 2: The writings of John. New York City, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons (reprinted 1946. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).

7.   Notes


[1] Christianity Board 2019. ‘Total Inability: Gen 1-4’, atpollard#59, 3 September. Available at: https://www.christianityboard.com/threads/total-inability-genesis-1-4.30088/page-3#post-618543 (Accessed 4 September 2019).

[2]Synergism is defined as two or more agents working together to produce a result that is not obtainable independently.  In our natural world there are many synergistic relationships.  The same is true of the spiritual.

From a Biblical perspective this means that God and humanity work together, each contributing their part to produce salvation for the individual.  In other words God will not save a man without the man – God will not save a woman without the woman.  God works with the man, the woman, to produce this glorious salvation.

Synergism is the teaching of the Word of God’ (Biblical Synergism. Accessed 5 September 2019).

[3]Monergism: In regeneration, the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ independent of any cooperation from our unregenerated human nature. He quickens us through the outward call cast forth by the preaching of His Word, disarms our innate hostility, removes our blindness, illumines our mind, creates understanding, turns our heart of stone to a heart of flesh — giving rise to a delight in His Word — all that we might, with our renewed affections, willingly & gladly embrace Christ’ (What is monergism? Accessed 5 September 2019).

[4] He inserted ‘through the means of grace (Word and Sacrament)’, which I’ve deleted, as I don’t consider that people are drawn to Christ by the means of the Word of God and Sacrament. Instead, they are drawn through the proclamation of the Gospel. See Rom 10:17.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 06 September 2019.

Related imageRelated imageRelated imageRelated image

Was John Calvin a TULIP Calvinist?

By Spencer D Gear PhD

clip_image002

(Tulip image courtesy photos public domain)

Does it matter what your church teaches and practices concerning Christian salvation?

What is the future for churches that proclaim the following?

clip_image004All people are saved (universalism)?

clip_image005People have no say in whether they accept or reject the Gospel of salvation?

clip_image004[1]The whole of humanity is so corrupted inwardly that there is no hope of salvation without God’s supernatural intervention – without that person’s agreement.

clip_image006People have a free will that enables them to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation.

clip_image005[1]The offer of salvation is open to everyone in the world?

Two of these positions come under what is known as the salvation theology of Calvinism.They are:

clip_image005People have no say in whether they accept or reject the Gospel of salvation?

clip_image004[1]The whole of humanity is so corrupted inwardly that there is no hope of salvation without God’s supernatural intervention – without that person’s agreement.

In this article, I will examine whether the teaching of TULIP was included in the doctrines of Calvin.

I’m particularly concerned with whether John Calvin, who preceded the formulation of TULIP, believed the doctrines of TULIP.

1. What is TULIP Calvinism?

TULIP is an acronym for the theology expounded at the Synod of Dort (1618-19), held in the city of Dordrecht, the Netherlands, that responded to the five points of the Arminian Remonstrance. These doctrines have been summarised as TULIP. Here is a brief explanation of these five doctrines at: ‘The Calvinistic “TULIP”’:[1]

In brief, TULIP means:

clip_image008 – ‘total depravity. This doesn’t mean people are as bad as they can be. It means that sin is in every part of one’s being, including the mind and will, so that a man cannot save himself’.

clip_image010– ‘unconditional election. God chooses to save people unconditionally; that is, they are not chosen on the basis of their own merit’.

clip_image012 – ‘limited atonement. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross was for the purpose of saving the elect’.

clip_image014 – ‘irresistible grace. When God has chosen to save someone, He will.

clip_image016 – perseverance of the saints. Those people God chooses cannot lose their salvation; they will continue to believe. If they fall away, it will be only for a time.

Since Calvin did not originate TULIP, the purpose of this article is to discover from Calvin’s writings if he taught the theology expressed in TULIP.

Of necessity, this article will require many quotes from Calvin, especially to demonstrate favour or disfavour towards each point of TULIP.

clip_image0181.1 Total Depravity:

Calvin wrote in Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.2.26: ‘The will is so utterly vitiated[2] and corrupted in every part as to produce nothing but evil’.

Elsewhere in Institutes he states:

‘Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,’ (Gen. 6:5; 8:21). If every thing which our mind conceives, meditates plans, and resolves, is always evil, how can it ever think of doing what is pleasing to God, to whom righteousness and holiness alone are acceptable? (John Calvin, Institutes, Book 2:2.25)

… Man, since he was corrupted by the fall, sins not forced or unwilling, but voluntarily, by a most forward bias of the mind; not by violent compulsion, or external force, but by the movement of his own passion; and yet such is the depravity of his nature, that he cannot move and act except in the direction of evil. If this is true, the thing not obscurely expressed is, that he is under a necessity of sinning (Institutes Book 2:3:5).

clip_image020See my articles in support of total depravity:

clip_image0221.2 Unconditional Election:

Calvin wrote in Institutes of the Christian Religion:

Book Three, Chapter 21.1: OF THE ETERNAL ELECTION, BY WHICH GOD HAS PREDESTINATED SOME TO SALVATION, AND OTHERS TO DESTRUCTION.

The covenant of life is not preached equally to all, and among those to whom it is preached, does not always meet with the same reception. This diversity displays the unsearchable depth of the divine judgment, and is without doubt subordinate to God’s purpose of eternal election.

But if it is plainly owing to the mere pleasure of God that salvation is spontaneously offered to some, while others have no access to it, great and difficult questions immediately arise, questions which are inexplicable, when just views are not entertained concerning election and predestination. To many this seems a perplexing subject, because they deem it most incongruous that of the great body of mankind some should be predestinated to salvation, and others to destruction.

How ceaselessly they entangle themselves will appear as we proceed. We may add, that in the very obscurity which deters them, we may see not only the utility of this doctrine, but also its most pleasant fruits. We shall never feel persuaded as we ought that our salvation flows from the free mercy of God as its fountain, until we are made acquainted with his eternal election, the grace of God being illustrated by the contrast–viz. that he does not adopt all promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what he denies to others.

See also Institutes 3.22.7,10. In point 10 of this quote, Calvin wrote:

Some object that God would be inconsistent with himself, in inviting all without distinction while he elects only a few. Thus, according to them, the universality of the promise destroys the distinction of special grace. . . . But it is by Isaiah he more clearly demonstrates how he destines the promises of salvation specially to the elect (Isa. 8:16); for he declares that his disciples would consist of them only, and not indiscriminately of the whole human race. Whence it is evident that the doctrine of salvation, which is said to be set apart for the sons of the Church only, is abused when it is represented as effectually available to all. For the present let it suffice to observe, that though the word of the gospel is addressed generally to all, yet the gift of faith is rare (emphasis added).

This point also infers the doctrine of Limited Atonement as well.

In his commentary on Romans 9:3 he wrote:

It was then a proof of the most ardent love, that Paul hesitated not to wish for himself that condemnation which he was impending over the Jews, in order that he might deliver them. It is no objection that he knew that his salvation was based on the election of God, which could by no means fail; for as those ardent feelings hurry us on impetuously, so they see and regard nothing but the object in view. So Paul did not connect God’s election with his wish, but the remembrance of that being passed by, he was wholly intent on the salvation of the Jews (Calvin’s Commentary, Romans 9:3).

Second Timothy 2:19 (ESV) states, ‘But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity”’.

Calvin responded:

Having this seal ([It] denotes either “a seal” or “the print of a seal”) having led into a mistake some people who thought that it was intended to denote a mark or impress, I have translated it sigillum (a seal,) which is less ambiguous. And, indeed, Paul means, that under the secret guardianship of God, as a signet, is contained the salvation of the elect, as Scripture testifies that they are “written in the book of life.” (Psalm 69:28; Philippians 4:3.)

The Lord knoweth who are his This clause, together with the word seal, reminds us, that we must not judge, by our own opinion, whether the number of the elect is great or small; for what God hath sealed he wishes to be, in some respect, shut up from us. Besides, if it is the prerogative of God to know who are his, we need not wonder if a great number of them are often unknown to us, or even if we fall into mistakes in making the selection.

Yet we ought always to observe why and for what purpose he makes mention of a seal; that is, when we see such occurrences, let us instantly call to remembrance what we are taught by the Apostle John, that “they who went out from us were not of us” (1 John 2:19) (Commentary on 2 Timothy 2:19-21).

While Calvin’s language is not that of unconditional election but elect who are known only to God who has sealed them, shut them in. That sounds awfully like unconditional election language.

Elsewhere he stated it more clearly: ‘It is no small matter to have the souls perishes who are bought by the blood of Christ’. (A Selection of the Most Celebrated Sermons by John Calvin: Titus 1:15-16, p. 84).

This reads like universal atonement but the same sermon he wrote of God’s eternal predestination and election before the world began:

Whereupon hangeth our salvation? Is it not upon the election and choice that hath been from everlasting? God chose us before we were. What could we do then? We were made fit, We were well disposed to come to God. Nay, we see that our salvation doth not begin after we have knowledge, discretion, and good desires; but it is grounded in God’s everlasting decree, which was before any part of the world was made: (A Selection of the Most Celebrated Sermons by John Calvin: Sermon II, 2 Tim 1:8-9. p. 42).

There you have the contradictory nature of Calvin’s views: (1) Souls perish who have been bought by Jesus’ blood sacrifice, BUT (2) God’s salvation is grounded in His decree before believers were created and before the world came into existence.

I’m befuddled how Calvin could say that he bought the souls of unbelievers with his blood but they didn’t make it into the elect. This is a glaring example of Calvin’s violation of the law of Noncontradiction.

clip_image020[1]See my articles opposing unconditional election:

clip_image0241.3 Limited Atonement

Calvin wrote (quoted above) that salvation is solely for the ‘sons’ (believers) of the church and is not effectual for all. So, Jesus’ salvation through substitutionary sacrifice could not have been for everyone.

By application, it means Jesus’ atonement was for a limited number of people, ‘the sons of the church’. Did he believe in limited atonement? Was it only for the elect of God? Let’s check him out!

He continued:

Though the word of the gospel is addressed generally to all, yet the gift of faith is rare. Isaiah assigns the cause when he says that the arm of the Lord is not revealed to all (Isa. 53:1). Had he said, that the gospel is malignantly and perversely condemned, because many obstinately refuse to hear, there might perhaps be some color for this universal call (Institutes 3.22.10).

Paul Helm’s research on Calvin and the atonement led to this conclusion:

While Calvin did not commit himself to any version of the doctrine of definite atonement, his thought is consistent with that doctrine; that is, he did not deny it in express terms, but by other things that he most definitely did hold to, he may be said to be committed to that doctrine. The distinction is an important one in order to avoid the charge of anachronism (Helm 2013:98).

Not all Calvinistic scholars are in agreement with Helm’s conclusions as he acknowledged:

Those who claim that Calvin held to indefinite atonement are by no means agreed about its consequences. G. Michael Thomas refers to a “dilemma” in Calvin’s theology, the existence of “stress points,” rendering Calvin’s overall position “inherently unstable.” R. T. Kendall holds that while Calvin had an unlimited view of the atonement, Christ’s intercessions were definite, on behalf of the elect alone. Kevin D. Kennedy claims that, according to Calvin, while atonement is universal, union with Christ is particular. The difficulty with the last two views, which tend in the direction of post-redemptionism, or Amyraldianism,[3] is that they imperil the unity of the divine decree, and the divine operations ad extra that Calvin emphasized (Helm 2013:100).

He included this example from Calvin to support his conclusion:

That which Augustine adds in continuation must by no means be omitted. “Since we know not (says he) who belongeth to the number of the predestinated, and who doth not, we ought so to feel as to wish all to be saved. From this it will come to pass that whosoever shall come in our way, we shall desire to make him a partaker of the peace which we ourselves enjoy. ‘Our peace,’ however, will nevertheless ‘rest upon the sons of peace’ (John Calvin, A Treatise of the Eternal Predestination of God).

Calvin wrote this treatise to challenge the teachings of ‘Albertus Pighius, the Campanian, a man of evidently phrensied audacity, [who] attempted, at the same time, and in the same book, to establish the free-will of man. and to subvert the secret counsel of God, by which He chooses some to salvation and appoints others to eternal destruction’ (ibid.).

Other Calvinistic scholars are not as sure as Helm – neither am I – about Calvin’s support for limited atonement. The following evidence should demonstrate that Calvin’s teaching on the scope of the atonement extended to the whole world. But there are passages where he is double minded.

1.3.1   I John 2:2 (ESV) states:

‘He [Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’.

Calvin’s interpretation endorses his view of limited atonement.

And not for ours only He added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel.

Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated?…

They who seek to avoid this absurdity [universalism – all saved, including Satan], have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world. (Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles: John 2:1-2).

Honestly, is that what 1 John 2:2 teaches? Sounds more like Calvin pushing his own Reformed barrow to me.

Here Calvin confirmed again that Christ’s propitiation/expiation was not for the sins of the whole world of unbelievers but for the ‘whole Church’ and that ‘all … does not include the reprobate’. It only designates those who ‘should believe’.

Simply put, that is not what 1 John 2:2 teaches. Jesus died for ‘our sins’ (believers’ sins) and ‘the sins of the whole world’ of unbelievers. Any other interpretation manufactures conclusions to agree with one’s presuppositions.

1.3.2 Conversely, Calvin also supported universal atonement

However, in other passages Calvin supported unlimited atonement. This is only a sample from some of his commentaries, Institutes, and other writings:[4]

He wrote:

We must now see in what way we become possessed of the blessings which God has bestowed on his only-begotten Son, not for private use, but to enrich the poor and needy. And the first thing to be attended to is, that so long as we are without Christ and separated from him, nothing which he suffered and did for the salvation of the human race is of the least benefit to us (Institutes 3.1.1).

Calvin used the language of the offer of universal salvation, hence unlimited atonement, to have limited effects on people:

If it is so (you will say), little faith can be put in the Gospel promises, which, in testifying concerning the will of God, declare that he wills what is contrary to his inviolable decree. Not at all; for however universal the promises of salvation may be, there is no discrepancy between them and the predestination of the reprobate, provided we attend to their effect. We know that the promises are effectual only when we receive them in faith, but, on the contrary, when faith is made void, the promise is of no effect (Institutes 3.24.17).

I find this commentary by Calvin to be conflicting, even contradictory:

This is my blood. I have already remarked that, when we are told that the blood is to be shed according to the narrative of Matthew — for the remission of sins, these words direct us to the sacrifice of the death of Christ, without the remembrance of which the Lord’s Supper is never observed in a proper manner. And, indeed, it is impossible for believing souls to be satisfied in any other way than by being assured that God is pacified towards them.

Which is shed for many. By the word many he means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race; for he contrasts many with one; as if he had said, that he will not be the Redeemer of one man only, but will die in order to deliver many from the condemnation of the curse. It must at the same time be observed, however, that by the words for you, as related by Luke — Christ directly addresses the disciples, and exhorts every believer to apply to his own advantage the shedding of blood Therefore, when we approach to the holy table, let us not only remember in general that the world has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but let every one consider for himself that his own sins have been expiated (Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke, vol 3, Mark 14:24).

On the one hand, the Lord’s Supper reminds believers that ‘God is pacified towards them’, i.e. His wrath towards sinners has been appeased (expiation). However, according to Calvin, ‘shed for many’ means for ‘the whole human race’. Wait a minute! Is it for the whole world? Not according to Luke where this message is directed to the disciples/believers and this shedding of blood is applied only to them and their own sin being expiated.

Here, I see that Calvin has violated the law of non-contradiction.

The law of non-contradiction states that A and not-A (where A is a proposition) cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. For example, my car cannot be parked in my driveway and not parked in my driveway at the same time and in the same sense.[5]

Calvin’s contradictory remarks were: (1) The Lord’s Supper reminds believers God is pacified towards them, and (2) When the ‘holy table’ is approached, ‘let us not only remember in general that the world has been redeemed by the blood of Christ’. Has the whole world been ‘redeemed’ by Christ’s death or only that of believers? He did not state it plainly as it is.

However, everyone does not embrace the Gospel that is proclaimed:

Accordingly, he is called our Head, and the first-born among many brethren, while, on the other hand, we are said to be ingrafted into him and clothed with him,[6] all which he possesses being, as I have said, nothing to us until we become one with him. And although it is true that we obtain this by faith, yet since we see that all do not indiscriminately embrace the offer of Christ which is made by the gospel, the very nature of the case teaches us to ascend higher, and inquire into the secret efficacy of the Spirit, to which it is owing that we enjoy Christ and all his blessings (Institutes 3.1.1).

1.3.3 Calvin, Scripture and universal atonement[7]

clip_image026 Matt 22:14: ‘For many are called, but few are chosen’ (ESV).

Calvin’s interpretation was:

The expression of our Saviour, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14), is also very improperly interpreted (see Book 3, chap. 2, sec. 11, 12). There will be no ambiguity in it, if we attend to what our former remarks ought to have made clear, viz., that there are two species of calling: for there is an universal call, by which God, through the external preaching of the word, invites all men alike, even those for whom he designs the call to be a savor of death, and the ground of a severer condemnation. Besides this there is a special call which, for the most part, God bestows on believers only, when by the internal illumination of the Spirit he causes the word preached to take deep root in their hearts (Institutes 3.24.8).

clip_image027 The parallel in the Synoptics is Mark 14:24 (ESV): ‘And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many”.

Concerning this verse, Calvin’s comment is significant:

Mark 14:24. This is my blood. I have already remarked that, when we are told that the blood is to be shed according to the narrative of Matthew — for the remission of sins, these words direct us to the sacrifice of the death of Christ, without the remembrance of which the Lord’s Supper is never observed in a proper manner. And, indeed, it is impossible for believing souls to be satisfied in any other way than by being assured that God is pacified towards them.

Which is shed for many. By the word many he means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race; for he contrasts many with one; as if he had said, that he will not be the Redeemer of one man only, but will die in order to deliver many from the condemnation of the curse. It must at the same time be observed, however, that by the words for you, as related by Luke — Christ directly addresses the disciples, and exhorts every believer to apply to his own advantage the shedding of blood Therefore, when we approach to the holy table, let us not only remember in general that the world has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but let every one consider for himself that his own sins have been expiated (Commentary on Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:17-20).

Here would have been an ideal opportunity for Calvin to expound on ‘many’ meaning that Jesus did not die for the whole world but only for the elect. He didn’t. Instead he stated that ‘many’ does not leave out a chunk of the world’s population that are excluded from Jesus’ atonement.

This was in opposition to contemporary Calvinistic commentator, the late William Hendriksen, who stated that ‘Jesus’ says that his blood is poured out “for many,” not for all’ (Hendriksen 1975:575).

This is in contrast with the biblical teaching in 1 Timothy 2:9 (ESV), ‘For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time’.

Jesus’ atonement cannot be ‘for many’ and that does not mean ‘for all’. Why is ‘for many’ used in this way? Lenski, a Lutheran commentator, explained the meaning of huper mallwn (‘in behalf of many’) in the synoptic parallel of Matt 26:28 as:

These polloi [many] are all men [people], for all of whom the blood was shed “for remission of sins,” and not merely the believers in whom this remission was realized. They are “many,” and thus extend far, far beyond the eleven. Mark combines this by using huper mallwn, “in behalf of many” in the sense of “in place of many, huper having the idea of substitution (Lenski 1943:1031).

clip_image026[1] John 1:29 (ESV): ‘The next day he [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming towards him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’

How would Calvin interpret ‘the sin of the world’? He leaves no doubt that it applies to all people, Jews and Gentiles – everyone:

Who taketh away the sin of the world. He uses the word sin in the singular number, for any kind of iniquity; as if he had said, that every kind of unrighteousness which alienates men from God is taken away by Christ. And when he says, the sin Of The World, he extends this favor indiscriminately to the whole human race; that the Jews might not think that he had been sent to them alone. But hence we infer that the whole world is involved in the same condemnation; and that as all men without exception are guilty of unrighteousness before God, they need to be reconciled to him (Commentary on John 1:29-34).

Calvin did not understand Jesus’ taking away the ‘sin of the world’ in any limited way. All were guilty of unrighteousness and needed to be reconciled to God through Christ’s death for all. Calvin is sounding more like Amyraldians who support a universal atonement.

clip_image026[2] John 3:14-16 (ESV):

Calvin’s commentary on John 3:16 was:

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.

Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith. Here, too, is displayed a wonderful effect of faith; for by it we receive Christ such as he is given to us by the Father — that is, as having freed us from the condemnation of eternal death, and made us heirs of eternal life, because, by the sacrifice of his death, he has atoned for our sins, that nothing may prevent God from acknowledging us as his sons. Since, therefore, faith embraces Christ, with the efficacy of his death and the fruit of his resurrection, we need not wonder if by it we obtain likewise the life of Christ (Commentary on John 3:16).

So, all are invited to Christ to partake of the Christian life and unbelievers are without excuse. However, while all people ‘without exception’ are invited to faith in Christ, but there is one brick wall for them: Only the elect have eyes opened by God.

There we have a violation of the Law of Noncontradiction again: All are invited to come but all do not have a chance of responding positively to the invitation. I could paraphrase Calvin’s position: ‘Yes, all of you can come to Christ but all of you can’t come because you are not elected to salvation’.

clip_image026[3] John 12:48 (ESV): ‘The one who rejects me [Jesus] and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day’.

How is it possible for anyone to reject Christ if he or she is included in TULIP theology? What did Calvin have to say about this verse? ‘And receiveth not my words…. We must therefore attend to this definition, that Christ is rejected when we do not embrace the pure doctrine of the Gospel’ (Commentary on John 12:47-50).

So, individual people can reject or embrace the Gospel. This excluded unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace. Since Calvin believes there is this choice for people, he is affirming some dimension of free-will, the power of alternate choice for or against Jesus.

clip_image026[4] John 16:8-11 (ESV): ‘And when he [the Helper] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged’.

Will the Helper, the Holy Spirit, convict the whole world of sin and righteousness or only part of the world because the other part is not included in Jesus’ salvation?

Calvin’s interpretation was:

He will convince the world; that is, he will not remain shut up in you, but; his power will go forth from you to be displayed to the whole world. He therefore promises to them a Spirit, who will be the Judge of the world….

Under the term world are, I think, included not only those who would be truly converted to Christ, but hypocrites and reprobates. For there are two ways in which the Spirit convinces men by the preaching of the Gospel. Some are moved in good earnest, so as to bow down willingly, and to assent willingly to the judgment by which they are condemned. Others, though they are convinced of guilt and cannot escape, yet do not sincerely yield, or submit themselves to the authority and jurisdiction of the Holy Spirit, but, on the contrary, being subdued they groan inwardly, and, being overwhelmed with confusion, still do not cease to cherish obstinacy within their hearts (Commentary on John 16:8-15).

Holy Spirit convincing will happen to the entire world with two kinds of responses, according to Calvin, they willingly agree with the Holy Spirit’s conviction while the rest do not yield. There is no U or I here.

clip_image026[5] Isaiah 53:12 (ESV): ‘Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors

Calvin’s comment was: ‘I approve of the ordinary reading, that he alone bore the punishment of many, because on him was laid the guilt of the whole world. It is evident from other passages, and especially from the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, that “many” sometimes denotes “all”’ (Commentary on Isaiah 53:1-12).

Therefore, he adopts the view that the Messiah’s bearing the punishment ‘of many’ means He had ‘the guilt of the whole world’ laid on him. If ‘many’ sometimes indicates ‘all’, as in Romans 5, the Messiah took on himself the punishment for the whole world (of sinners).

Thus, Calvin supported universal atonement.

clip_image027[1] Galatians 5:12 (ESV): ‘I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!’

This is an unusual verse to attract this kind of comment by Calvin:

Would that they were even cut off. His [Paul’s] indignation proceeds still farther, and he prays for destruction on those impostors by whom the Galatians had been deceived. The word, “cut off,” appears to be employed in allusion to the circumcision which they pressed. “They tear the church for the sake of circumcision: I wish they were entirely cut off.” Chrysostom favors this opinion. But how can such an imprecation be reconciled with the mildness of an apostle, who ought to wish that all should be saved, and that not a single person should perish? So far as men are concerned, I admit the force of this argument; for it is the will of God that we should seek the salvation of all men without exception, as Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world (Commentary on Galatians 5:7-12).

Here he supports the view it is God’s will for all people to seek salvation and that refers to every single person in the world, without exception. How is this possible? ‘Christ suffered (atonement?) for the sins of the whole world’.

Nothing could be clearer. He supports unlimited atonement. However, in Institutes 3.24.16 he makes ‘all men’ mean all ‘order of men’. I find this to be manipulation. He seems confused, indicating salvation is for all people but then he tempers it to the limit of ‘order of’ people – groups, ethnicity, etc. This is nonsensical eisegesis of the biblical texts.

clip_image026[6] Colossians 1:14 (ESV): ‘in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins’.

Calvin’s commentary on 1:14 could not be clearer on the extent of expiation of sins:

Unquestionably, when God remits our transgressions, he exempts us from condemnation to eternal death. This is our liberty, this our glorying in the face of death — that our sins are not imputed to us. He says that this redemption was procured through the blood of Christ, for by the sacrifice of his death all the sins of the world have been expiated (Commentary on Colossians 1:12-17).

So Calvin supported expiation for the sins of the world, thus confirming his rejection of limited atonement.

clip_image026[7]1 Timothy 2:3-4 (ESV): ‘This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’.

This passage should challenge the extent of Calvin’s understanding of the atonement. He wrote:

How comes it that many nations are deprived of that light of the Gospel which others enjoy? How comes it that the pure knowledge of the doctrine of godliness has never reached some, and others have scarcely tasted some obscure rudiments of it? It will now be easy to extract the purport of Paul’s statement. He had commanded Timothy that prayers should be regularly offered up in the church for kings and princes; but as it seemed somewhat absurd that prayer should be offered up for a class of men who were almost hopeless (all of them being not only aliens from the body of Christ, but doing their utmost to overthrow his kingdom), he adds, that it was acceptable to God, who will have all men to be saved. By this he assuredly means nothing more than that the way of salvation was not shut against any order of men; that, on the contrary, he had manifested his mercy in such a way, that he would have none debarred from it (Institutes 3.24.16).

Note the difference between what Scripture states that God our Saviour ‘desires all people to be saved’ but Calvin interprets it as salvation ‘not shut against any order of men’. The difference is crucial – and cunning manipulation, in my view.

All people include every single person in the world while ‘any order of men’ can refer to different classes and races of people instead of individual people. In his commentary on 1 Tim 2:4 Calvin stated that ‘all’ does not mean ‘all’:

Hence we see the childish folly of those who represent this passage to be opposed to predestination. “If God” say they, “wishes all men indiscriminately to be saved, it is false that some are predestined by his eternal purpose to salvation, and others to perdition.” They might have had some ground for saying this, if Paul were speaking here about individual men….

There is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation; because God wishes that the gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception. Now the preaching of the gospel gives life; and hence he justly concludes that God invites all equally to partake [of] salvation. But the present discourse relates to classes of men, and not to individual persons; for his sole object is, to include in this number princes and foreign nations (Commentary on 1 Timothy 2:1-4).

‘God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved’ does not refer to every single person in the world but only to groups of people such as classes of people, princes of foreign nations, but definitely not ‘individual persons’.

That’s Calvin’s view and I’d put it in the class of Calvinistic spin where these interpreters make it comply with their presuppositions against universal atonement, conditional election and the free grace of Titus 2:11 (ESV), ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’.

clip_image026[8] Hebrews 5:9 (ESV): ‘And being made perfect, he [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him’.

For Calvin, his interpretation was that benefits of salvation came to those who chose to obey him:

To all them that obey him. If then we desire that Christ’s obedience should be profitable to us, we must imitate him; for the Apostle means that its benefit shall come to none but to those who obey. But by saying this he recommends faith to us; for he becomes not ours, nor his blessings, except as far as we receive them and him by faith. He seems at the same time to have adopted a universal term, all, for this end, that he might show that no one is precluded from salvation who is but teachable and becomes obedient to the Gospel of Christ (Commentary on Hebrews 5:7-11).

There is no unconditional election, limited atonement or irresistible grace here. Nobody is disqualified from salvation except those who do not want to obey the Gospel of salvation through Christ alone.

Overall, Calvin is straddling the fence between limited atonement and unlimited atonement. He can’t make up his mind.

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(image courtesy The Remarkable Blog)

clip_image030See my articles opposing limited atonement:

clip_image0321.4 Irresistible Grace

John 6:44 (ESV) states: ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day’.

This verse is used by Calvin to expound his gospel of irresistible grace:

Christ declares that the doctrine of the Gospel, though it is preached to all without exception, cannot be embraced by all, but that a new understanding and a new perception are requisite; and, therefore, that faith does not depend on the will of men, but that it is God who gives it.

Unless the Father draw him. To come to Christ being here used metaphorically for believing, the Evangelist, in order to carry out the metaphor in the apposite clause, says that those persons are drawn whose understandings God enlightens, and whose hearts he bends and forms to the obedience of Christ. The statement amounts to this, that we ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by his Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom he has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from himself, who has formed their hearts to obey him (Commentary on John 6:41-45).

In light of that interpretation, how does Calvin interpret the prevenient grace of John 12:32 (ESV), ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’.

Following Calvin’s decision on the meaning of John 6:44, he is required to provide an interpretation at 12:32 that is in harmony with 6:44. I wasn’t disappointed:

I will draw all men to myself. The word all, which he employs, must be understood to refer to the children of God, who belong to his flock. Yet I agree with Chrysostom, who says that Christ used the universal term, all, because the Church was to be gathered equally from among Gentiles and Jews, according to that saying,

There shall be one shepherd, and one sheepfold, (John 10:16) [Commentary on John 12:27-33].

I find this to be fiddling with the data of exegesis to fit into Calvin’s theological framework of only the elect (the children of God) being drawn. Calvin could reach a harmonious conclusion if he accepted:

clip_image034 Only God provides salvation (Eph 2:8-9; 2 Tim 1:9);

clip_image035 Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has extended his grace (his drawing power) to all people (John 6:44; 12:32; Titus 2:11). It is not irresistible grace. It can be rejected or accepted.

clip_image034[1] Since the time of Adam and Eve, God has given all human beings the power of alternate choice (free-will). They can choose for or against God’s salvation (John 1:11; 12:48; Acts 16:31).

Calvin further supports irresistible. Is God’s grace extended to all sinners to enable them to repent? Not according to Calvin:

Hence it is that the whole world no longer belongs to its Creator, except in so far as grace rescues from malediction, divine wrath, and eternal death, some, not many, who would otherwise perish, while he leaves the world to the destruction to which it is doomed (Institutes 3:22.7).

It is agreed that all human beings suffer from the curse (malediction) of sin. Why, then, would the Creator choose only a portion of these cursed sinners while allowing the rest to be damned forever? It sounds awfully unjust to me?

The fundamental problem with this comment from Calvin is that he ignores the extent of God’s grace to all people: ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (Titus 2:11 ESV). See my exposition of this verse: How to interpret ‘appeared’ in Titus 2:11.

Calvin wrote that there was zero chance of anyone anywhere resisting God. This citation could just as easily be placed under unconditional election and the sovereignty of God:

Scripture proclaims that all were, in the person of one, made liable to eternal death. As this cannot be ascribed to nature, it is plain that it is owing to the wonderful counsel of God. It is very absurd in these worthy defenders of the justice of God to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. I again ask how it is that the fall of Adam involves so many nations with their infant children in eternal death without remedy unless that it so seemed meet to God? Here the most loquacious tongues must be dumb. The decree, I admit, is, dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknew what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree. Should any one here inveigh against the prescience of God, he does it rashly and unadvisedly. For why, pray, should it be made a charge against the heavenly Judge, that he was not ignorant of what was to happen? Thus, if there is any just or plausible complaint, it must be directed against predestination (Institutes, 3.23.7).

I react negatively to this view when examining the logical consequences of the Lord God Almighty and his ‘wonderful counsel’ being ‘dreadful’ and ‘impossible to deny’. It makes God the author of horrible evil. Calvin’s teaching is that salvation is irresistible through grace extended to the elect but that God decreed all that happens in our world.

That makes God responsible for child sexual abuse, rape, murder, genocide, the Holocaust, terrorism, etc. He would be a monster God. See my articles:

(1) God sovereign but not author of evil,

(2) Is a Calvinistic God a contradiction when compared with the God revealed in Scripture?

(3) Salvation by grace but not by force: A person chooses to believe

(4) Prevenient grace – kinda clumsy!

(5) Does God create all of the evil in the world?

clip_image030[1]See my articles opposing irresistible grace:

Now to the last point of TULIP. Did Calvin teach and promote it?

clip_image0371.5 Perseverance of the Saints

For although adoption was deposited in the hand of Abraham, yet as many of his posterity were cut off as rotten members, in order that election may stand and be effectual, it is necessary to ascend to the head in whom the heavenly Father has connected his elect with each other, and bound them to himself by an indissoluble tie (Institutes 3.21.7).

In Institutes 3:22.10 Calvin wrote:

Why does the Lord declare that our salvation will always be sure and certain, but just because it is guarded by the invincible power of God? (John 10:29). Accordingly, he concludes that unbelievers are not of his sheep (John 10:16). The reason is, because they are not of the number of those who, as the Lord promised by Isaiah, were to be his disciples. Moreover, as the passages which I have quoted imply perseverance, they are also attestations to the inflexible constancy of election.

Rieske (2016) in

citing data from Calvin supporting penal substitution, from such places as Institutes, 2.16.2.3.5 and 3.22.7.10, on the definite scope of the atonement, the distinction was made between Calvin’s being committed to definite atonement and committing himself to that view.

Calvinism has been called “the archenemy of soul-winning” and rightly so…. Failure to present the gospel of Christ is the real problem. One can easily notice that Calvinists discuss and present Calvinism with the notion that they are presenting the gospel.

How can they do that when their theology states that not all people are thoroughly depraved, offered the Gospel without reservation when they don’t accept conditional election? How can a TULIP people be true to their calling when their theology states that Jesus died only for the elect and not for all. Imagine an evangelist on the street preaching, ‘Seek forgiveness from God for your sins, repent – but you may not be able to do this as you are not in God’s elect. Unless the Calvinists are honest with their theology, they should keep quiet on evangelism, not preach for all within listening distance. They could do letter box drops and engage in Internet evangelism where they don’t have to be honest about their TULIP beliefs.

I find that to be a dishonest approach to evangelism in my community. I attended 2 different Presbyterian churches for 6 years and preached semi-regularly in another. None of these TULIP Calvinist churches conducted evangelistic outreach. I asked one pastor why there was no evangelism in his church and his response was, ‘God will bring them in.’ He sometimes does in dribs and drabs but they are most often from other churches and not new converts.

I recommend this printed interview with Austin Fischer by Jonathan Merritt on Religion News Service, Author says Calvinism can’t make sense of the cross (3 April 2014). Fisher tells of his journey into the young, restless and reformed Calvinists and his journey out of them.

clip_image030[2]See my articles in support of perseverance of the saints:

I am convinced the Bible does not teach OSAS where a person makes a decision for Christ, does not persevere in the faith, and is considered saved forever. See: Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again?

I also am convinced by the biblical teaching on total depravity.

2. Conclusion

Calvin taught total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. He presented contradictory messages on the atonement. At times he stated that Jesus’ death was for the whole world. In other instances, Jesus’ atonement was for the elect of God.

Therefore, Calvin was a ‘leaky’ TULIP theologian because of his double-mindedness on the atonement.

I am a TP Calvinist, which makes me a Reformed Arminian in my doctrine of salvation.

I highly recommend Roger E Olson’s article, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).

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3. Works consulted

Barnett, T 2015. Can We Escape the Law of Non-Contradiction? Stand to Reason (online), 31 October. Available at: https://www.str.org/blog/can-we-escape-the-law-of-non-contradiction (Accessed 30 June 2019).

Geisler, N 2004. Systematic theology: Sin, salvation, vol 3. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Helm, P 2013. Calvin, Indefinite Language, and Definite Atonement. In D Gibson & J Gibson (eds), From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (online), 97-120. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway. Available at: http://s3.amazonaws.com/churchplantmedia-cms/new_covenant_presbyterian_church_ga/from_heaven_he_came_and_sought_her_1.pdf (Accessed 21 June 2019).

Hendriksen, W 1975. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel according to Mark. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Lenski, R C H 1943/1961.Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. The Wartburg Press. This limited edition licensed by special permission of Augsburg Fortress to Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. Edition.

Lumkins, P 2011. John Calvin on Limited Atonement. SBC Tomorrow (online), 15 April. Available at: https://peterlumpkins.typepad.com/peter_lumpkins/2011/04/john-calvin-on-limited-atonement-by-peter-lumpkins.html (Accessed 15 June 2019).

Rieske, K R 2016. Calvinism: False doctrines from the ‘Pope’ of Geneva. Bible Life Ministries (online). Available at: https://biblelife.org/calvinism.htm (Accessed 15 June 2019).

4.  Notes

[1] Available at: http://www.thecaveonline.com/APEH/calvinTULIP.html (Accessed 29 June 2019).

[2] Vitiate means to ‘spoil or impair the quality or efficiency of’ (Lexico/Oxford Dictionary 2019. s.v. vitiate).

[3] Post-redemptionism and Amyraldianism are synonymous terms for belief in Jesus’ universal atonement and are opposed to limited atonement (particular redemption).

[4] These Scriptures were raised and expounded by Peter Lumkins (2011).

[5] Barnett (2015).

[6] See Eph. 4:15; Rom. 6:5; 11:17; 8:29; Gal. 3:27.

[7] I am indebted to Geisler (2004:182-185) for some of the research in this section.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 02 July 2019.

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Can people choose to reject salvation?

Do all people have free will?

Image result for clipart Free Will

(image courtesy Breaking the Free Will Illusion)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This brief article was prompted by an email from Christian friends. They wrote:

With regard to the [church we attend], the doctrinal issue we are sad about is that they teach “free will” as entrance to salvation.  We strongly disagree as we believe that the unregenerate man/woman is incapable of choosing God, as our wills are enslaved to sin and death through the first fall.  We believe it is only by God’s Grace alone, through Faith, and believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and this Faith is only by revelation of the Holy Ghost. (Ephesians 2:8-9, emphasis added)

We believe there are two types of religion in this world  –  religion of human achievement, and the true religion of Grace alone and Faith alone by God the Father alone through His Son Jesus Christ alone, and His Spirit alone..[1]

1. People are incapable of choosing God

Is it a biblical teaching that an unregenerate person, dead in sin, is incapable of choosing to serve God?

As to the issue of free will in relation to salvation, how do you define free will?

I define it as the ability to decide between alternatives. Adam and Eve had this free will ability given by God at the beginning of the world. Adam is our representative, ‘Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned’ (Rom 5:12).

This definition is not original with me. Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks explained:

There are several points on which there is confusion about what is meant by free will. Some have said that it refers to the ability to desire. But a better definition is that it is the ability to decide between alternatives. Desire is a passion, an emotion; but will is a choice between two or more desires. Also, some think that to be free means that there can be no limitation of alternatives—one must be able to do whatever he wants. But the opposite of freedom is not fewer alternatives, it is being forced to choose one thing and not another. Freedom is not in unlimited options, but in unfettered choice between whatever options there are. As long as the choosing comes from the individual rather than an outside force, the decision is made freely. Free will means the ability to make an unforced decision between two or more alternatives (Geisler & Brooks 1990:63).

1.1   Adam and Eve had free will before and after sin entered the world.

God gave Adam and Eve the capability to choose between two alternatives:

‘In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil….

The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of he knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die”’ (Gen 2:9, 15-17 NLT).

So from the beginning of time, Adam was given the choice between alternatives (free will). What happened when Eve came along?

2 “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied [to the serpent [Satan]. 3 “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

4 “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5 “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. 7 At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness (Gen 3:2-7 NLT).

Both Adam and Eve had free will that God gave to them. Eve was deceived and was joined by Adam, the ‘sucker’.

2.    Free will after sin entered the world

What about free will after this sin entered the world? Do all human beings, dead in sin (Col 2:13), have the ability to choose among alternatives, including evil over good?

2.1   Meaning of ‘dead in sin’

Here are four translations of the phrase (Eph 2:1; Col 2:13) that should shed some insight on Col 2:13.

GNT: ‘spiritually dead because of your sins’;

NLT: ‘were dead because of your sins’;

ERV:[2] ‘you were spiritually dead because of your sins’;

NIRV:[3] ‘You were living in your sins and lawless ways. But in fact you were dead’.

Regarding Eph 2:1 and ‘dead in sin’:

The word for dead in Greek is nekros, which literally means a corpse or dead body. Since we know Paul is talking about a spiritual state (not a physical state), we must understand this deadness refers to our spiritual life. The Ephesians were alive physically but dead spiritually. Paul chose this comparison because it accurately describes not only the nature of an unbeliever but also the impossibility of an unbeliever recognizing and correcting his own condition. Just as a corpse cannot revive itself to life, neither can an unbeliever revive his own spirit into new life (Verse by Verse Ministry international 2018).

2.2   Biblical examples of free will from the Old Testament

clip_image002Exodus 19:3-8 (NLT):

3 Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: 4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6 And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”

7 So Moses returned from the mountain and called together the elders of the people and told them everything the Lord had commanded him. 8 And all the people responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” So Moses brought the people’s answer back to the Lord.

The Lord, through Moses, gave the ‘family of Jacob’ this choice: ‘obey me and keep my covenant‘ and you will receive ‘special treasure’. However, he reminded ‘the descendants of Israel of what God ‘did to the Egyptians’. They had the choice to be like the Egyptians or to obey God’s covenant. What was the free will choice: ‘We will do everything the Lord has commanded’.

That was an example of the group free will of the 12 tribes of Israel to make a choice.

clip_image002[1]   Deuteronomy 5

This is the chapter where the Ten Commandments are repeated. These 3 verses provide a solid foundation built on the free will they could choose to be idolaters or serve God:

8 ‘You must not make any idols. Don’t make any statues or pictures of anything up in the sky or of anything on the earth or of anything down in the water. 9 Don’t worship or serve idols of any kind, because I am the Lord your God. I hate for my people to worship other gods. People who sin against me become my enemies. And I will punish them, and their children, their grandchildren, and even their great-grandchildren. 10 But I will be very kind to people who love me and obey my commands. I will be kind to their families for thousands of generations! (Deut 5:8-10 ERV)

This chapter has many commands to obey God’s laws, but also has warnings about disobeying:

blue-corrosion-arrow-small In vv 8-9, the command was against idolatry ‘because I am the Lord your God’. That’s the positive command.

blue-corrosion-arrow-small However, if the Israelites chose to serve other gods (they are able to sin against God), they then become His enemies and He punishes them, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

blue-corrosion-arrow-small God will be very kind to the obedient people and their families for thousands of generations (v. 10).

If it was impossible for the Israelites to choose to disobey God, there would be no point in issuing this warning. The teaching here is that the Israelites had the power of alternative choices – idols or the one true God. This defines free will.

clip_image002[1] Deut 11:27-28 (NLT):

27 You will be blessed if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. 28 But you will be cursed if you reject the commands of the clip_image004Lord your God and turn away from him and worship gods you have not known before.

The Israelites could choose between 2 alternatives: (1) obey the Lord’s commands and be blessed, or (2) Reject the Lord’s commands, worship other gods, and they will be cursed. This is free will in action in God’s old covenant.

clip_image005Joshua 24:11-15 (NLT):

11 “When you crossed the Jordan River and came to Jericho, the men of Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I gave you victory over them. 12 And I sent terror[c] ahead of you to drive out the two kings of the Amorites. It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory. 13 I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.

14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord”.

It is clear what Joshua laid before the Israelites who were sinners: Choose whom you will serve – the gods of your ancestors and the Amorites – OR serve the Lord. God’s chosen people had a free will choice between 2 alternatives.

For further exposition on Josh 24:15, see: Choose does not mean choice! Joshua 24:15.

3.    Free will and salvation

What do we find in the NT when the Gospel of salvation is offered to all people? Can they accept or reject it? Or are they unconditionally elected and are irresistibly drawn to Jesus because He died only for the elect?

I have taken these points from my article, What is the nature of human free will?

When we ask, ‘What is the nature of free will or free choice?’ we may be asking: How long is a piece of string in theological terms? If we are going to answer this question with biblical accuracy, we will need to ask further questions about:

Image result for clipart choose Christ(image courtesy ChristArt)

  1. Free will / free choice and the power of God (see Isa 45:11-13; 46:4; Jer 32:16-44; Acts 4:24-31);
  2. Free choice and the decrees of God (Rom 8:28; Eph 1:9, 11; 3:11);
  3. Free choice and the salvation of human beings (Tit 2:11; Prov 1:23; Isa 31:6; Ezek 14:6; Matt 18:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 16:31; 17:30; Phil 1:39; 1 Jn 3:23);
  4. Free choice as it is related to God’s providence (Jas 4:2);
  5. Free choice and God’s foreknowledge (Rom 8:29-30; 2 Cor 6:1-2; 1 Pt 1:1-2);
  6. Free choice and a human being’s moral nature (Jn 1:12-13; 7:17; Rom 3:26; Heb 3:7-8, 15; 4);
  7. Free choice and Adam’s original sin (the origin of the sin of the human race) [Gen 3:1-8; Rom 5:12-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22; 1 Tim 2:13-14];
  8. Free choice and human depravity (Deut 6:4-5; Matt 22:35-38; Rom 2:14; 7:18; 8:14; 2 Tim 3:4);
  9. Free choice and eternal security/perseverance of the saints (Jer 3:12, 14, 22; Hos 14:4; Mt 24:13; Mk 4:16-17; 7:21-23; Jn 6:66-67; 13:10-11; Heb 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 2 Pt 2:20-22; 1 Jn 2:19)[listed in  Thiessen 1949:524].

In relation to salvation, I consider that the Bible teaches …
clip_image002[2]All salvation is provided by God himself. It is a gift from God. As Eph 2:8-9 (NLT) puts it,

8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

clip_image006God elects / predestines people to salvation:

According to Arminianism, election is that act of God whereby he foreordains to eternal life those whom he foresees will respond in faith to the gospel. According to Calvinism, election is that act of God whereby he foreordains to eternal life those who, because of sin, cannot and will not respond in faith to the gospel. Which of these two views is the one the Bible teaches? Or is there a third, mediating option? (Storms 2018).

This is supported by verses such as 1 Peter 1:1 (NIV),

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

God in his foreknowledge, elected people to salvation. Was this an unconditional election (Calvinism), or was it conditional election (Arminianism) or based on some other factor. That other element is:

clip_image002[3]People choose (because of their free will) between alternatives: to respond in faith and repentance to the Gospel OR to reject the Gospel. An example is found with the Philippian jailer and Paul and Silas when released from prison:

Image result for clipart Philippian jailer(image of Philippian jailer courtesy Garden of Praise)

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’

31 They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.’ 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house (Acts 16:25-31 NIV).

This jailer, dead in trespasses and sin, responded to the proclamation made by Paul and Silas in prison, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ Paul and Silas did not say, ‘Do nothing. God has done it all for you. You are unconditionally elected and are in the Kingdom’.
Instead, Paul & Silas commanded: ‘[You] believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household’.

There cannot be a Gospel response to receive salvation without human responsibility of the choice between Yes or No to the Gospel. Otherwise it is God’s authoritarian dictatorship that does away with certain biblical emphases.
How can this be? It’s because God’s grace has been extended to everyone and they respond in faith or reject the Gospel. We have this partially explained in Titus 2:11 (NIV), ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’.

Salvation is offered to all but not all respond in faith. That’s not because of irresistible grace because ‘the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’.
For further explanations, see my articles:

There may be many questions that come from my response. In my understanding of free will, I’m a leaky, Reformed Arminian. To his dying day, Jacob Arminius was a Dutch Reformed minister who taught in the Reformed University of Leiden. I’m a ‘leaky’ one because I do not believe in Arminian infant baptism. Baptism is for believers in my biblical understanding. (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 8:36, 38).

See my article, Believer’s baptism or infant baptism?

4. Conclusion

From the beginning of time (with Adam and Eve) right through to salvation, God’s view is that human beings have free-will choice to accept or reject him. All people can choose to follow other gods or God Himself (Joshua 24:14-15).

They can choose to accept or reject evidence for the existence of God (Romans 1:18-22) or choose to believe in Jesus (Acts 16:31) or reject his offer of salvation (John 3:19-21).

In this article, I use ‘choose’ and ‘free will’ to mean the ability to decide between alternatives. Yes, people are drawn to salvation by God the Father (John 6:44) but Scripture assures us that all people are drawn since Jesus since Jesus death and resurrection when he was ‘lifted up (John 12:32).

5. Works consulted

Geisler, N L & Brooks, R M 1990. When skeptics ask. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books.

Storms, S 2018. The Arminian concept of election. Sam Storms: Enjoying God (online). Available at: http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/the-arminian-concept-of-election (Accessed 16 August 2018).

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Verse by Verse Ministry international 2018. Could you explain the connection between our spiritual “deadness” and God’s grace, as presented in Ephesians 2:1-10? (online). Available at: https://www.versebyverseministry.org/bible-answers/could-you-explain-ephesians-21-10 (Accessed 16 August 2018).

6.   Notes


[1] I received this email on 1 May 2018.

[2] The ERV is the Easy-to-Read Version. This version also is for a lower literacy level.

[3] The NIRV is the New International Reader’s Version. This is for a lower literacy level than the NIV.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 06 March 2019

Flourish pattern with butterflies vector clip art

Choose does not mean choice! Joshua 24:15

Image result for clipart Choice public domain

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Does this verse mean choice for or against God or gods?

‘And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ (Joshua 24:15 ESV).

A. When choose does not mean choice

I was sitting in the congregation of North Pine Presbyterian Church on Sunday, 11 September 2016, when the minister, Rev Paul Cornford, preached on Joshua 24. The title of his message was ‘The Covenant at Shechem’. When he got to Joshua 24:15, he stated, ‘“Choose this day” is a choice between false gods…. It is not a case of coming to the best God’.[1]

So ‘choose this day whom you will serve’ does not mean a choice as to which god/God you will choose to worship. It only applies to choosing among false gods, according to Rev Cornford. Below we will check to examine whether this preacher accurately engaged in correct exegesis of this Scripture in context.

After the service, I challenged the preacher over his failure to exegete the verse in context. He engaged in eisegesis, imposing his Calvinistic meaning on the text.

What is exegesis?  ”Exegesis is the process of interpreting a text of Scripture” (Grudem 1994:109).  The problem any interpreter of the Bible faces is that “everyone who interprets a passage of the Bible stands in a present time while he examines a document that comes from a past time.  He must discover what each statement meant to the original speaker or writer and to the original hearers or readers, in their own present time” (Mickelsen 1963:55).  This is the process of exegesis.  It is critical for the understanding of any text written in the past.

What is eisegesis? See Exegesis v. Eisegesis. Here is a quote from Dr. James White’s forth-coming book “Pulpit Crimes” on eisegesis, which indicates that it means:

The reading into a text, in this case, an ancient text of the Bible, of a meaning that is not supported by the grammar, syntax, lexical meanings, and over-all context, of the original. It is the opposite of exegesis, where you read out of the text its original meaning by careful attention to the same things, grammar, syntax, the lexical meanings of the words used by the author (as they were used in his day and in his area), and the over-all context of the document. As common as it is, it should be something the Christian minister finds abhorrent, for when you stop and think about it, eisegesis muffles the voice of God. If the text of Scripture is in fact God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16) and if God speaks in the entirety of the Bible (Matt. 22:31) then eisegesis would involve silencing that divine voice and replacing it with the thoughts, intents, and most often, traditions, of the one doing the interpretation. In fact, in my experience, eisegetical mishandling of the inspired text is the single most common source of heresy, division, disunity, and a lack of clarity in the proclamation of the gospel. The man of God is commended when he handles God’s truth aright (2 Tim. 2:15), and it should be his highest honor to be privileged to do so. Exegesis, then, apart from being a skill honed over years of practice, is an absolutely necessary means of honoring the Lord a minister claims to serve. For some today, exegesis and all the attendant study that goes into it robs one of the Spirit. The fact is, there is no greater spiritual service the minister can render to the Lord and to the flock entrusted to his care than to allow God’s voice to speak with the clarity that only sound exegetical practice can provide (in Reformation Theology, emphasis added).

James White is a Calvinist and among the chief proponents of eisegesis are Calvinists who impose their Reformed Calvinistic meaning on a text with doctrinaire repetition.

If one wants to convey this message to a contemporary audience, the speaker engages in the discipline of exposition, but exegesis precedes exposition: “He must see what meaning these statements had in the past, but he must also show what is their meaning for himself and for those to whom he conveys these ideas” (Mickelsen 1963:55).

B. Calvinism and no choice in choosing God

Image result for Calvinism public domain(courtesy PinsDaddy)

To understand why Rev. Cornford takes this line, it is consistent with his 5-point Calvinist theology. You used to be able to listen to his sermons on TULIP Calvinism on the church’s website [Note: The sermons are no longer available on the website. Rev Cornford committed adultery and has been defrocked from the Presbyterian Church of Australia.]

However, this article is not designed to respond to the following teaching of Calvinism, but to examine Joshua 24:15 in context. What does it teach regarding a person’s ability or inability to choose to serve God?

What does Calvinism believe about choice in salvation and/or serving God? These are only a few examples from leading Calvinists:

clip_image002 ‘In order for one who is dead to the things of God to come alive to God, something must be done to him and for him. Dead men cannot make themselves come alive’ (Sproul 1986:114). Norman Geisler describes this comment as an example of ‘the extreme Calvinists’ view’ (Geisler 1999:57).

I have responded to the extreme Calvinistic position in:

clip_image004 Who can be reconciled to God?

clip_image002[1] Loraine Boettner, a leading Calvinist of the past, could not state the Calvinistic position clearer:

Man is a free agent but he cannot originate the love of God in his heart. His will is free in the sense that it is not controlled by any force outside of himself. As the bird with a broken wing is “free” to fly but not able, so the natural man is free to come to God but not able. How can he repent of his sin when he loves it? How can he come to God when he hates Him?…

We read that that “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned,” I Cor. 2:14. We are at a loss to understand how any one can take a plain common sense view of this passage of Scripture and yet contend for the doctrine of human ability’ (Boettner 1932:62, 63).

These articles of mine cover some of this opposition to ‘whosoever will may come’ (John 3:16).

clip_image004[1] Do Arminians believe in election and total depravity?

clip_image004[2] Does regeneration precede faith?

clip_image002[2] In this one paragraph, John Calvin emphasised double-predestination twice:

‘The predestination by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others to eternal death’….

‘Each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death’ (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.21.5, emphasis added).

My replies to this view are in,

clip_image004[3] Did John Calvin believe in double predestination?

clip_image004[4] God’s foreknowledge and predestination/election to salvation

Based on this kind of Calvinistic theology, there could be no way that any human being would be able to choose to follow God. That’s because of Calvinism’s bias against it with its unusual understandings of,

  • The meaning of ‘dead in trespasses and sin’;
  • Regeneration precedes faith;
  • Total depravity;
  • Unbelievers are all predestined to damnation (not all Calvinists accept this view that is endorsed by John Calvin himself).

C. What does Joshua 24:15 teach?

Let’s develop a textual outline of Joshua 24:14-28 so that we obtain some context. The heading for this section in the English Standard Version is ‘Choose Whom You Will Serve’. When I prepare to preach an expository sermon (which is my normal approach to preaching from any biblical section), I begin by preparing a textual outline,

1. Textual outline: Joshua 24:14-28

This is based on the ESV text:

1. (A command to the Israelites) fear the Lord and serve him (v. 14);

2. (Command to) put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River (v. 14);

3. (Command to) serve the Lord (v. 14);

4. If it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve (v 15)

5. Choose the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites (v 15);

6. But as for me [i.e. Joshua] and my house, we will serve the Lord (v 15).

7. The people’s answer was: ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods’ (v 16);

8. The Lord our God brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of slavery, and who performed the great signs in our sight and preserved us (v 17);

9. The Lord drove out all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God (v. 18);

10. Joshua said: You are not able to serve the Lord for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God. He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins (v. 19).

11. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good (v. 20);

12. The people said to Joshua, ‘No, we will serve the Lord’ (v. 21).

13. Joshua said: ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him’. The Israelites agreed: ‘We are witnesses’ (v. 22).

14. Joshua said: ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel’ (v. 23);

15. The people said to Joshua: ‘The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey’ (v. 24);

16. Joshua made a covenant with the Israelite people that day at Shechem to put in place statutes and rules (v. 25);

17. Joshua wrote words in the Book of the Law of God and set it up with a stone (v. 26);

18. Joshua said to all the people that the stone would be a witness against us/you lest you deal falsely with your God (v. 27).

19. Joshua sent the people away to their own inheritance (v.28).

2. Homiletical outline: Joshua 24:14-28

This is designed to summarise what the text is saying and grab the attention of the congregation or readers with relevant information that comes directly out of the text. This is the outline for a sermon that I will preach (not prepared yet) on this text. It may take 2 sermons of 30 minutes each to cover this material.

a. God does not deceive you: A command means you can do it (v. 14)

  • Fear the Lord
  • Serve him
  • Put away the other gods.

God would not be commanding you to do it if you were incapable of acting on the instruction.

b. Honest! You can choose today which God or gods you will serve (v. 15)

  • The choice is yours: Choose gods or THE GOD

c. They chose the Lord (vv. 15-18)

d. You are not able to serve the Lord (v 19)

  • Is this a contradiction? (You can choose the Lord, v. 15; you can’t serve the Lord, v. 19? You have chosen the Lord, v. 22)
  • Why this inability? (v. 19)
  • Why it happens – when you forsake the Lord (v. 20)

e. We will serve the Lord (v. 21)

f. KEY VERSE FOR INTERPRETATION: You have chosen the Lord (v. 22)

g. You can put away the foreign gods and serve the Lord (vv. 23-24)

h. Signing the covenant to serve the Lord (vv. 25-28)

D. Choosing God or gods

Image result for picture of Canaanite gods public domain(El, the Canaanite creator god, courtesy wikimedia.commons)

 

What does this outline demonstrate regarding the ability to choose God or other gods?

1.   The command to fear the Lord, serve Him and put away the other gods infers that people are able to choose to do it (v. 14).

2.   You can choose to serve other gods or the Lord (v. 15).

John Calvin’s commentary on Joshua 24:15 is:

By giving them the option to serve God or not, just as they choose, he loosens the reins, and gives them license to rush audaciously into sin. What follows is still more absurd, when he tells them that they cannot serve the Lord, as if he were actually desirous of set purpose to impel them to shake off the yoke. But there is no doubt that his tongue was guided by the inspiration of the Spirit, in stirring up and disclosing their feelings. For when the Lord brings men under his authority, they are usually willing enough to profess zeal for piety, though they instantly fall away from it. Thus they build without a foundation (Calvin’s Commentaries: Joshua 24, Bible Hub).

Calvin gives them the ‘option’ to serve God or not – as they choose – but he considers this one where Joshua ‘loosens the reins’, giving them the opportunity to rush into sin.

3.   They chose the Lord (vv. 15-18).

4.   After the previous and following verses, verse 19 seems like a contradiction, ‘You are not able to serve the Lord’. This is especially a paradox in light of verse 22, ‘You have chosen the Lord’. Verse 19 is an irony with Joshua 24:31 (ESV) in view, ‘Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel’. Keil & Delitzsch (n d, vol 2:231) consider that ‘“ye cannot serve Jehovah” … in the state of mind in which ye are at present, or “by your own resolution only, and without the assistance of divine grace, without solid and serious conversion from all idols, and without true repentance and faith” (J. H. Michaelis)’. What also is puzzling is the statement, ‘He will not forgive your transgressions’, because there are many affirmations in the OT that God is a forgiving God. See Exodus 34:6-7a where the Lord revealed to Moses, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty….’ Surely this is meant to be hyperbole to demonstrate that God will not deal lightly with sin.[2]

5.   Verse 22 gets to the crux of interpretation for this passage. It leaves no doubt as to what the meaning is in context: ‘You have chosen the Lord’. No matter what the opposition from the Calvinistic camp, anybody anywhere can choose to serve pagan gods or the Lord God.

However,

  • since Christ’s death on Golgotha for the sins of the world (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2), people need to be drawn by God the Father:
  • ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day’ (John 6:44 ESV).
  • How many will be drawn and how many will be forsaken? Jesus was clear about that: ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’ (John 12:32 ESV).

So, since Christ’s death and resurrection, all people are drawn to Jesus but many reject his offer of salvation. Why?

  • ‘So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak?’ (Heb 2:3 NLT).
  • Romans 1:18 (NLT) gives us further insight into why people reject God’s evidence: ‘But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness’.

How did John Calvin understand Joshua 24:22. In his commentary on this verse he stated:

We now understand what the object was at which Joshua had hitherto aimed. It was not to terrify the people and make them fall away from their religion, but to make the obligation more sacred by their having of their own accord chosen his government, and betaken themselves to his guidance, that they might live under his protection. They acknowledge, therefore, that their own conscience will accuse them, and hold them guilty of perfidy [i.e. deceitfulness], if they prove unfaithful…. But although they were not insincere in declaring that they would be witnesses to their own condemnation, still how easily the remembrance of this promise faded away, is obvious from the Book of Judges. For when the more aged among them had died, they quickly turned aside to various superstitions. By this example we are taught how multifarious are the fallacies which occupy the senses of men, and how tortuous the recesses in which they hide their hypocrisy and folly, while they deceive themselves by vain confidence (Calvin’s Commentaries: Joshua 24:22, Bible Hub).

He did not deny that the Israelites were in a situation of ‘having of their own accord chosen his [God’s] government’.

6.   The Israelites could choose to put away the foreign gods in their midst and serve the Lord. This they did and signed a covenant of commitment (Josh 24:23-28).

D. Conclusion

A doctrinaire, Calvinistic, presuppositional view of no choice in salvation is what drove Rev Paul Cornford, an evangelical Presbyterian, to reject the clear teaching of Joshua 24:15 in context. ‘Choose this day whom you will serve’ means that the Israelites could choose to serve other gods or the Lord God.

Joshua 24:22 drives the interpretation home, ‘You have chosen the Lord, to serve him’ (ESV). Other translations are as affirmative:

clip_image006 ‘You have chosen to serve the Lord’ (NLT);

clip_image006[1] ‘Ye have chosen you the Lord, to serve him’ (KJV);

clip_image006[2] ‘You have chosen for yourselves the Lord, to serve Him’ (NASB);

clip_image006[3]’You have chosen the Lord, to serve him’ (NRSV);

clip_image006[4]’You have chosen to serve the Lord’ (NIV);

clip_image006[5]’You have chosen the Lord for yourselves’ (NKJV);

clip_image006[6]’You have chosen to serve the Lord’ (ISV).

Image result for clipart salvationExegesis and exposition are clear for Joshua 24:15 and its context. Norman Geisler reached a consistent position on this verse and related verses:

God desires that all unsaved people will change their mind (i.e., repent), for “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Like the alternatives of life and death that Moses gave to Israel, God says, ‘Choose life’ (cf. Deut. 30:19). Joshua said to his people: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15). God sets morally and spiritually responsible alternatives before human beings, leaving the choice and responsibility to them. Jesus said to the unbelievers of His day: “If you do not believe that I am … you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24), which implies they could have and should have believed.

Over and over, “belief” is declared to be something we are accountable to embrace: “We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69); “Who is he sir? … Tell me so that I may believe in him” (John 9:36); “Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe, ‘ and he worshiped him” (John 9:38); “Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you but you do not believe’” (John 10:25). This is why Jesus said, ‘Whoever believes in [me] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18) [Geisler 2004:130, emphasis in original].

E.   Works consulted

Boettner, L 1932. The reformed doctrine of predestination. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company.

Delitzsch, F. n.d., Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon in C. F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes (vol. 6). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William E. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Geisler, N 2004. Systematic theology: Sin, salvation, vol 3. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Grudem, W. 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Keil, C F & Delitzsch, F n d. Commentary on the Old Testament: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, two vols in 1, vol 2. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Madvig, D H 1992. Joshua, in F E Gaebelein (gen ed), The expositor’s Bible commentary, vol 3, 239-371. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Sproul, R C 1986. Chosen by God. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

F.   Notes


[1] I take notes in an exercise book for sermons I hear and these comments are based on the notes I took for the sermon on 11 September 2016, 9.00am service, North Pine Presbyterian Church, 55 Old Dayboro Rd., Petrie Qld. 4502, Australia. My wife and I have attended this church for 5 years at the time of writing this article (8 October 2016).

[2] This was the interpretation by Madvig (1992:369).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 17 August 2018.

Is God absolutely sovereign?

(image courtesy clker.com)

By Spencer D Gear

When we see the wickedness in our world, we could be tempted to say that God, the Almighty One, is not in absolute, sovereign control of our world. I’m thinking of:

How do we deal with God’s sovereignty and these kinds of atrocities? One way to process these abhorrent events is to state that….

A.  God is not absolutely sovereign

I met a fellow on a Christian forum who stated, ‘God is NOT absolutely sovereign’.[1]

His comments were made in a theological context in which his context was that

all of the five points of Calvinism were deduced from the concept that God became absolutely sovereign when Adam sinned in the garden and man lost his free will.

God is NOT absolutely sovereign.

All five points of Calvinism are based on a false premise.

Indeed, in previous … posts I have used the example of Joshua 24:15 to document that man retained his free will after the fall.[2]

Joshua 24:15 states, ‘And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ (ESV).

In my view, there is a better alternative:

B.  God’s sovereignty and free will

I disagree with this fellow’s perspective.[3] I consider that the biblical teaching is that God is absolutely sovereign and that sovereignty includes the free will decisions of human beings. This is a brief overview of God’s sovereign attributes:
clip_image002God is before all things (Ps 90:2; Col 1:17);
clip_image002[1]All things were created by God (Jn 1:3);
clip_image002[2]God sustains all things (Heb 1:3);
clip_image002[3]God is above and over all things ( Eph 4:6);
clip_image002[4]God is all knowing (Ps 139:4-6; Heb 4:13);
clip_image002[5]God is all-powerful (Gen 18:4);
clip_image002[6]God’s sovereignty implies that He does what He wills (Isa 14:24, 27).
This sovereignty means that
clip_image002[7]God is the ruler over all things (1 Chron 29:11-12);
clip_image002[8]God does whatever He pleases (i.e. is in control of everything) (Ps 115:3);
clip_image002[9]Earthly kings are controlled by God (Prov 21:1);
clip_image002[10]God’s control extends to human events (Isa 55:11);
clip_image002[11]Good and evil angels are under God’s control (Col 1:15-16; Eph 1:21; 1 Ki 22:19-22);
clip_image002[12]God controls Satan (Job 1:6; 2:1; Rev 20:10).

C.  The most difficult concept to grasp

This is the one we find most difficult to understand:

clip_image004God sovereignly controls our free choices, including our salvation (Eph 1:4, 11; 1 Pt 2:8). Yes, he is sovereign, but that does not eliminate human free will decisions.

God’s sovereignty does not make free choice and human responsibility to be fakes. God is not a sovereign Puppet Master who pulls the strings of life for all people and nations. One of the great mysteries of God’s sovereignty is that He is absolutely sovereign but human responsibility is genuine in the midst of this mystery.

The apostle Paul affirms the depth of the riches in God’s wisdom and knowledge in Romans 11:33. Long before Paul, Moses stated it profoundly,

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of the law (Deut 29:29 ESV).

Therefore the person who stated that he does not believe in God’s absolute sovereignty sounds like a promoter of open theism. Open theism is defined by one of its promoters, Clark Pinnock, as,

a relational view of God. [pause] Because the thing is that, in the past, with a high doctrine of predestination and timelessness and changeability, it’s hard to see how God was relational….

So our view is not that God knows everything that can be known and is therefore omniscient without qualification, but that some aspects of the future are settled and other aspects are not settled. The world is such that certain things are still being settled by the agents in the world, by us and by God, so God knows things as possible as well as certain.

Traditionally, God knows everything that will ever happen certainly, so it must happen exactly that way. Whereas we’re saying that God appears in the Bible to know some things for certain because he planned them or because they’re going to happen definitely, but aspects of the future may surprise him.

I think that’s a point that’s gotten people scared, the idea that God takes risks and is vulnerable. The same thing with the impassibility of God….

We’re saying that omniscience doesn’t mean that the future is exhaustively foreknown because God’s made a world the future of which would be decided by himself and human agents. So it’s really the reality of the human agents as to whether they make any difference for the future. If they do, then it means that certain things are not yet settled, because they haven’t made their choices, or done their thing (from Clark Pinnock’s interview with Homiletics online, ‘Does Prayer Change Things? Yes, if you’re an Open Theist’).

D.  Conclusion

I can conclude that some people can and do refuse to do God’s will. However, that is to be understood as included in a biblical understanding of the sovereignty of God.

Therefore, I cannot accept this person’s statement that ‘God is NOT absolutely sovereign’. God is absolutely sovereign and in that sovereignty human beings take responsibility for various issues in their lives.

Suggested for further reading

Notes


[1] PrincetonGuy#12, 8 October 2014. Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Question arising from the Calvinism/predestined threads’. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7843483-2/#post66437993 (Accessed 8 October 2014).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#13.

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 November 2015.

Conflict over salvation

(courtesy Google, public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

Does God decree which persons should receive God’s salvation? Or, does God invite people to Christ and then let them take human responsibility in saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the offer of salvation?

These two questions have caused theological heartache from the time of the Reformation until today. Does God open the human heart for salvation? Do human beings have the opportunity to receive or reject salvation? It’s the debate over free will and salvation.

I met this challenge in the thread, ‘Acts 16:14’ on Christian Forums. It involves the regular conflict between Arminians and Calvinists over the nature of how salvation through Christ is received by human beings.

Calvinistic interpretation

  

(Terry cloth)

This fellow started the thread,

Acts 16:14


A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Acts 16:14 NASB)

Why was it necessary for Jesus to open her heart? What was wrong with her in the first place? Did she not have the free will to choose prior to that?[1]

Others replied:

  • ‘To respond. Could she have still responded negatively?’[2]
  • ‘God caused her to respond, so the result was predetermined’ (this is a Calvinistic reply’.[3]

However, after 20 replies he as a Calvinist was not receiving the responses from the Arminian opposition that he wanted. So he wrote again:

Heck, I’m still trying to find out why it’s even necessary.
I always figure when the regular non-Calvinists avoid a thread, it must have hit a nerve.
[4]

Some Arminian opposition [5]

After 100 posts I responded.

I find it amazing that you have come to this view that ‘it must have hit a nerve’. What do you do?

You started the thread this way:

Acts 16:14

A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. (Acts 16:14 NASB)

Why was it necessary for Jesus to open her heart? What was wrong with her in the first place? Did she not have the free will to choose prior to that?

The ‘nerve’ for me is this: I knew this fellow’s Calvinistic agenda when he started this thread, that he has pushed over and over on this very large Christian forum. He seems to want to try to disprove Arminianism. I contemplated not responding to him as his imbalanced view is not what the Bible teaches in its totality. I knew he would be persistent in trying to corner others and me in his Calvinistic gymnastics.

Calvinistic imbalance?

The very chapter of the Bible that he used, Acts 16, provides the balance (not the contradiction) to Acts 16:14. The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to what Paul preached. But what is stated in Acts 16:31? It is a command for human beings to believe: ‘And they said, “[You] Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household”’.

The Lord opens the heart but he does not do it without the person believing. That is, the person has a free-will choice to believe salvation or reject it.

Lutheran commentator, R C H Lenski, explained this balanced view in his exegesis and exposition of Acts 16:14:

We must combine the two duratives ‘she kept hearing’ and ‘to be heeding,’ for they imply that Lydia was not converted on that very first Sabbath. From the beginning, however, she heard with a heart that was opened wide (dia in the verb) by the Lord. Little did she dream that Saturday morning what a treasure she was to find in the little retreat by the riverside; but she heard the great Apostle of the Gentiles himself set forth the blessed gospel of Jesus Christ with all fervor and all conviction, and this gospel was corroborated by these three companions. She was finding the pearl of great price.

The Lord opens the heart, but the hand with which he lifts the latch and draws the door is the Word which he makes us hear, and the door opens as we heed, prosechein, keep holding your mind to what you hear. No man can open the door of his heart (kardia is the center of thought and will) himself, nor can he help the Lord to open it by himself lifting the latch and moving the door. The one thing he can do is to bolt the door, i.e., refuse to hear and to heed; and thus he can keep the door closed and bar it even more effectually than it was at first. This prevents conversion (Lenski 1934:658).

So the biblical evidence from Acts 16 (not just v. 14) is that it is the Lord who opens the heart but human beings believe (and refuse to believe). This has been God’s approach from the OT into the NT and today.

We read from the OT:

clip_image001 ‘Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live’ (Deut 30:19).

and again from the OT,

clip_image001[1] ‘Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ (Josh 24:15).

The Lord opening the heart

photo of burning lit candle with flame and pink heart(public domain)

 

Why was it necessary for the Lord to open Lydia’s heart?[6] There is no salvation outside of the Lord’s working in us.

What was wrong with her? She was a sinner who needed justification, reconciliation and all that salvation can provide. She needed the application of Christ’s shed blood and resurrection.

As I’ve tried to demonstrate in this brief article, salvation is from the Lord but God demonstrates in Acts 16:31 that human beings need to respond by believing. Why? Because human beings can resist such offers of salvation.

We know from the very first sin in the Garden (Genesis 2-3) that God did not take away human beings’ free will to hear God and obey or disobey his instructions (Gen 3:2:9, 17; 3:5-13).

What kind of response do you think that might generate from the Calvinist who started this thread? Here are some samples

clip_image003 ‘If you aren’t going to address the OP [original post], I’m not sure why you even posted. Seems like a waste of time’.[7] (Note, this is a red herring logical fallacy as he refused to address the content of what I wrote above.) This is how I replied to the red herring:

Ah, exactly what I expected. I addressed the post and you didn’t like what I wrote so you give me this red herring.

When will you wake up to the fact that this kind of response is what drives people away from pursuing the Calvinism that you want to define on CF. I provided evidence to refute your view; you didn’t like it so you make it look like I didn’t address the post. I addressed the post directly and came to a conclusion different to yours.
If people continue to use logical fallacies, I disengage in conversation with them. Why?  When they use a logical fallacy, it prevents a logical discussion.[8] He further added:

clip_image003[1] ‘So until the Lord opened her heart, there was no way she could respond positively to the gospel?’[9] And again:

clip_image003[2] ‘Why did you avoid answering my question? You aren’t obligated to do so, but this dodging gets us nowhere’.[10]

How should I respond? Here it is: ‘I addressed your post directly. This is a false accusation. False accusations are called straw man fallacies. And we cannot have a logical discussion when you do this. I find that you are harassing me and this is against the rules of this forum’.[11]

clip_image003[3] ‘I have no problems with disagreements. And since you don’t, perhaps you’d like to answer this question that I posed to you. So until the Lord opened her heart, there was no way she could respond positively to the gospel?’[12]

There is further interaction between the Calvinist and me, a Reformed Arminian, in this thread.

Conclusion

So I’m not restricted to pushing a one-sided agenda when the Bible provides both sides in Acts 16. It is the Lord who opens Lydia’s heart and it is Lydia who chooses to respond to the offer of salvation and not to reject it. This is the message of 1 Timothy 2:3b-4, ‘God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (ESV).

It has nothing to do with ‘it must have hit a nerve’ for a non-Calvinist like me. It has everything to do with being giving the balance in biblical presentation. God saves, God opened Lydia’s heart, but human beings have the free will to respond in faith to the offer of salvation. Otherwise we have God the dictator and human beings the robots. I do not find that view consistent with biblical Christianity.

For further explanations of my views see:

Works consulted

Lenski, R C H 1934. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers (based on Lutheran Book Concern 1934; The Wartburg Press 1944; Augsburg Publishing House 1961).

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Acts 16:14’, Hammster #1, 16 February 2014. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7804942/ (Accessed 23 February 2014).

[2] Ibid., Steeno7 #2.

[3] Ibid., abacabb #9, http://www.christianforums.com/t7804942/ (Accessed 23 February 2014).

[4] Ibid., Hammster #22, http://www.christianforums.com/t7804942-3/ (Accessed 23 February 2014).

[5] Ibid., OzSpen #103, 20 February 2014, http://www.christianforums.com/t7804942-11/ (Accessed 23 February 2014).

[6] This is a further explanation that I made in ibid., #104.

[7] Ibid., Hammster #105. That was all he wrote – not one letter more than this.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen #109.

[9] Ibid., Hammster #107.

[10] Ibid., Hammster #114, http://www.christianforums.com/t7804942-12/ (Accessed 23 February 2014).

[11] Ibid., OzSpen #116.

[12] Ibid., Hammster #131, http://www.christianforums.com/t7804942-14/ (Accessed 23 February 2014). I told him that I had already answered this above and that he was continuing his harassment of me with this response, which is against the rules of this forum (ibid., OzSpen#135).

 

Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.

Controversies: Once saved, always saved

Ribbon Salvation Button Blue Salvation Button

By Spencer D Gear

It is predictable that in discussions on Christian themes in person and online, that there will be a dialogue, pro and con, regarding eternal security (often called once saved, always saved – OSAS) or perseverance of the saints. Sometimes this discussion can become somewhat heated.

In fact, Roger Olson, an Arminian, is of the view that there will be continuing Calvinistic-Arminian conflict in Christian theology. He wrote:

Whatever the future of the story of Christian theology brings forth, it is bound to be interesting. It always has been. And there are as-yet unresolved issues for theological reformers to work on. The major one, of course, is the old debate between monergists and synergists over God’s relationship with the world. New light from God’s Word is badly needed as the extremes of process theology and resurgent Augustinian-Calvinism polarize Christian thought as never before. While I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, I predict (with fear and trembling) that this issue will be the all-consuming one in Christian theology in the twenty-first century and that new insights and suggestions for resolving it will come from non-Western Christian thinkers. All the options of Western (European and North American) thought seem to have been proposed and have led only to reactions rather than resolutions. If this particular problem of theology is ever to be solved – even in part – the crucial insights will almost certainly need to come from outside of Western culture, with its dualistic mindset that insists on seeing divine and human agencies as in competition with one another (Olson 1999:612).

Double-Headed

(courtesy ChristArt)

 

A. Doubts about Arminians even being Christian

I encountered this and entered into some discussions with advocates of the OSAS position in a Christian online forum. Arminians have come under some provocative attacks (I write as a Reformed Arminian). Here are a couple of challenging examples:

(1) Kim Riddlebarger has stated, ‘Arminianism is not simply an alternative for evangelicals who are uncomfortable with certain doctrinal tenets of Calvinism. Taken to its logical conclusion, Arminianism is not only a departure from historic orthodoxy, but a serious departure from the evangel itself’ (Riddlebarger 1992:5, emphasis added).[1]

(2) Michael Horton has stated:

There will doubtless be Roman Catholics, Arminians, and others in Paradise who were saved by God’s grace even if they, like me, did not understand or appreciate that grace as much as they should have. Nevertheless, if we are going to still use “evangelical” as a noun to define a body of Christians holding to a certain set of convictions, it is high time we got clear on these matters. An evangelical cannot be an Arminian any more than an evangelical can be a Roman Catholic. The distinctives of evangelicalism were denied by Rome at the Council of Trent, by the Remonstrants in 1610, were confused and challenged by John Wesley in the eighteenth century, and have become either ignored or denied in contemporary “evangelicalism” (Horton 2013, emphasis added).[2]

Some do not want to use the dichotomy of synergism vs monergism. See:Monergism Versus Synergism: Beware, Kobayashi Maru Ahead!(John Kebbel, Society of Evangelical Arminians). However, for plying these definitions apart, Terrance L Tiessen, wrote:

Calvinism is monergistic in its soteriology, as evidenced particularly in two points in the well known acronym, TULIP – unconditional election and irresistible (or efficacious) grace. These points identify salvation as God’s sovereign work, in which God chose to glorify himself by saving particular people, in Christ, without any conditions on their part except those which God himself efficaciously enables them to fulfill, so that salvation is God’s work from beginning to end, even though it does not come about without human response.

By contrast, though Arminians also insist that salvation is a work of God’s grace, God does not determine who will be saved by it. His prevenient grace enables people to meet the conditions (repentance, faith, and obedience) which they could never have met on their own, but whether or not that grace eventuates in their salvation is determined by the individuals, not by God. So Arminianism has been dubbed “synergistic.”

In both of these understandings of salvation, God’s grace is essential, and in both of them people are not saved apart from their response to God’s grace. But because God determines the outcome in the Calvinist construct, it has been called “monergistic,” though it is clear that God is not the only actor. The key point is that God is the decisive actor, the one whose action determines the outcome.[3]

B. John 10:28-29 and eternal security

These verses read:

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand (ESV).

In responding to an Arminian who wrote about the falling away of believers in Hebrews 6:4-6, a Calvinist wrote on Christian Forums:

Let me put it another way.

Jesus said: “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” -John 10:29 (KJV)

If sin, causes you to come out of the Father’s hand, if you, choosing to sin, takes you out of the Father’s hand, and costs you your salvation, then God ceases to omnipotent (all powerful). Sin, and man (namely you) are able to overpower and take yourself from His care.

Now which is corect (sic)?

No man, not even yourself can take you out of God’s hand, or is sin and man more powerful than God?

Either Jesus and scriptures are correct, or Jesus told a lie and subsequently the scriptures lie also, which means sin and man are more powerful than God.[4]

Another responded, ‘The problem is: in this church age, once you are saved by God, there is no way YOU can unsave yourself no matter what you do’.[5] DeaconDean’s reply was, ‘Sure there is. Haven’t you read the thread?’[6] I’d recommend a read of this online thread to see the back and forth between eternal security supporters – unconditional eternal security – and those who believe in conditional eternal security for Christian believers, i.e. between Calvinists and Arminians.

My reply to DeaconDean[7], who cited the Calvinist, John Gill, on John 10:28, Kittel and others. was:[8]

This is what happens when you read John 10:28-29 in isolation from the rest of John’s Gospel. It is true that ‘I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand…. no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand’ (emphasis added).

BUT this is what can happen. Take a read of John 15:6. This is in the context of being in the vine – God’s vine – and Jesus being the true vine and God the Father being the vinedresser (John 15:1). This is what John 15:6 states, ‘If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (ESV, emphasis added).

The gracious power of God is comprehensively sufficient to protect every born-again Christian believer forever. But a believer can in the end be lost, because salvation is conditional. None of our enemies will be able to snatch us out of the Father’s/Jesus’ hands.
BUT … BUT, any Christians can turn from Jesus, enter into disbelief, commit apostasy and perish by wilful acts of their own. That’s what John 15:6 teaches: ‘‘If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away….’.

Therefore, John 10:28-29 is not an absolute that guarantees once-saved-always-saved (which, by the way, is not biblical language). Eternal life is granted to those who continue to believe. We know this from verses in John such as John 3:36; 6:47,

Whoever believes [Gk present tense – continues believing] in the Son has [Gk present tense – continues to have] eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (John 3:36 ESV)

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes [Gk present tense – continues to believe] has [Gk present tense – continues to have] eternal life (John 6:47 ESV).

 

1. People can commit apostasy

Thus, eternal life only continues as long as a person continues to believe. He or she can commit apostasy by not continuing to believe in Christ for eternal life.

 Chuck Templeton (from Brad Templeton’s photo site)

I know people for whom this has happened and is continuing to happen – apostasy – and they were once vibrant Christians. Consider Charles Templeton, one of Billy Graham’s associates in Billy’s early days of ministry with Youth for Christ. See ‘Death of an apostate’.

Lee Strobel interviewed Templeton for Strobel’s book The case for faith (2000:9-46). Here is a grab from that interview:

And what about Jesus? I wanted to know what Templeton thought of the cornerstone of Christianity. “Do you believe Jesus ever lived?” I asked.

“No question,” came the quick reply.

“Did he think he was God?”

He shook his head. “That would have been the last thought that would have entered his mind.”

“And his teaching – did you admire what he taught?”

“Well, he wasn’t a very good preacher. What he said was too simple. He hadn’t thought about it. He hadn’t agonized over the biggest question there is to ask.”

“Which is …”

Is there a God? How could anyone believe in a God who does, or allows, what goes on in the world?”

“And how do you assess this Jesus?” It seemed like the next logical question – but I wasn’t ready for the response it would evoke.

Templeton’s body language softened. It was as if he suddenly felt relaxed and comfortable in talking about an old and dear friend. His voice, which at times had displayed such a sharp and insistent edge, now took on a melancholy and reflective tone. His guard seemingly down, he spoke in an unhurried pace, almost nostalgically, carefully choosing his words as he talked about Jesus.

“He was,” Templeton began, “the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world. What could one say about him except that this was a form of greatness?”

I was taken aback. “You sound like you really care about him,” I said.

“Well, yes, he is the most important thing in my life,” came his reply. “I . . . I . . . I . . . ,” he stuttered, searching for the right word, ‘I know it may sound strange, but I have to say . . . I adore him!” . . .

” . . . Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. Yes . . . yes. And tough! Just look at Jesus. He castigated people. He was angry. People don’t think of him that way, but they don’t read the Bible. He had a righteous anger. He cared for the oppressed and exploited. There’s no question that he had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion, of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus….’

“Uh . . . but . . . no,’ he said slowly, ‘he’s the most . . .” He stopped, then started again. “In my view,” he declared, “he is the most important human being who has ever existed.”

That’s when Templeton uttered the words I never expected to hear from him. “And if I may put it this way,” he said as his voice began to crack, ‘I . . . miss . . . him!”

With that tears flooded his eyes. He turned his head and looked downward, raising his left hand to shield his face from me. His shoulders bobbed as he wept. . . .

Templeton fought to compose himself. I could tell it wasn’t like him to lose control in front of a stranger. He sighed deeply and wiped away a tear. After a few more awkward moments, he waved his hand dismissively. Finally, quietly but adamantly, he insisted: “Enough of that” (Strobel 2000:20-21).

https://i1.wp.com/thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/files/2013/05/001.gif?resize=315%2C248

Chuck Templeton, Torrey Johnson and Billy Graham in a publicity photo for the European trip taken in the YFC offices in Chicago, about  March 1946. (Billy Graham Center Archives, Wheaton College) [courtesy Justin Taylor].

However, Hebrews 6:4-6 is very clear about what happens to those who apostatise from the faith: ‘It is impossible to restore [them] again to repentance’ (6:4).

What, then, is apostasy?

Apostasy refers to

defection from the faith, an act of unpardonable rebellion against God and his truth. The sin of apostasy results in the abandonment of Christian doctrine and conduct. With respect to the covenant relationship established through prior profession of faith (passive profession in the case of baptized infants), apostates place themselves under the curse and wrath of God as covenant breakers, having entered into a state of final and irrevocable condemnation. Those who apostatize are thus numbered among the reprobate. Since the resurrection of Christ, there is no distinction between blasphemy against Christ and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt 12:31-32; Heb 6:4-6 ; 10:26-29 ; 1 John 5:16-17) [Karlberg 1996].

John 10:28-29 cannot be read in isolation apart from John 3:36; 6:47 and 15:6.

I have to be honest with what the text says, based on the tenses of the original language.

I do not think that you will like this kind of news (and it shouldn’t be new news for you), but that is what the texts say.

And have a guess what? First Timothy 1:19 and Hebrews 6:4-6 confirm that this can happen. People can continue to believe or to discontinue in belief. They then move from eternal life to eternal damnation. That’s how I see the Bible unfolding.

I have to be honest with the biblical text and in this case, with John’s Gospel.

I replied:[9]

So I respectfully disagree with your ‘accessment’. I do hope you mean assessment and not accessment. Accessment is not a word in my dictionary (also check Dictionary.com).

Also he wrote, ‘Now, regarding the Hebrews passage, I’m sure your (sic) familiar with Kittles (sic)?’ His name is spelled Kittel.
I agree with the Greek exegesis of Kittel (I have the 10 volumes of the Theological Dictionary that he co-edited with Gerhard Friedrich) where he explained that a person who commits apostasy cannot be brought again to repentance. That’s Bible!

See my detailed exposition of Hebrews 6:4-8 in my, ‘Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again? What you have cited from John Gill on Heb. 6:4-6 is not in agreement with the exegesis I have provided in my exposition.

I wrote, that John 10:28-29 should not be read in isolation from John 3:36; 6:47 and 15:6′. What did I notice in his response? He provided not one word to refute the content of John 3:36; 6:47 and 15:6, which teach that eternal life is conditional on people continuing to believe. People will continue to have eternal life if they continue to believe and they continue to remain in the vine. These verses are contrary to the view this person was advocating.

In my understanding of the exegesis, a once saved, always saved view is not taught by these verses that require continuing belief to enter eternal life. And that is taught by John 3:16 as well, ‘whoever believes’ means ‘whoever continues to believe’ because the Greek for ‘believes’ is a present tense Greek participle, indicating continuing action. Thus affirming the other verses that I’ve cited from John that continuing / continuous believing is needed to enter and retain eternal life.

Thus, perseverance of the saints is a much more biblical description of the perspective in Scripture – as I understand the Greek present tense used in the verses I have mentioned – than a once saved, always saved view (based on my understanding of the Greek grammar of the meaning of the present tense).

In the Baptist church in which I was raised, I was taught the view this person advocated of once saved, always saved. But my examination of these Scriptures has brought me to the view I am here sharing. I take seriously the Scriptural injunction:

‘Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers [and sisters], for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness’ (James 3:1 ESV).

The NLT and the new NIV correctly translate adelphoi as brothers and sisters, based on the Greek etymology This is shown in the New Living Translation and the latest NIV. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon confirms that ‘brother’ as in the singular adelphos means any believer, male or female. Arndt and Gingrich note that ‘Jesus calls everyone who is devoted to him brother Mt 12:50; Mk 3:25, esp. the disciples Mt 28:10; J 20:17. Hence gener. for those in such spiritual communion Mt 25:40; Hb 2:12 (Ps 21:23[22:22), 17 al’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:15-16).

So I respectfully come to a different conclusion to yours.

C. Conditional security in John’s Gospel

Another poster wrote:[10]

John 8:31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you ?abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.

This shows the principle and is why in John 15:6 those branches that are burned do not abide in His word as opposed to those in v7.

John 15:6-7 If anyone does not abide in Me, ??he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. ?7? If you abide in Me, and My words ?abide in you, ?you ?will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you

My response was:[11]

Now let’s do the exegesis to obtain the meaning of John 8:31, which stated in full reads, ‘So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples”’ (ESV).

‘Had believed’ is a perfect tense, active voice, participle. Thus it means that those believed in the past and had continuing results of believing. As for ‘abide’ it is an aorist subjunctive verb. It is the conditional subjunctive and a point action, but it needs to be combined with the perfect tense of ‘had believed’ to understand that the meaning is that these Jews had believed in Jesus but they had continuing results of their believing. As a result, they ‘are’ (present tense, continuous action) continuing to be his disciples.

Therefore, based on this exegesis of the Greek text, eternal security is based on continuing to be a disciple. This is not talking about once saved and no longer serving God. It is talking about once saved and continuing to be saved by continuing to believe. That’s why I find the language of ‘once saved, always saved’ to send a message that does not line up with the biblical message of continuing to believe to attain eternal life (as in John 3:16; 3:36; 6:47; 15:6).

John 15:6-7 affirms the need to continue to abide (believe) to remain in the vine.

His response was somewhat unexpected:[12]

After reading your comments here, without going back rereading all the earlier posts I am confused as to why we have disagreed. Other than these in v30 had believed just as Jesus had spoken in the preceding verses and later on in this chapter we see that it is not leading to their salvation. But as far as your other explanations in this post I would agree that saving faith is a one time event that needs not to be renewed but saving faith is a present tense action that will evidence itself in abiding in His word. God looks at the heart and even know the future so He is not sealing and unsealing His children. They are sealed unto the day of redemption. It is God holding on to us and not us holding on to God, Ps 37:23-24, God is the one performing the action of the holding on to us. That is why I agree with Paul when he said being fully persuaded that He who began the good work in you will perform it unto the end.

I’m not of the view that we are agreeing with the need to continue to believe and that it is possible for a genuine believer to commit apostasy. So I replied:[13]

I’m not so sure that we are in agreement as I have provided verses to confirm that John 10:28-29 is in harmony with John 3:16; 3:36; 6:47; and 15:6 where believers are required to continue to believe to attain eternal life. Thus OSAS, in my understanding, is an improper explanation of this view as apostasy can be committed (1 Tim 1:19; Heb 6:4-6; 1 John 4:1-3).

Is it your understanding that a person can be generally saved, continue to follow Jesus, walk away from the faith and then commit apostasy? And the person who commits apostasy cannot be brought again to repentance (Heb 6:4-6). If this is your view, then we are on the same page. But is that your view?

But the OSAS is what I was raised on and I’ve rejected it because I do not find it taught with a consistent hermeneutic in Scripture.

D. Continuing belief needed for eternal security

I do wish my two friends who have committed apostasy would be able to return to repentance, but Hebrews 6:4-6 says that is not possible as ‘they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt’ (6:6 ESV). Heb. 6:4 is adamant in its teaching about those who commit apostasy: ‘for it is impossible to restore again to repentance’. That’s not the way my limited understanding of compassion and mercy works. But that’s based on the absolute justice, empathy, love and compassion of the absolutely honest Almighty God.

I have an ultimate commitment to the Lord God Almighty who revealed His will in the infallible Scriptures (in the original languages).[14]

Let’s check out …

 

E.  R C H Lenski, a Lutheran, on John 10:28-29

John 10:28 in Lenski’s translation is, ‘And I will give them life eternal, and they shall in no wise perish forever, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand’ (Lenski 1943:754-755). Of this verse, Lenski wrote of the second half of the verse, beginning with ‘they shall in no wise perish forever’:

This is a double and direct promise; the doubling increases the emphasis. “To perish” is to be separated from God, life, and blessedness forever. John and Paul use especially the middle voice [i.e. meaning ‘for oneself’ – SDG] of the verb in this sense…. It is the opposite of being saved…. “Shall in no way perish” would itself be enough, the modifier “forever” is added pleonastically[15]: this dreadful act shall never occur…. This promise holds good from the moment of faith onward. The verb “to perish” never means “to suffer annihilation,” or to cease to exist.

The first part of the promise is stated from the viewpoint of the sheep: they shall never perish. The second part is from the viewpoint of Jesus and of any hostile being that might attack the sheep: No one shall snatch them out of his hand…. The “hand” of Jesus is his power. His gracious power is all-sufficient to protect every believer forever (Lenski 2001:756).

But wait a minute! Are there not New Testament passages that warn about the danger of a true believer falling away? Reading Lenski on John 10:28 it sounds like Jesus’ followers are saved forever and shall never ever experience anything that would cause them to lose their salvation. But that is not what he concludes from John 10:28. He continues, ‘However weak the sheep are, under Jesus they are perfectly safe. Yet a believer may after all be lost (15:6). Our certainty of eternal salvation is not absolute. While no foe of ours is able to snatch us from our Shepherd’s hand, we ourselves may turn from him and may perish wilfully of our own accord’ (Lenski 2001:756).

His translation of John 10:29 is, ‘My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand’ (Lenski 2001:757). He explained that ‘has given’ is in the perfect tense in Greek and ‘has its usual force: a past act when the Son entered on his mission and its abiding effect as long as that mission endures’. In addition, ‘while “greater” is broad, here it must refer especially to power: the Father exceeds in power every being arrayed against the sheep (Satan, demon spirits, human foes however mighty)’ (2001:758).

But what about nobody ‘able to snatch us from our Shepherd’s hand’? Surely that sounds like a sine qua non to affirm once saved, always saved? Lenski explains:

After thus declaring the Father’s might, it might seem superfluous for Jesus to add, “and no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand,” for this is certainly self-evident. The reason for the addition lies far deeper. Jesus deliberately parallels what he says of himself, “no one shall snatch them out of my hand,” with what he says of his Father, “no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” The fact that he mentions the detail (“shall snatch”) with reference to himself is due to his being on his saving mission; that he mentions the possibility (“can snatch”) with reference to the Father is due to the Father’s institution of that mission. Both thus belong together; Father and Son, fact and possibility. Does the promise of Jesus, standing there in human form before the Jews, sound preposterous, that no one shall snatch his sheep out of his hand? To snatch them out of his hand is the same as snatching them out of the Father’s hand. Remember the relation of these two hands as his relation centers in the sheep (Lenski 2001:758-759, emphasis in original).

Lenski applies this understanding to John 10:30, his translation being, ‘I and the Father, we are one’. He explains that ‘what is thus prepared [in the preceding verse] is now pronounced in so many words: “I and the Father, we are one”. The equal power to protect the sheep is due to the equality of these two persons. This makes the mighty acts of equal protection perfectly plain. This makes the mighty acts of equal protection perfectly plain’ (Lenski 2001:759).

Lenski has already indicated that John 10:28-29 does not mean that eternal security is affirmed absolutely, ‘Our certainty of eternal salvation is not absolute. While no foe of ours is able to snatch us from our Shepherd’s hand, we ourselves may turn from him and may perish wilfully of our own accord’ (2001:756).

Mountains

(courtesy ChristArt)

 

F. Is any kind of reconciliation possible?

It is evident from these discussions on a Christian online forum that there was no movement by Calvinists affirming unconditional eternal security and my position as a Reformed Arminian, enunciating a conditional eternal security position. The view that one needs to continue to believe to guarantee eternal security (John 3:16; 3:36; 6:47; 15:6) did not make any impact on these people. It is also evident that some Calvinists, who are anti-Arminian (e.g. Riddlebarger & Horton) have doubts about Arminians being evangelical Christians and even align them with a heresy (Arianism).

There seem to be some aspects of Christian theology where there can be no reconciliation between Calvinists and Arminians. Roger Olson, an evangelical Arminian, claims that these include the nature of God and the understanding of free will. He wrote:

Contrary to popular belief, then, the true divide at the heart of the Calvinist-Arminian split is not predestination versus free will but the guiding picture of God: he is primarily viewed as either (1) majestic, powerful, and controlling or (2) loving, good, and merciful. Once the picture (blik) is established, seemingly contrary aspects fade into the background, are set aside as “obscure” or are artificially made to fit the system. Neither side absolutely denies the truth of the other’s perspective, but each qualifies the attributes of God that are preeminent in the other’s perspective. God’s goodness is qualified by his greatness in Calvinism, and God’s greatness is qualified by his goodness in Arminianism.

Arminians can live with the problems of Arminianism more comfortably than with the problems of Calvinism. Determinism and indeterminism cannot be combined; we must choose one or the other. In the ultimate and final reality of things, people either have some degree of self-determination or they don’t. Calvinism is a form of determinism. Arminians choose indeterminism largely because determinism seems incompatible with God’s goodness and with the nature of personal relationships. Arminians agree with Arminius, who stressed that “the grace of God is not ‘a certain irresistible force…. It is a Person, the Holy Spirit, and in personal relationships there cannot be the sheer over-powering of one person by another’” (in Olson 2006:73-74).

Therefore, Olson reaches the conclusion that

the continental divide between Calvinism and Arminianism, then, lies with different perspectives about God’s identity in revelation. Divine determinism creates problems in God’s character and in the God-human relationship that Arminians simply cannot live with. Because of their controlling vision of God as good, they are unable to affirm unconditional reprobation (which inexorably follows from unconditional election) because it makes God morally ambiguous at best. Denying divine determinism in salvation leads to Arminianism (Olson 2006:74).

It was Olson (2006:74, n. 21) who alerted me to what R C Sproul (1986:139-160) addressed the double-predestination issue. Sproul wrote:

DOUBLE predestination. The very words sound ominous. It is one thing to contemplate God’s gracious plan of salvation for the elect. But what about those who are not elect? Are they also predestined? Is there a horrible decree of reprobation? Does God destine some unfortunate people to hell?…

Unless we conclude that every human being is predestined to salvation, we must face the flip side of election. If there is such a thing as predestination at all, and if that predestination does not include all people, then we must not shrink from the necessary inference that there are two sides to predestination. It is not enough to talk about Jacob; we must also consider Esau (Sproul 1986:141).

Sproul regard Romans 9:16 as fatal to Arminianism. He quotes the New King James Version, ‘So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy’. The ESV reads, ‘So then it depends not on human will or exertion,[16]but on God, who has mercy’. Sproul’s commentary is:

Though Paul is silent about the question of future choices here, he does not remain so. In verse 16 he makes it clear. “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” This is the coup de grace[17] to Arminianism and all other non-Reformed views of predestination. This is the Word of God that requires all Christians to cease and desist from views of predestination that make the ultimate decision for salvation rest in the will of man. The apostle declares: It is not of him who wills. This is in violent contradiction to the teaching of Scripture. This one verse is absolutely fatal to Arminianism.

It is our duty to honor God. We must confess with the apostle that our election is not based on our wills but on the purposes of the will of God (Sproul 1986:151).

How does an Arminian respond to such an attack on the Arminian view of election/predestination and human responsibility (free will)? I am in agreement with Olson that

the nature of free will is another point where Calvinism and Arminianism diverge and where no middle ground seems possible. Because of their vision of God as good (loving, benevolent, merciful), Arminians affirm libertarian free will. (Philosophers call it incompatibilist free will because it is not compatible with determinism)…. Arminians do not believe in absolute free will; the will is always influenced and situated in a context. Even God is guided by his nature and character when making decisions. But Arminians deny that creaturely decisions and actions are controlled by God or any force outside the self (Olson 1986:75).

As noted by Olson, the Calvinistic, compatibilist free will (if Calvinists talk of free will at all)

is compatible with determinism. This is the only sense of free will that is consistent with Calvinism’s vision of God as the all-determining reality. In compatibilist free will, persons are free so long as they do what they want to do – even if God is determining their desires. This is why Calvinists can affirm that people sin voluntarily and are therefore responsible for their sins even though they could not do otherwise. According to Calvinism God foreordained the Fall of Adam and Eve, and rendered it certain (even if only by an efficacious permission) by withdrawing the grace necessary to keep them from sinning. And yet they sinned voluntarily. They did what they wanted to do even if they were unable to do otherwise. This is a typical Calvinist account of free will.[18]

Once again it is difficult to see how a hybrid of these two views of free will could be created. Could people have freely chosen to do something different than they actually did? Some Calvinists (such as Jonathan Edwards) agree with Arminians that people have the natural ability to do otherwise (e.g., avoid sinning). But what about moral ability? Arminians agree with Calvinists that apart from the grace of God all fallen humans choose to sin; their will is bound to sin by original sin manifesting itself as total depravity (Olson 2006:75).

However, Arminians describe it differently to free will. This moral ability that people have is called prevenient grace, given to them by God. Again, Olson:

Arminians do not call this free will because these people cannot do otherwise (except in terms of deciding which sins to commit!). From the Arminian perspective prevenient grace restores free will so that humans, for the first time, have the ability to do otherwise – namely, respond in faith to the grace of God or resist it in unrepentance and disbelief. At the point of God’s call, sinners under the influence of prevenient grace have genuine free will as a gift of god; for the first time they can freely say yes or no to God. Nothing outside the self determines how they will respond. Calvinists say that humans never have that ability in spiritual matters (any possibility in any matters). People always do what they want to do, and God is the ultimate decider of human wants even though when it comes to sin, God works through secondary causes And never directly causes anyone to sin. These two views are incommensurable. To the Arminian, compatibilist free will is no free will at all. To the Calvinist, incompatibilist free will is a myth; it simply cannot exist because it would amount to an uncaused effect, which is absurd[19] (Olson 2006:75-76, emphasis added).

Contrary to Sproul, Romans 9:16 is not fatal to Calvinism. The Calvinistic and Arminian views of free will are not compatible. Sproul’s view seems to involve his imposition of a Calvinistic worldview on Romans 9:16. What about Romans 9:14-18, which reads:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

This refers back to Exodus 7 and 8. If we note that context, we see that Pharaoh ‘hardened his heart’ (Ex 8:15) and ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ by God (Ex 8:19). So none of the application in Romans 9 excludes the action of individual responsibility for Pharaoh hardening his own heart and thus God hardened it. Human responsibility was not excluded in God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus, as it is in God’s showing mercy and demonstrating hardening Romans 9. God’s actions and human responsibility go together in God’s super plan for the universe.

Therefore, I find Sproul quite wrong in his wanting to make Romans 9:16 to be ‘absolutely fatal to Arminianism’. Calvinism’s and Arminians’ concept of free will, election and predestination are described very differently, so the finger needs to be pointed to Sproul’s faulty understanding of the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism and making his judgement on a Calvinistic basis instead of reading Arminians on their own terms.

Therefore, there can be no reconciliation on the concepts of free will between Arminians and Calvinists while they maintain the positions as expounded above.

 

G. Conclusion

The conclusion is that none the twain shall meet. Calvinists will continue to believe in unconditional eternal security and Reformed/classical Arminians will continue to believe that it is possible for a person to commit apostasy for whom there is then no repentance possible to return to salvation.

For a biblical explanation of prevenient grace, see my articles,

clip_image002 Is prevenient grace still amazing grace?

clip_image002[1] The injustice of the God of Calvinism

clip_image002[2]Some Calvinistic antagonism towards Arminians

Other writings to confirm conditional security

I have written on this topic elsewhere. See:

clip_image004 Spencer Gear: Conversations with a Calvinist on apostasy

clip_image004[1] Spencer Gear: Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again?

clip_image004[2] Matthew Murphy: Practical Problems with OSAS

clip_image004[3] Spencer Gear: What does it mean to shipwreck your faith?

clip_image004[4] Spencer Gear: Is the Holy Spirit’s seal a guarantee of eternal security?

clip_image004[5]Matt O’Reilly: Eternally secure, provided that…

clip_image004[6] Spencer Gear: What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

clip_image004[7] Spencer Gear: Does God want everyone to receive salvation?

clip_image004[8]Steve Witzki: The Inadequate Historical Precedent for ‘Once Saved, Always Saved

clip_image004[9] Spencer Gear: Does God’s grace make salvation available to all people?

clip_image004[10] Spencer Gear: Calvinists, free will and a better alternative

clip_image004[11] Spencer Gear: Is it possible or impossible to fall away from the Christian faith?

clip_image004[12] Steve Jones: Calvinism Critiqued by a Former Calvinist

clip_image004[13]Roy Ingle: Holding Firmly, I Am Held (An Arminian Approach to Eternal Security)

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House)

Edwards, J n d. Freedom of the will. Christian Classics Etherial Library (CCEL).Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/will.html (Accessed 28 September 2013).

Horton, M S 2013. Evangelical Arminians: Option or oxymoron?[20] in Reformation online, September 28. Available at: http://www.reformationonline.com/arminians.htm (Accessed 28 September 2013).

Lenski, R C H 2001. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.[21]

Karlberg, M W 1996. Apostasy, in W A Elwell (ed), Baker’s evangelical dictionary of biblical theology. Available at BibleStudyTools.com, http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/apostasy.html (Accessed 8 July 2013).

Olson, R E 1999. The story of Christian theology: Twenty centuries of tradition and reform. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Academic.

Olson, R E 2006. Arminian theology: Myths and realities. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Academic.

Peterson, R A & Williams, M D 1992. Why I am not an Arminian. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

Riddlebarger, K 1992. Fire and water. Modern reformation, May/June, 1-8 (Archives of Modern reformation, Riddleblog). Available at: http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/from-the-archives/fire%20and%20water.pdf (Accessed 29 September 2013).

Strobel, L 2000 The case for faith: A journalist investigates the toughest objections to Christianity. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Notes


[1] I was alerted to this citation by Olson (2006:79).

[2] Olson (2006:81) referred me to a portion of this citation, thus directing me to the original article.

[3] Terrence L Tiessen, Thoughts Theological, Is sanctification synergistic or monergistic? April 9, 2013, available at: http://thoughtstheological.com/is-sanctification-synergistic-or-monergistic/ (Accessed 29 September 2013).

[4] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Eternal security’, DeaconDean#73, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7775412-8/ (Accessed 28 September 2013).

[5] Danv8#74, ibid.

[6] DeaconDean#75, ibid.

[7] His post was at DeaconDean#73, ibid.

[8] OzSpen#79, ibid.

[9] OzSpen#93, ibid.

[10] iwbswiaihl #81 (emphasis in original), ibid.

[11] OzSpen#94, ibid.

[12] iwbswiaihl #96, ibid.

[13] OzSpen#98, ibid.

[14] I wrote the above 2 paragraphs as OzSpen#99, ibid.

[15] This means ‘the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea; redundancy’ (Dictionary.com, accessed 28 September 2013).

[16] Here the ESV footnote is, ‘Greek not of him who wills or runs’.

[17] The online Free Dictionary gives the meaning of coup de grace as, ‘a death blow, esp. one delivered mercifully to end suffering’ and ‘any finishing or decisive stroke’.

[18] Here Olson referred to Peterson & Williams 1992:136-161).

[19] At this point, Olson gave the footnote, ‘The classic Calvinist critique of libertarian free will is found in Jonathan Edward’s treatise “Freedom of the Will”’ (Olson 1986:76, n. 23). For this treatise, see Edwards (n d).

[20] This was originally published in Modern Reformation, 1 (3) May-June 1992, available at: http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=776&var3=searchresults&var4=Search&var5=Evangelical_Arminians (Accessed 28 September 2013).

[21] This was originally published in 1943 by Lutheran Book Concern and assigned to Augsburg Publishing House in 1961.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.

Choice or determinism in salvation

Joshua 24:15: ‘Choose this day whom you will serve’

Spencer D Gear

Path Pick

ChristArt

It is common in online forums for Calvinists to push the line that people do not have the choice to choose to serve the Lord God or Jesus, or to reject him. This happened in one thread where I contribute.

There was this statement by a noted Calvinist on the forum: ‘Israel didn’t choose to be chosen by God. God took it upon himself to choose them’.[1]

My brief response was:[2]

You seem to be overlooking Joshua 24:14-15,

14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (ESV)

Israel has a choice as to which God/gods they would serve. That’s Bible!clip_image001

The reply was: ‘What was the list of options Joshua told his listeners to choose between, in that verse?’[3]

I replied: [4]

What was the list of options Joshua told his listeners to choose between, in that verse?

The text is clear. Please read it: Choose…

10tn_.jpg 0.9K ‘whom you will serve’;

10tn_.jpg 0.9K ‘the gods your fathers served’, OR

10tn_.jpg 0.9K ‘the gods of the Amorites;

10tn_.jpg 0.9K ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord’ (Joshua 24:15).

The ability of contrary choice is given by God to all people. And it started in the garden with Adam in choosing to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil OR not to choose such.

Why do you find this so difficult to understand when the Scriptures are crystal clear? Well, they are crystal clear in my hermeneutical understanding.

This fellow came back:

Joshua told them to choose from between their false gods. He never asked them to choose between their false gods, or the Real God.

He didn’t say “choose this day whom you will server, whether the gods of the Amorites, or the gods your fathers served, or the Lord”.

thus, you are using that verse out of context. you are using it in application for something it doesn’t even support.[5]

Is there real choice for unbelievers and Christians in things of God?

Life Voyage

ChristArt

I responded to the above person:[6]

That is not what it says in context. Joshua 24:14-17 reads:

14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed (ESV, emphasis added)

Note the points in context:

  1. ‘Fear the Lord and serve him’ (v 14). This is a command to fear the Lord God.
  2. ‘Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord’ (v 14). So their fathers served foreign ‘gods’ and they were commanded to fear the Lord God and to put away foreign Gods. The choice was between the Lord God and false gods. Your charge against me is thus shown to be false.
  3. The v. 15 makes the choice clear: Serve the Lord OR the gods your fathers served OR the gods of the Amorites. They were told that they had a choice to make. That’s what this verse states. It’s a similar choice to what Adam had in the garden to choose between the tree of knowledge of good or evil. He chose the evil and we’ve had to struggle with sinful vs godly choices ever since. That’s Bible.
  4. The people chose to not forsake the Lord and serve other gods (v 16). They had a choice. The ‘choose this day whom you will serve’ was as real for them as it is for us today.
  5. Then evidence is given for the nature of the actions of the Lord God and how he had acted on their behalf in the past. Interesting, isn’t it?, of God providing evidence of his actions on their behalf.

I find this person’s charge that Joshua ‘never asked them to choose between their false gods, or the Real God’, to be false – based on the biblical evidence from Joshua 24.

Spin doctors

Image titled Bowl Leg Spin Step 5

(courtesy WikiHow)

There are various other grips in leg spin bowling in cricket (wrong-un, flipper, stock ball) that are designed to deceive the batsman. When people speak spin, they use terminology and description designed to deceive the listener in some way. In my country of Australia it is standard to hear politicians being interviewed and no matter what the question, the standard or populist party line is promoted. When politicians do this kind of thing in interviews, some commentators call it ‘spin’.

Andrew Bolt’s articles often call politicians for the ‘spin’ they use to try to deceive listeners. See:

16tn_.jpg 0.9KRudd’s spin just cooks that goose worse’ (Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun).

16tn_.jpg 0.9KMaking Indonesia spin Labor’s lines’ (Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun).

16tn_.jpg 0.9KMundine slams Rudd’s “political negative spin”’ (Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun).

See the articles:

5tn_.jpg 1.1K Political spin undermines democracy (Sydney Morning Herald);

5tn_.jpg 1.1K Political spin: politicians, journalists and spin doctors (BBC interview);

5tn_.jpg 1.1K Spin doctor exodus as political wheel turns (The Australian);

5tn_.jpg 1.1K Political spin checklist (ABC, The Drum).

Spin doctors in Christianity

This is the kind of thing that some Christians can get up to when promoting a certain theological perspective. And that’s what it is because, no matter what the interviewer asks, the person interviewed gives the same old, pre-programmed answer that the party line requires. It is an unthoughtful response that does not answer the question asked by the interviewed. It simply goes onto the party line and avoids dealing with the issues raised. See:

20tn_.jpg 1.1K Christian spin doctors (Know it’s true);

20tn_.jpg 1.1K Debunking The ‘War On Christianity’: The Dangers Of Out-Of-Control Spin (Americans United);

20tn_.jpg 1.1K A postmodern spin on religion: Pagan Christianity (Albert Mohler, MP3);

20tn_.jpg 1.1K Mortification of Spin is the “best Christian Podcast ever” – Frank Turk, blogger and speaker (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals);

Some can get quite brazen in what they call ‘spin’ in association with Christianity. One fellow who calls himself, SinfulSaint, wrote: ‘Apologetics is the art of reframing a belief so that it becomes believable; it’s spin doctoring for religion. I hate to inform you good folks but you all are tools of the spin doctors’ (Topix, ‘Christian Spin Doctors’, SinfulSaint#1).  An immediate response was, ‘Careful, your ignorance is showing:-) I’d verture a guess you are not a member of your local Tea Party:-)’ [BarnsWeb]. SinfulSaint’s reply was:

According to the Bible, the sun revolves around the Earth.(Job 9:7 and Joshua 10:12-13, Psalms 93:1, Psalms 96:10, 2 Samuel 22:16) I’m sorry to disappoint you folks; the sun does not revolve around the earth.

Per the Bible, the Earth is flat (Job 28:24, Matthew 4:8, Daniel 4:10-11). The last time I looked, it was round.

Per the Bible, the Earth has pillars (Job 9:6, 1 Samuel 2:8, Job 26:11, Psalms 75:3). Pillars? No comment needed; speaks for itself.

“And the hare, because he cheweth the cud he is unclean unto you.”(Lev. 11:6). Okay, maybe Rabbits evolved a bit since then. Rabbits do not chew their cud. They “re’chew” partially digested droppings in the early morning hours to get more nutrients out of them (SinfulSaint#4).

If you read these verses in, say, the English Standard Version, you’ll find that they do not say what SinfulSaint claims. So SinfulSaint is really using a straw man logical fallacy.

However, I find Calvinists and Arminians can use ‘spin’ on Christian forums. They can give the pre-programmed position of their theological positions to put on an acceptable face for the reader, without engaging in a reasoned response. Thoughtful Christians requires Christians to be renewed in their minds so that they can think Christianly. This also means giving a fair and reasonable interpretation of the biblical text. This is best done when the interpreter has a knowledge of the original languages of Hebrew and Aramaic for the OT and koine Greek for the NT. However, a comparison of excellent modern translations can help to gain the possible differences of interpretation from the original text. I recommend:

2tn_.jpg 1.0K English Standard Version;

2tn_.jpg 1.0K New Revised Standard Version;

2tn_.jpg 1.0K New American Standard Bible;

2tn_.jpg 1.0K New King James Version (unfortunately it uses the Textus Receptus for the Greek text);

2tn_.jpg 1.0K New International Version; and

2tn_.jpg 1.0K New Living Translation.

Thoughtful Christianity

Think

ChristArt

Christians not only have a new spiritual heart because of their regeneration in Christ, but also they are called upon to have a renewed mind. Here is a sample of NT and OT verses from the ESV to encourage us to ‘think about these things’:

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’.

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K Romans 12:1-2, ‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’.

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K 2 Corinthians 4:16, ‘So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day’.

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K Psalm 119:11, ‘I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you’.

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K Ephesians 4:23, ‘And to be renewed in the spirit of your minds’,

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K1 Peter 1:13, ‘Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ’.

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ’.

A_righttn_.jpg 0.8K John 8:32, ‘And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (emphases added in the above verses).

Thoughtful Christianity includes increasing and growing in renewing of the mind,. This is required for all Christians who want to mature in the faith. I find it helpful to have a person with whom I can be accountable to cause me to think about my faith. Be warned! They are as scarce as hens’ teeth to find. Most of the time I have to rely on solid evangelical apologists, theologians and exegetes to help me with the renewing of my mind! My experience is that thinking Christianity that learns to articulate the faith as it relates to issues in our world, is in short supply.

I read both friends and enemies (including religious opposition) of the faith. The enemies include the fellows of the Jesus Seminar, including John Dominic Crossan and Robert Funk. Other opponents of the faith are Albert Schweitzer, Paul Tillich, Rudolf Bultmann, Sir Lloyd Geering, Barbara Thiering, Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong. I read them all, plus many more opponents of Christianity or modernist and postmodernist theologians or pastor-teachers.

These Christian scholars have been of considerable help: Paul Barnett (history), N T Wright (historical Jesus), D A Carson (exegesis, postmodernism), R C H Lenski (NT exegesis), Ravi Zacharias (apologist), Henry C Thiessen (theologian), William Lane Craig (apologist), Norman Geisler(theologian, apologist), Anthony Thiselton (historical Jesus, postmodernism), Kevin Vanhoozer (historical Jesus, postmodernism), Ben Witherington (historical Jesus), Craig Evans (historical Jesus), Gordon Lewis & Bruce Demarest (integrative theology), and other thoughtful evangelicals.

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Calvinist Arminian dialog’, Skala#65, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7773893-7/ (Accessed 30 September 2013).

[2] OzSpen#67, ibid.

[3] Skala#76, ibid.

[4] OzSpen#79, ibid.

[5] Skala#83, ibid.

[6] OzSpen#99, ibid.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 August 2018.

Controversies: Once saved, always saved

By Spencer D Gear

Razor

(image courtesy ChristArt)

It is predictable that in discussions on Christian themes online, that there will be a dialogue, pro and con, regarding eternal security (often called once saved, always saved – OSAS) or perseverance of the saints. Sometimes this discussion can become somewhat heated.

In fact, Roger Olson, an Arminian, is of the view that there will be continuing Calvinistic-Arminian conflict in Christian theology. He wrote:

Whatever the future of the story of Christian theology brings forth, it is bound to be interesting. It always has been. And there are as-yet unresolved issues for theological reformers to work on. The major one, of course, is the old debate between monergists and synergists over God’s relationship with the world. New light from God’s Word is badly needed as the extremes of process theology and resurgent Augustinian-Calvinism polarize Christian thought as never before. While I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, I predict (with fear and trembling) that this issue will be the all-consuming one in Christian theology in the twenty-first century and that new insights and suggestions for resolving it will come from non-Western Christian thinkers. All the options of Western (European and North American) thought seem to have been proposed and have led only to reactions rather than resolutions. If this particular problem of theology is ever to be solved—even in part—the crucial insights will almost certainly need to come from outside of Western culture, with its dualistic mindset that insists on seeing divine and human agencies as in competition with one another (Olson 1999:612).

clip_image003

Roger E Olson (Courtesy InterVarsity)

I encountered this and entered into some discussions with advocates of the OSAS position in a Christian online forum. Arminians have come under some provocative attacks (I write as a Reformed Arminian). Here are a couple of provocative examples:

(1) Kim Riddlebarger has stated, ‘Arminianism is not simply an alternative for evangelicals who are uncomfortable with certain doctrinal tenets of Calvinism.Taken to its logical conclusion, Arminianism is not only a departure from historic orthodoxy, but a serious departure from the evangel itself’ (Riddlebarger 1992:5, emphasis added).[1]

(2) Michael Horton has stated:

There will doubtless be Roman Catholics, Arminians, and others in Paradise who were saved by God’s grace even if they, like me, did not understand or appreciate that grace as much as they should have. Nevertheless, if we are going to still use “evangelical” as a noun to define a body of Christians holding to a certain set of convictions, it is high time we got clear on these matters. An evangelical cannot be an Arminian any more than an evangelical can be a Roman Catholic. The distinctives of evangelicalism were denied by Rome at the Council of Trent, by the Remonstrants in 1610, were confused and challenged by John Wesley in the eighteenth century, and have become either ignored or denied in contemporary “evangelicalism” (Horton 2013, emphasis added).[2]

Some do not want to use the dichotomy of synergism vs monergism. See:Monergism Versus Synergism: Beware, Kobayashi Maru Ahead!(John Kebbel, Society of Evangelical Arminians). However, for plying these definitions apart, Terrance L Tiessen, wrote:

Calvinism is monergistic in its soteriology, as evidenced particularly in two points in the well known acronym, TULIP – unconditional election and irresistible (or efficacious) grace. These points identify salvation as God’s sovereign work, in which God chose to glorify himself by saving particular people, in Christ, without any conditions on their part except those which God himself efficaciously enables them to fulfill, so that salvation is God’s work from beginning to end, even though it does not come about without human response.

By contrast, though Arminians also insist that salvation is a work of God’s grace, God does not determine who will be saved by it. His prevenient grace enables people to meet the conditions (repentance, faith, and obedience) which they could never have met on their own, but whether or not that grace eventuates in their salvation is determined by the individuals, not by God. So Arminianism has been dubbed “synergistic.”

In both of these understandings of salvation, God’s grace is essential, and in both of them people are not saved apart from their response to God’s grace. But because God determines the outcome in the Calvinist construct, it has been called “monergistic,” though it is clear that God is not the only actor. The key point is that God is the decisive actor, the one whose action determines the outcome.[3]

In responding to an Arminian who wrote about the falling away of believers in Hebrews 6:4-6, a Calvinist, DeaconDean, wrote on a Christian Forums:

Let me put it another way.

Jesus said: “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” -John 10:29 (KJV)

If sin, causes you to come out of the Father’s hand, if you, choosing to sin, takes you out of the Father’s hand, and costs you your salvation, then God ceases to omnipotent (all powerful). Sin, and man (namely you) are able to overpower and take yourself from His care.

Now which is corect (sic)?

No man, not even yourself can take you out of God’s hand, or is sin and man more powerful than God?
Either Jesus and scriptures are correct, or Jesus told a lie and subsequently the scriptures lie also, which means sin and man are more powerful than God.
[4]

Another responded, ‘The problem is: in this church age, once you are saved by God, there is no way YOU can unsave yourself no matter what you do’.[5] DeaconDean’s reply was, ‘Sure there is. Haven’t you read the thread? clip_image004[6] I’d recommend a read of this online thread to see the back and forth between eternal security supporters – supporters of unconditional security – and those who believe in conditional eternal security for Christian believers, i.e. between Calvinists and Arminians.

My reply to DeaconDean[7], who cited the Calvinist, John Gill, on John 10:28, Kittel and others was:[8]

This is what happens when you read John 10:28-29 in isolation from the rest of John’s Gospel. It is true that ‘I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand…. no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand’ (emphasis added).

BUT this is what can happen. Take a read of John 15:6. This is in the context of being in the vine – God’s vine – and Jesus being the true vine and God the Father being the vinedresser (John 15:1). This is what John 15:6 states, ‘If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned’ (ESV).

The gracious power of God is comprehensively sufficient to protect every born-again Christian believer forever. But a believer can in the end be lost, because salvation is conditional. None of our enemies will be able to snatch us out of the Father’s/Jesus’ hands.
BUT … BUT, any Christians can turn from Jesus, enter into disbelief, commit apostasy and perish by wilful acts of their own. That’s what John 15:6 teaches.

Therefore, John 10:28-29 is not an absolute that guarantees once-saved-always-saved (which, by the way, is not biblical language; neither is it biblical theology – in my view). Eternal life is granted to those who continue to believe. We know this from verses in John such as John 3:36; 6:47,

‘Whoever believes [Gk present tense – continues believing] in the Son has [Gk present tense – continues to have] eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him’ (John 3:36 ESV).

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes [Gk present tense – continues to believe] has [Gk present tense – continues to have] eternal life (John 6:47 ESV).

Thus, eternal life only continues as long as a person continues to believe. He or she can commit apostasy by not continuing to believe in Christ for eternal life and repudiating belief in Jesus.

I know people for whom this has happened and is continuing to happen – apostasy – and they were once vibrant Christians.

John 10:28-29 cannot be read in isolation apart from John 3:36; 6:47 and 15:6.

I have to be honest with what the text says, based on the tenses of the original language.I do not think that this person will like this kind of news (and it shouldn’t be new news for him), but that is what the texts say. And have a guess what? FirstTimothy 1:19 and Hebrews 6:4-6 confirm that this can happen. People can continue to believe or to discontinue to belief. They then move from eternal life to eternal damnation. That’s how I see the Bible unfolding.

I have to be honest with the biblical text and in this case, with John’s Gospel.

I replied:[9]

So I respectfully disagree with your accessment. I do hope you mean assessment and not accessment. Accessment is not a word in my dictionary (also check Dictionary.com).

Also he wrote, ‘Now, regarding the Hebrews passage, I’m sure your familiar with Kittles?’ His name is spelled Kittel.

I agree with the Greek exegesis of Kittel (I have the 10 volumes of the Theological Dictionary that he co-edited with Gerhard Friedrich) where he explained that a person who commits apostasy cannot be brought again to repentance. That’s Bible!

See my detailed exposition of Hebrews 6:4-8 in my,Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again? What you have cited from John Gill on Heb. 6:4-6 is not in agreement with the exegesis I have provided in my exposition.

I wrote, that John 10:28-29 should not be read in isolation from John 3:36; 6:47 and 15:6. What did I notice in his response? He provided not one word to refute the content of John 3:36; 6:47 and 15:6, which teach that eternal life is conditional on people continuing to believe. People will continue to have eternal life if they continue to believe and they continue to remain in the vine. These verses are contrary to the view this person was advocating.

In my understanding of the exegesis, a once saved, always saved view is not taught by these verses that require continuing belief to enter eternal life. And that is taught by John 3:16 as well, ‘whoever believes’ means ‘whoever continues to believe’ because the Greek for ‘believes’ is a present tense Greek participle, indicating continuing action. Thus affirming the other verses that I’ve cited from John that continuing / continuous believing is needed to enter and retain eternal life.

Thus, perseverance of the saints is a much more biblical description of the perspective in Scripture – as I understand the Greek present tense used in the verses I have mentioned – than a once saved, always saved view (based on my understanding of the Greek grammar of the meaning of the present tense).

In the Baptist church in which I was raised, I was taught the view this person was advocating of once saved, always saved. But my examination of these Scriptures has brought me to the view I am here sharing. I take seriously the Scriptural injunction:

‘Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers [and sisters], for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness’ (James 3:1 ESV)

The NLT and the new NIV correctly translate adelphoi as brothers and sisters, based on the Greek etymology This is shown in the New Living Translation and the latest NIV. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon confirms that ‘brother’ as in the singular adelphos means any believer, male or female. Arndt and Gingrich note that ‘Jesus calls everyone who is devoted to him brother Mt 12:50; Mk 3:25, esp. the disciples Mt 28:10; J 20:17. Hence gener. for those in such spiritual communion Mt 25:40; Hb 2:12 (Ps 21:23[22:22), 17 al’ (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:15-16).

So I respectfully come to a different conclusion to this person.

Conditional security in John’s Gospel

Another poster wrote:[10]

John 8:31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you ?abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.
This shows the principle and is why in John 15:6 those branches that are burned do not abide in His word as opposed to those in v7.

John 15:6-7 If anyone does not abide in Me, ??he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. ?7? If you abide in Me, and My words ?abide in you, ?you ?will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you

 

My response was:[11]

Now let’s do some exegesis to obtain the meaning of John 8:31, which stated in full reads, ‘So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples”’ (ESV).

‘Had believed’ is a perfect tense, active voice, participle. Thus it means that those believed in the past and had continuing results of believing. As for ‘abide’ it is an aorist subjunctive verb. It is the conditional subjunctive and a point action, but it needs to be combined with the perfect tense of ‘had believed’ to understand that the meaning is that these Jews had believed in Jesus but they had continuing results of their believing. As a result, they ‘are’ (present tense, continuous action) continuing to be his disciples.

Therefore, based on this exegesis of the Greek text, eternal security is based on continuing to be a disciple. This is not talking about once saved and no longer serving God. It is talking about once saved and continuing to be saved by continuing to believe. That’s why I find the language of ‘once saved, always saved’ to send a message that does not line up with the biblical message of continuing to believe to attain eternal life (as in John 3:16; 3:36; 6:47; 15:6).

John 15:6-7 affirms the need to continue to abide (believe) to remain in the vine.

His response was somewhat unexpected:[12]

After reading your comments here, without going back rereading all the earlier posts I am confused as to why we have disagreed. Other than these in v30 had believed just as Jesus had spoken in the preceding verses and later on in this chapter we see that it is not leading to their salvation. But as far as your other explanations in this post I would agree that saving faith is a one time event that needs not to be renewed but saving faith is a present tense action that will evidence itself in abiding in His word. God looks at the heart and even know the future so He is not sealing and unsealing His children. They are sealed unto the day of redemption. It is God holding on to us and not us holding on to God, Ps 37:23-24, God is the one performing the action of the holding on to us. That is why I agree with Paul when he said being fully persuaded that He who began the good work in you will perform it unto the end.

I’m not of the view that this fellow espouses on two items: (a) For eternal security, there is a need to continue to believe, and (2) It is possible for a genuine believer to commit apostasy.

So I replied:[13]

I’m not so sure that we are in agreement as I have provided verses to confirm that John 10:28-29 is in harmony with John 3:16; 3:36; 6:47; and 15:6 where believers are required to continue to believe to attain eternal life. Thus OSAS, in my understanding, is an improper explanation of this view as apostasy can be committed (1 Tim 1:19; Heb 6:4-6; 1 John 4:1-3).

Is it your understanding that a person can be generally saved, continue to follow Jesus, walk away from the faith and then commit apostasy? And the person who commits apostasy cannot be brought again to repentance (Heb 6:4-6). If this is your view, then we are on the same page. But is that your view?

But the OSAS is what I was raised on and I’ve rejected it because I do not find it taught with a consistent hermeneutic in Scripture.

Continuing belief needed for eternal security

I do wish my two friends who have committed apostasy would be able to return to repentance, but Hebrews 6:4-6 says that is not possible as “they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (6:6 ESV). Heb. 6:4 is adamant in its teaching about those who commit apostasy: “for it is impossible to restore again to repentance”. That’s not the way my limited understanding of compassion and mercy works. But that’s based on the absolute justice, empathy, love and compassion of the absolutely honest Almighty God.

I have an ultimate commitment to the Lord God Almighty who revealed His will in the infallible Scriptures (in the original languages).[14]

Let’s check out …

Richard C H Lenski, a Lutheran, on John 10:28-29

Cover of: Commentary on the New Testament by R.C.H. Lenski

Lenski’s NT Commentaries (Courtesy Open Library)

John 10:28 in Lenski’s translation is, ‘And I will give them life eternal, and they shall in no wise perish forever, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand’ (Lenski 1943:754-755). Of this verse, Lenski wrote of the second half of the verse, beginning with ‘they shall in no wise perish forever’:

This is a double and direct promise; the doubling increases the emphasis. “To perish” is to be separated from God, life, and blessedness forever. John and Paul use especially the middle voice [i.e. meaning ‘for oneself’ – SDG] of the verb in this sense…. It is the opposite of being saved…. “Shall in no way perish” would itself be enough, the modifier “forever” is added pleonastically[15]: this dreadful act shall never occur…. This promise holds good from the moment of faith onward. The verb “to perish” never means “to suffer annihilation,” or to cease to exist.

The first part of the promise is stated from the viewpoint of the sheep: they shall never perish. The second part is from the viewpoint of Jesus and of any hostile being that might attack the sheep: No one shall snatch them out of his hand…. The “hand” of Jesus is his power. His gracious power is all-sufficient to protect every believer forever (Lenski 2001:756).

But wait a minute! Are there not New Testament passages that warn about the danger of a true believer falling away? Reading Lenski on John 10:28 it sounds like Jesus’ followers are saved forever and shall never ever experience anything that would cause them to lose their salvation. But that is not what he concludes from John 10:28. He continues, ‘However weak the sheep are, under Jesus they are perfectly safe. Yet a believer may after all be lost (15:6). Our certainty of eternal salvation is not absolute. While no foe of ours is able to snatch us from our Shepherd’s hand, we ourselves may turn from him and may perish wilfully of our own accord’ (Lenski 2001:756).

His translation of John 10:29 is, ‘My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand’ (Lenski 2001:757). He explained that ‘has given’ is in the perfect tense in Greek and ‘has its usual force: a past act when the Son entered on his mission and its abiding effect as long as that mission endures’. In addition, ‘while “greater” is broad, here it must refer especially to power: the Father exceeds in power every being arrayed against the sheep (Satan, demon spirits, human foes however mighty)’ (Lenski 2001:758).

But what about nobody ‘able to snatch us from our Shepherd’s hand’? Surely that sounds like a sine qua non to affirm once saved, always saved? Lenski explains:

After thus declaring the Father’s might, it might seem superfluous for Jesus to add, “and no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand,” for this is certainly self-evident. The reason for the addition lies far deeper. Jesus deliberately parallels what he says of himself, “no one shall snatch them out of my hand,” with what he says of his Father, “no one can snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” The fact that he mentions the detail (“shall snatch”) with reference to himself is due to his being on his saving mission; that he mentions the possibility (“can snatch”) with reference to the Father is due to the Father’s institution of that mission. Both thus belong together; Father and Son, fact and possibility. Does the promise of Jesus, standing there in human form before the Jews, sound preposterous, that no one shall snatch his sheep out of his hand? To snatch them out of his hand is the same as snatching them out of the Father’s hand. Remember the relation of these two hands as his relation centers in the sheep (Lenski 2001:758-759, emphasis in original).

Lenski applies this understanding to John 10:30, his translation being, ‘I and the Father, we are one’. He explains that ‘what is thus prepared [in the preceding verse – SDG] is now pronounced in so many words: “I and the Father, we are one”. The equal power to protect the sheep is due to the equality of these two persons. This makes the mighty acts of equal protection perfectly plain. This makes the mighty acts of equal protection perfectly plain’ (Lenski 2001:759).

Lenski has already indicated that John 10:28-29 does not mean that eternal security is affirmed absolutely, ‘Our certainty of eternal salvation is not absolute. While no foe of ours is able to snatch us from our Shepherd’s hand, we ourselves may turn from him and may perish wilfully of our own accord’ (2001:756).

Conclusion

It is evident from these discussions in a Christian online forum that there was no movement by Calvinists affirming unconditional eternal security and my position as a Reformed Arminian, enunciating a conditional eternal security position. The view that one needs to continue to believe to guarantee eternal security (John 3:16; 3:36; 6:47; 15:6) did not make any impact on these people. It is also evident that some Calvinists, who are anti-Arminian (e.g. Riddlebarger & Horton) have doubts about Arminians being evangelical Christians and even align them with a heresy (Arianism).

There seem to be some aspects of Christian theology where there can be no reconciliation between Calvinists and Arminians. Roger Olson, an evangelical Arminian, claims that these include the nature of God and the understanding of free will. He wrote:

Contrary to popular belief, then, the true divide at the heart of the Calvinist-Arminian split is not predestination versus free will but the guiding picture of God: he is primarily viewed as either (1) majestic, powerful, and controlling or (2) loving, good, and merciful. Once the picture (blik) is established, seemingly contrary aspects fade into the background, are set aside as “obscure” or are artificially made to fit the system. Neither side absolutely denies the truth of the other’s perspective, but each qualifies the attributes of God that are preeminent in the other’s perspective. God’s goodness is qualified by his greatness in Calvinism, and God’s greatness is qualified by his goodness in Arminianism.

Arminians can live with the problems of Arminianism more comfortably than with the problems of Calvinism. Determinism and indeterminism cannot be combined; we must choose one or the other. In the ultimate and final reality of things, people either have some degree of self-determination or they don’t. Calvinism is a form of determinism. Arminians choose indeterminism largely because determinism seems incompatible with God’s goodness and with the nature of personal relationships. Arminians agree with Arminius, who stressed that “the grace of God is not ‘a certain irresistible force…. It is a Person, the Holy Spirit, and in personal relationships there cannot be the sheer over-powering of one person by another’” (in Olson 2006:73-74).

Therefore, Olson reaches the conclusion that

the continental divide between Calvinism and Arminianism, then, lies with different perspectives about God’s identity in revelation. Divine determinism creates problems in God’s character and in the God-human relationship that Arminians simply cannot live with. Because of their controlling vision of God as good, they are unable to affirm unconditional reprobation (which inexorably follows from unconditional election) because it makes God morally ambiguous at best. Denying divine determinism in salvation leads to Arminianism (Olson 2006:74).

It was Olson (2006:74, n. 21) who alerted me to what R C Sproul (1986:139-160) addressed the double-predestination issue. Sproul wrote:

DOUBLE predestination. The very words sound ominous. It is one thing to contemplate God’s gracious plan of salvation for the elect. But what about those who are not elect? Are they also predestined? Is there a horrible decree of reprobation? Does God destine some unfortunate people to hell?…

Unless we conclude that every human being is predestined to salvation, we must face the flip side of election. If there is such a thing as predestination at all, and if that predestination does not include all people, then we must not shrink from the necessary inference that there are two sides to predestination. It is not enough to talk about Jacob; we must also consider Esau (Sproul 1986:141, emphasis in original).

Sproul regard Romans 9:16 as fatal to Arminianism. He quotes the New King James Version, ‘So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy’. The ESV reads, ‘So then it depends not on human will or exertion,[16]but on God, who has mercy’. Sproul’s commentary is:

Though Paul is silent about the question of future choices here, he does not remain so. In verse 16 he makes it clear. “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” This is the coup de grace[17] to Arminianism and all other non-Reformed views of predestination. This is the Word of God that requires all Christians to cease and desist from views of predestination that make the ultimate decision for salvation rest in the will of man. The apostle declares: It is not of him who wills. This is in violent contradiction to the teaching of Scripture. This one verse is absolutely fatal to Arminianism.

It is our duty to honor God. We must confess with the apostle that our election is not based on our wills but on the purposes of the will of God (Sproul 1986:151).

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R C Sproul (courtesy Wikipedia)

How does an Arminian respond to such an attack on the Arminian view of election/predestination and human responsibility (free will)? I am in agreement with Olson that

the nature of free will is another point where Calvinism and Arminianism diverge and where no middle ground seems possible. Because of their vision of God as good (loving, benevolent, merciful), Arminians affirm libertarian free will. (Philosophers call it incompatibilist free will because it is not compatible with determinism…. Arminians do not believe in absolute free will; the will is always influenced and situated in a context. Even God is guided by his nature and character when making decisions. But Arminians deny that creaturely decisions and actions are controlled by God or any force outside the self (Olson 1986:75).

As noted by Olson, the Calvinistic, compatibilist free will (if Calvinists talk of free will at all)

is compatible with determinism. This is the only sense of free will that is consistent with Calvinism’s vision of God as the all-determining reality. In compatibilist free will, persons are free so long as they do what they want to do – even if God is determining their desires. This is why Calvinists can affirm that people sin voluntarily and are therefore responsible for their sins even though they could not do otherwise. According to Calvinism God foreordained the Fall of Adam and Eve, and rendered it certain (even if only by an efficacious permission) by withdrawing the grace necessary to keep them from sinning. And yet they sinned voluntarily. They did what they wanted to do even if they were unable to do otherwise. This is a typical Calvinist account of free will.[18]

Once again it is difficult to see how a hybrid of these two views of free will could be created. Could people have freely chosen to do something different than they actually did? Some Calvinists (such as Jonathan Edwards) agree with Arminians that people have the natural ability to do otherwise (e.g., avoid sinning). But what about moral ability? Arminians agree with Calvinists that apart from the grace of God all fallen humans choose to sin; their will is bound to sin by original sin manifesting itself as total depravity (Olson 1986:75).

However, Arminians describe it differently to free will. This moral ability that people have is called prevenient grace, given to them by God. Again, Olson:

Arminians do not call this free will because these people cannot do otherwise (except in terms of deciding which sins to commit!). From the Arminian perspective prevenient grace restores free will so that humans, for the first time, have the ability to do otherwise – namely, respond in faith to the grace of God or resist it in unrepentance and disbelief. At the point of God’s call, sinners under the influence of prevenient grace have genuine free will as a gift of god; for the first time they can freely say yes or no to God. Nothing outside the self determines how they will respond. Calvinists say that humans never have that ability in spiritual matters (any possibility in any matters). People always do what they want to do, and God is the ultimate decider of human wants even though when it comes to sin, God works through secondary causes And never directly causes anyone to sin. These two views are incommensurable. To the Arminian, compatibilist free will is no free will at all. To the Calvinist, incompatibilist free will is a myth; it simply cannot exist because it would amount to an uncaused effect, which is absurd[19] (Olson 1986:75-76, emphasis added).

Contrary to Sproul, Romans 9:16 is not fatal to Calvinism. The Calvinistic and Arminian views of free will are not compatible. Sproul’s view seems to involve his imposition of a Calvinistic worldview on Romans 9:16. What about the context of Romans 9:14-18, which reads:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

This refers back to Exodus 7 and 8. If we note that context, we see that Pharaoh ‘hardened his heart’ (Ex 8:15) and ‘Pharaoh’s heart was hardened’ by God (Ex 8:19). So none of the application in Romans 9 excludes the action of individual responsibility for Pharaoh hardening his own heart and thus God hardened it. Human responsibility was not excluded in God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus, as it is in God’s showing mercy and demonstrating hardening Romans 9. God’s actions and human responsibility God together in God’s super plan for the universe.

Therefore, I find Sproul quite wrong in his wanting to make Romans 9:16 to be ‘absolutely fatal to Arminianism’. Calvinism’s and Arminians’ concept of free will, election and predestination are described very differently, so the finger needs to be pointed to Sproul’s faulty understanding of the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism and making his judgement on a Calvinistic basis instead of reading Arminians on their own terms.

For a biblical explanation of prevenient grace, see my articles,

clip_image008 Is prevenient grace still amazing grace?

clip_image008[1] The injustice of the God of Calvinism

clip_image008[2]Some Calvinistic antagonism towards Arminians

Other writings to confirm conditional security

I have written on this topic elsewhere. See:

clip_image010 Spencer Gear: Conversations with a Calvinist on apostasy

clip_image010[1] Spencer Gear: Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again?

clip_image010[2] Matthew Murphy: Practical Problems with OSAS

clip_image010[3] Spencer Gear: What does it mean to shipwreck your faith?

clip_image010[4] Spencer Gear: Is the Holy Spirit’s seal a guarantee of eternal security?

clip_image010[5]Matt O’Reilly: Eternally secure, provided that…

clip_image010[6] Spencer Gear: What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

clip_image010[7] Spencer Gear: Does God want everyone to receive salvation?

clip_image010[8]Steve Witzki: The Inadequate Historical Precedent for ‘Once Saved, Always Saved

clip_image010[9] Spencer Gear: Does God’s grace make salvation available to all people?

clip_image010[10] Spencer Gear: Calvinists, free will and a better alternative

clip_image010[11] Spencer Gear: Is it possible or impossible to fall away from the Christian faith?

clip_image010[12] Steve Jones: Calvinism Critiqued by a Former Calvinist

clip_image010[13]Roy Ingle: Holding Firmly, I Am Held (An Arminian Approach to Eternal Security)

I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).

Bibliography

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House)

Edwards, J n d. Freedom of the will. Christian Classics Etherial Library (CCEL). Available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/will.html (Accessed 28 September 2013).

Horton, M S 2013. Evangelical Arminians: Option or oxymoron?[20] in Reformation online, September 28. Available at: http://www.reformationonline.com/arminians.htm (Accessed 28 September 2013).

Lenski, R C H 2001. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. John’s Gospel. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.[21]

Olson, R E 1999. The story of Christian theology: Twenty centuries of tradition and reform. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Academic.

Olson, R E 2006. Arminian theology: Myths and realities. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Academic.

Peterson, R A & Williams, M D 1992. Why I am not an Arminian. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

Riddlebarger, K 1992. Fire and water. Modern reformation, May/June, 1-8 (Archives of Modern reformation, Riddleblog). Available at: http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/from-the-archives/fire%20and%20water.pdf (Accessed 29 September 2013).

Notes:


[1] I was alerted to this citation by Olson (2006:79).

[2] Olson (2006:81) referred me to a portion of this citation, thus directing me to the original article.

[3] Terrence L Tiessen, Thoughts Theological, Is sanctification synergistic or monergistic? April 9, 2013, available at: http://thoughtstheological.com/is-sanctification-synergistic-or-monergistic/ (Accessed 29 September 2013).

[4] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Eternal security’, DeaconDean#73, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7775412-8/ (Accessed 28 September 2013).

[5] Danv8#74, ibid.

[6] DeaconDean#75, ibid.

[7] His post was at DeaconDean#73, ibid.

[8] OzSpen#79, ibid.

[9] OzSpen#93, ibid.

[10] iwbswiaihl #81 (emphasis in original), ibid.

[11] OzSpen#94, ibid.

[12] iwbswiaihl #96, ibid.

[13] OzSpen#98, ibid.

[14] I wrote the above 2 paragraphs as OzSpen#99, ibid.

[15] This means ‘the use of more words than are necessary to express an idea; redundancy’ (Dictionary.com, accessed 28 September 2013).

[16] Here the ESV footnote is, ‘Greek not of him who wills or runs’.

[17] The online Free Dictionary gives the meaning of coup de grace as, ‘a death blow, esp. one delivered mercifully to end suffering’ and ‘any finishing or decisive stroke’.

[18] Here Olson referred to Peterson & Williams 1992:136-161).

[19] At this point, Olson gave the footnote, ‘The classic Calvinist critique of libertarian free will is found in Jonathan Edward’s treatise “Freedom of the Will”’ (Olson 1986:76, n. 23). For this treatise, see Edwards (n d).

[20] This was originally published in Modern Reformation, 1 (3) May-June 1992, available at: http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=776&var3=searchresults&var4=Search&var5=Evangelical_Arminians (Accessed 28 September 2013).

[21] This was originally published in 1943 by Lutheran Book Concern and assigned to Augsburg Publishing House in 1961.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 July 2016.
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Stutters on the stairway: Arminianism vs Calvinism (eternal security)

Stairway To Heaven Spiral

Stairway to Heaven (PublicDomainPictures.net)

By Spencer D Gear

Will there every be unity in the body of Christ on controversial topics on our stairway to heaven? What about,

  • Iinfant vs believers’ baptism?
  • Eternal punishment vs annihilation?
  • Arminianism vs Calvinism on predestination, limited or unlimited atonement, eternal security, free will?
  • Premillennialism, Amillennialism, and Postmillennialism?

On this journey, will there ever be complete agreement on controversial theological topics?

It is not unusual to get some heated discussion online with Christian forums on controversial topics relating to Calvinism and Arminianism, where there are differences of interpretation regarding election, predestination, and eternal security. I write as a convinced evangelical, Reformed Arminian.

What is a Reformed or Reformation Arminian? See the Roger E Olson article, ‘Reformed Arminian‘.

I made this submission to an online Christian forum:

It says the one who is continuing to believe, continues to have eternal life- that’s the meaning of the Greek present tense [John 3:36].

Didn’t you believe that I knew the parsing and meaning of the Greek present tense?

So, eternal security is based on the fact that a person continues to believe in Jesus. It is not a once saved, always saved view, but a perseverance of the saints view – the saints are those who continue to believe. They are not those who once believed and gave up believing? The only guarantee of eternal life is for those who are continuing to believe at the time of death (or at the time of Christ’s second coming if it arrives before the believer dies).[1]

This was the reply:

No, according to scripture, 1 Jn. 2:19, if they depart, stop beliving (sic), they never believed in the first place. Unless you are calling the Apostle John a liar. Are you? And from Jesus’ own mouth, no man, not even yourself can take yourself out of God’s hand. That is, unless Jesus was lying?[2]

To what does 1 John 2:19 refer?[3] It states: ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us’ (ESV).

What’s the context? First John 2:18 states, ‘Children, it is the last hour, as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour’ (ESV).

It is talking about antichrists in our midst.

That is not the discussion point that I’m addressing. I’m talking about people who formerly continued to believe in Jesus and were committed evangelical Christians for a considerable time and who gave up believing in Jesus. They committed apostasy. But you want that to mean that they never believed in the first place. I disagree profoundly! These people did continue to believe for a time and showed fruits of repentance. But then they quit believing (often related to circumstances in their life that left a big negative impact).

Warnings about the need to continue believing

The warning to the children of God in 1 John 2 (the chapter to which you refer) is:

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him (1 John 2:28-29 ESV)

From these two verses, we know that:

clip_image001 ‘abide’ = menete = Greek present tense verb, which means continuing action, i.e. ‘continues to abide’;
clip_image001[1] ‘everyone who practices righteousness’, where ‘practices’ = poiwn (doing) = Greek present tense participle which indicates continuing action, the meaning of which is, ‘who continues doing/practising’.
Verse 29 is clear that the children of God (based on v. 28) are those who continue to do/practice righteousness. It is not dealing with those Christians who used to do righteousness.

I do not believe that sinning willingly means apostasy. So this person created a straw man logical fallacy against my views with his example of Peter and Paul. We cannot have a rational conversation when people respond in this manner in using such fallacies.

Mountains

(Courtesy ChristArt)

Responses to these posts

You might like to take a read of some of the responses to the information I provided above. These are samples:

clip_image003 ‘This is a pretty desperate and contradictory reply, in my opinion’.[4]

clip_image003[1] ‘The problem is on your end, since you do not submit to the scriptures, but only wrest a few to annoy the saints’.[5]

clip_image003[2] ‘Again, the man-centered salvation so prevelant in synergism and Arminianism. That which you so proudly taunt’.[6]

clip_image003[3] ‘So it is impossible for one to backslide, and yet still believe in God? That is the point I take away from all your posts’.[7]

clip_image003[4] ‘according to scripture, 1 Jn. 2:19, if they depart, stop beliving, they never believed in the first place. Unless you are calling the Apostle John a liar. Are you?’[8]

clip_image003[5] ‘So using your standard, we must therefore conclude that since both Peter and Paul sinned willingly, not once, not twice, but at least three times, they lost their salvation, and thusly were not able to “renew them unto repentance”. But tell me, when Peter and Paul both sinned, did they cease to “abide” in Christ? Did they cease to “believe” continuously? Remember, you can “commit apostasy and perish by a willful act of their own.” Who said that? Was it me? Hum…’[9]

clip_image003[6] ‘But notice you say this, without even bothering to acknowledge what the scripture says. What kind of a person sits here telling us these things, but doesn’t bother to respond to points properly? Are you capable of challenging what I have shown is clearly in those verses? If so, then show me, but take on what we say and respond to them specifically. Don’t dance around them as you do, and then get all huffy puffy after making sweeping assertions about it. It seems that you use the word “infallible” not to refer to the scriptures, but to your own point of view, and thus you do not take well to challenges’.[10]

With regard to this last post I made a complaint to the moderators about his emotionally abusive language with language such as:[11]

clip_image005 ‘without even bothering to acknowledge what the scripture says’;

clip_image005[1] ‘What kind of a person sits here telling us these things, but doesn’t bother to respond to points properly?’ (I have spent a lot of time on detailed responses on this forum but I will not continue with interaction with you when you make this kind of false allegation.)

clip_image005[2] ‘Are you capable of challenging’.

clip_image005[3] ‘Don’t dance around them as you do, and then get all huffy puffy after making sweeping assertions about it’.

clip_image005[4] ‘It seems that you use the word “infallible” not to refer to the scriptures, but to your own point of view’.

Petruchio’s response to me was: ‘You keep using this phrase to everything people say to you. I don’t think it means what you think it means. (I can’t post the photo of Inigo until I get a total of 50 posts! clip_image006).[12]

My response was:

Here you give another straw man logical fallacy. When you create a view which I did not state, you have created a straw man logical fallacy.

Here is a description of the straw man fallacy.

If you continue this approach in your responses to me, I will not reply. We cannot have a logical conversation when you use a logical fallacy.[13]

It seems to me from interaction on this Christian forum that I have to be alert to the logical fallacies that others and I use. I will name them as I see and understand them in their posts and also my own. I am not immune to using logical fallacies and I want people to draw my attention to them.

See the Nizkor Project for a description of a reasonably comprehensive list of logical fallacies.

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Logical fallacies

Notes:


[1] OzSpen#113 Christian Forums, Baptists, Eternal Security, OzSpen#113, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7775412-12/ (Accessed 29 September 2013).

[2] DeaconDean#114, ibid.

[3] This is my response as OzSpen#117, ibid.

[4] Petruchio#43, ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] DeaconDean#114, ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] DeaconDean#116, ibid.

[10] Petruchio#121, ibid.

[11] OzSpen#122, ibid. I made a complaint about this post to the moderators. Maybe this could be removed from the forum.

[12] Petruchio#123, ibid.

[13] OzSpen#124, ibid.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.