I find that I’m still reading and thinking about Calvinist issues this week. The more I study the more amazed I am – some day I’ll have to figure out what it is that draws people to such a thorny part of the garden. Meanwhile let’s …
Tip-toe Through the Tulip
|Not tulips either...|
Aren’t acronyms marvelous? Why, the modern world could barely function without reducing every phrase or title to a list of pronounceable initials: SCOTUS and POTUS and PETA and PI. Acronyms allow us to say so much in such a narrow bandwidth that they’ve become indispensible. But they aren’t new. The five points of Calvinism were formalized c1619 as TULIP – a nifty way to remember some fairly outrageous doctrines, most of which began as nuggets of truth which eventually morphed into the misshapen thoughts that permeate a great deal of modern day Christian theology.
The T stands for Total Depravity, i.e. Original Sin. Only the most liberal Christian churches deny the essence of this concept. Eve disobeyed God, ate from the forbidden tree, lured her husband into the same behavior and together they lost their innocence. That loss still manifests itself today in man’s imperfection, in his inability to do anything pure and holy, in his state of “coming short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23).
The only problem with the Calvinist take on this is that the idea has swallowed us whole to the point where we can’t even accept God’s grace without His intervention. Calvinism has allowed Original Sin to destroy free will, putting a nasty knot in the yarn of salvation – how are we to explain the observable fact that some people follow the Lord in spite of their depravity? If we’re born screwed, then in what do we place our hope? No wonder the non-believing world hates Christianity and its God – it has left them hopeless; they can’t choose Him even if they want to. Yikes.
The U is the beginning of Unconditional Election. The Calvinist idea is not entirely wrong here – salvation is based on God’s grace, not on our works (Eph. 2:8-9). However, it runs amuck when it hits the idea of election. Calvinism assumes that God just picks those He will save – regardless of their volition in the matter, and without any stated reason.
The truly ugly part of this is that, according to the U, He doesn’t choose to save everyone – no explanation given. He just randomly leaves some folks out in the cold – actually, it would appear that He leaves a lot of people out in the cold. Yet the Word clearly states that He “is not willing that any should perish and all should come to repentance (metanoeo – a change of mind [re Jesus Christ]) (2Peter 3:9b).
John states that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believed in Him should not perish, but have eternal life,” (John3:16). Not “whosoever I choose,” but “whosoever believes. ” Jesus, Himself, said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” He didn’t say “Whoever I choose shall never die.” He made it contingent on our belief; He was concerned about what we thought of Him.
During His lifetime He spoke to people both intimately and publicly and it is never recorded in scripture that He told people that some would be chosen and some would not. He always balanced salvation on the fulcrum of belief, on our volition. Does the Calvinist just assume that He was, what? Ignorant? Lying? What?
The Word does talk about election, about the chosen, but Calvinism asserts that this choosing has nothing to do with God’s omniscience, as if God could just turn off His total knowledge of absolutely everything and then be unwise enough to make decisions sans that knowledge. I could be that dumb, but I’m totally depraved. I expect more of perfection. God has obviously chosen, or elected those who believed. And lest you accuse me of being an Arminian I’ll point out that those mandates to believe are in a verb tense that indicates an action that takes place at one point in time with results that last forever. Eternal security is there for the believing.
The L is for Limited Atonement. It asserts that God, Who has all the riches of the universe under His control, is so mingy that He only provided salvation for part of the human race. Now, it’s true, we suck, and that is not God’s fault; we were born hopelessly rotten. A quick listen to the evening news and that becomes clear. Adam got us into a lot of trouble, true, but let’s follow the logic here:
1. Adam had a choice to make – to eat or not to eat. God told him which to choose; he disobeyed. As federal head (and genetic head) – the First Adam – he infected us all.
2. Jesus Christ is the only human being ever born without a tainted human nature. He never committed a sin, never “ate from the tree,” so He is uniquely qualified to pay our penalty since He does not have any penalties of His own. He is called “The Last Adam.”
3. He went to the cross and took the punishment due the first Adam (and therefore all of us). Not just the ones God likes. Good grief.
Romans 5:18 says: "Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men."
2 Corinthians 5:14-15: "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again."
1 John 2:2 says: "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."
I stands for Irresistible Grace – the assumption that God makes us believe. Romans 9 discusses this issue at length, emphasizing God’s sovereignty, which occasionally does need to be addressed, but this passage is aimed at the issue of Israel and where it fits in God’s plan – if the Jews are the chosen people, then why are the Gentiles being given the gospel? Because the Jews rejected it. Read to the end of the chapter.
Often Ephesians 2:8-9 is cited as a basis for the assertion that God makes us believe – “… For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Calvinism assumes that God’s grace gives you the faith – that the “it” here is the gift. But a careful look at the pronoun in the Greek shows us that it can only refer back to “grace” and not to “faith.”
My last concern about Irresistible Grace is that it makes mincemeat out of Job and his dilemma, it removes the entire Angelic Conflict from the table. It admits that God is unfair – Satan’s main claim against God – and says, as it were, “So what?” I can’t go there.
Lastly is the P for Perseverance of the Saints. That one is a doozey and will take more time than is available to me now. I’m already over my self-imposed 1200-word limit. So, persevere with me, ye saints, and see me here next week for the rest of the argument. Thanks for reading.