Friday, October 03, 2008

Calvinist Thinking: Unconditional Election and Irresistable Grace

A few years ago Gandalf had a Bible study with some of the Muslim guys who work for us. I was concerned at first because I did not want the fact that they worked for our aid organization to influence what they would say to us about their faith. The truth is I would rather go to their homes and discuss God. But Gandalf said that God was moving him to do this so he did it. Four of the guys attended every morning and paid close attention to what was said. One guy always found reasons not to be there- he is still working with us and is a great guy but just as lost as the first day we met him. But the others listened and as they did one of them seemed to be changing. He cleaned up his language and really seemed to soften. He was a truck driver and a pretty rough character really. After a couple of months he seemed to be a completely different guy. I am not just talking about language but about optimism, charity, hope, and kindness. We were all quite excited to see the transformation in him. Then one day he got in an argument with one of the other workers. I don't know what started it but as I came out of the office he declared to Gandalf and to the other workers there, 'I will never believe that Jesus was the Son of God.' After that he began to deteriorate quickly. He began swearing, he was rude, he was dishonest. Six months later I fired him for stealing.

Well, you can see where I am going with this already can't you? And some of you are quite unhappy about it I am sure. So, let's start from the top. First, while this is a powerful story in my mind it does not overthrow the Word. My theology is built on the Word of God not my experience. I can misread my experience but the Word says what it says. Today we are looking at the U and the I of the Tulip. They do in fact go together (for many Calvinist the TULIP as a whole goes together) and I could not think of a way of approaching one without talking about the other.

Unconditional Election is an important Calvinist teaching that has much merit for us to consider. Calvin used this concept to emphasis that Man can not earn his salvation. There is nothing that Man can do to 'force' God to do anything. With this concept in mind most Calvinists go on to say that this means that men and women are saved by the grace of God alone and Man's choosing to accept God's offer of Grace is simply Man's preordained response to God's call. To put it more simply God calls and Man must respond with a yes. Calvinists reasoning at this point explains that if Man responds of his own volition to the call of God then that constitutes a 'work' that Man could boast in. "Yes, it was God's lucky day when I said, 'yes' to His call." Irresistible Grace takes the idea one step further and states that whoever is called must answer yes. The reason for this concept is that God is Sovereign and if Man could potentially say no to Him He not only would not be sovereign but again, all those who were smart enough to say yes would have reason to boast.

I hope that I have explained these concepts fairly- if not thoroughly- and that everyone reading has a good grasp of what is being discussed to this point. I apologize to my Calvinist friends who doubtless feel I have done a poor job but in my defense I was never destined to be a great theologian or deep thinker. What I really want to address now is where Jesus stands in all of this.

First, let me say that God's sovereignty is a literal reality and I respect Calvinist for highlighting it. Too often Christians glibly say that 'He is in control' and then live a life of high octane anxiety that clearly indicates they either do not believe He is in control or do not trust Him to control things 'properly.' I do believe that the Bible paints a picture of a God who knows what is going on and is in control of it. Look at Jesus life in total. He knows he is going to the cross. There are a million variables that could take Jesus life in another direction. What if more of the Pharisees believed Him? What if the people really had made Him a King after He fed the 5000? What if Judas got cold feet and backed out of betraying Him? He knew what would happen from the beginning and it happened as prophesies had foretold over a thousand years beforehand. He is in control today just the same. You can't read the Bible and come to any other conclusion honestly. But... and here is the but. But Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace fail to capture what is happening in the life of Jesus and in the world today.

So, moving past our experience with one grumpy driver who rejected Jesus what does the Bible say about this subject. I think of Jesus experience with the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10. A young man comes to Jesus and Mark records that Jesus 'loved him'. But when the young man hears what he needs to do (the conditions?) he walks away sad. Jesus does not chase after him or cajole him in any way. He lets him go. He invited the boy in and the boy refused. To apply Unconditional Election is to make irrelevant half the verses in the Bible. God gives us through out the Old and New Testaments 'conditions' that we are to meet. Isaiah 55 is one of the greatest OT invitations and in Acts 2 we see Peter inviting people to come again. He gives some pretty good conditions for coming- like repentance and belief- and I just can't read these without thinking that God is honest and upfront in His invitation. I do not believe that He is telling everyone that they are welcome when in fact, He is only calling some. I will get to Limited Atonement in the next post. We are commanded to seek the Lord and Jesus informs us that all who seek will find Him. Unconditional? How's this for a condition?
"But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?" Romans 10:14
Those are conditions. In our work we see the truth that in places where the Gospel is boldly proclaimed people respond and in places where it is not there is little fruit. We are to go out to the highways and byways and compel them to come in. I appreciate that salvation is a gift from God, provided at great expense by God and it is only by His grace that I am saved. Our works can not save us but we must say yes to His grace. There are many Biblical examples of those who have rejected His grace. The Bible is full of the conditions that must be met to receive His grace. He was very clear about this.

I do not believe that holding such a view denies God's sovereignty. To use a poor analogy that is sure to break down somewhere, God is a master chess player. He will win the game. He is not surprised at the moves being made but anticipates and is prepared for them. Even now He is moving His pieces into position for the final push to the endgame. We must be out and about sharing the Word and giving the invitation. Many will reject Him but some will receive Him and be transformed into an army that will swell the ranks of His Kingdom until the whole of Heaven is filled with grateful souls giving Him the glory He deserves. I do not go in for the saying, 'Pray like it is all up to God and work like it is all up to you.' It makes a nice point about hard work but it is not good theology. No, pray as if it is all up to God and work for God is coming soon and will require an accounting of the use you have made of the costly Grace He has given you. We can resist His Grace as many have- we must not. We must accept His Grace and offer it in turn to a lost and rebellious world. He has commanded us to go and to love and to share. If we fail to meet this condition the judgment will be terrible indeed.

I just reread all of this and I am not happy with it. The bottom line of what I want to present is that of the character of God as demonstrated in Christ. He is an inviting God. In the parable of the Prodigal Son the Father is inviting the younger AND OLDER sons into the banquet. The invitations are genuine. Saying yes is not an act of self righteous works, it is the response He honestly seeks from all of us because He honestly loves all of us.

18 comments:

John said...

You may not be happy with what you've written, but I appreciate the post anyway. Something here has caused me to think deeply about TULIP lately, so your posts are very timely. Please write about the "LIP" when possible.

Strider said...

Thanks for the encouragement John, I will get the rest of the posts on this subject up next week.

debbiekaufman said...

Strider: I realize I keep jumping in but I do believe TULIP and the main reason is that the T as in total depravity must be understood completely before one can go on to other topics. It took 8 or 9 years before a light bulb went on one day, so I don't expect others to grasp it quickly. It is a thinking, reading scripture, thinking, type of doctrine. Scripture interpreting scripture, not just proof-texts. I say all this for a reason.

God is God. Period. Humans are human period. Who does the Bible say God is and who does the Bible say humans are? What are our attributes and what are man's attributes?

debbiekaufman said...

That should be what are God's attributes? That is the place to start.

Rev said...

Hey Strider,

Again i think you pointed out another gap that shows that TULIP is not a holistic theology. But i think we have a mix up in terminology here.

If I am reading you correctly I hope i can summarize what i think is your main point without oversimplifying your post. I think you are saying that there are real conditions in coming to Jesus and receiving salvation.

The U in TULIP is not really talking about salvation or coming-to-Jesus. Rather, the U addresses conditions to "election" (being chosen) not "salvation". In the Calvinist mind "election" and "salvation" are different even through they both go together. Maybe that is a unfair distinction... but it is a distinction in the Calvinist system none-the-less.

The point of U is that God choosing or 'electing' is unconditional. God does not favor rich people /poor /dumb/ smart over another. If God want to pursue someone with "Irresistible Grace" (another can of worms) it is without a HUMAN precondition that merits God's choosing. That is what is meant by Unconditional Election.

But salvation IS CONDITIONAL. In this you are 100% right! Salvation is conditional upon faith in Jesus. It is also conditioned on people actually hearing the gospel as you already stated.

If Unconditional Election meant that there is no human condition for people being "saved" then that would make a calvinist like me either universalist or a hyper-calvinist since one can be saved without a condition like "faith in Jesus" being met. But this is not what the U is about nor is it what Calvinists believe.

A simple answer to the question, "Why are we chosen?" is what the U attempts to answer. Nothing more.

I hope my comment makes sense carries our discussion into deeper waters. I don't really feel like i need to go-to-bat for calvinism. I don't think it is helpful to teach the 5 points by themselves. I only made this comment because i don't yet see where you really disagree with Unconditional Election... yet.

If you don't think people are unconditionally 'chosen' one way to contrast the difference of your view would be by comparing how calvinists interpret passages such as Ephesians 1:4-5 and how you interpret those same passages differently. That might be a easier place to start in exploring how your view might be different than that of Calvinist System. Anyways, as you wish bro.

Cheers,

Rev said...

Hey Strider,

Again i think you pointed out another gap that shows that TULIP is not a holistic theology. But i think we have a mix up in terminology here.

If I am reading you correctly I hope i can summarize what i think is your main point without oversimplifying your post. I think you are saying that there are real conditions in coming to Jesus and receiving salvation.

The U in TULIP is not really talking about salvation or coming-to-Jesus. Rather, the U addresses conditions to "election" (being chosen) not "salvation". In the Calvinist mind "election" and "salvation" are different even through they both go together. Maybe that is a unfair distinction... but it is a distinction in the Calvinist system none-the-less.

The point of U is that God choosing or 'electing' is unconditional. God does not favor rich people /poor /dumb/ smart over another. If God want to pursue someone with "Irresistible Grace" (another can of worms) it is without a HUMAN precondition that merits God's choosing. That is what is meant by Unconditional Election.

But salvation IS CONDITIONAL. In this you are 100% right! Salvation is conditional upon faith in Jesus. It is also conditioned on people actually hearing the gospel as you already stated.

If Unconditional Election meant that there is no human condition for people being "saved" then that would make a calvinist like me either universalist or a hyper-calvinist since one can be saved without a condition like "faith in Jesus" being met. But this is not what the U is about nor is it what Calvinists believe.

A simple answer to the question, "Why are we chosen?" is what the U attempts to answer. Nothing more.

I hope my comment makes sense carries our discussion into deeper waters. I don't really feel like i need to go-to-bat for calvinism. I don't think it is helpful to teach the 5 points by themselves. I only made this comment because i don't yet see where you really disagree with Unconditional Election... yet.

If you don't think people are unconditionally 'chosen' one way to contrast the difference of your view would be by comparing how calvinists interpret passages such as Ephesians 1:4-5 and how you interpret those same passages differently. That might be a easier place to start in exploring how your view might be different than that of Calvinist System. Anyways, as you wish bro.

Cheers,

Strider said...

Debbie- I wrote a long comment yesterday and lost it. Drat. So, to summarize.... It is not my point or place to fight against Calvinism per se, my goal in these posts is to better portray what God's view of us is as demonstrated by Jesus. I use 'some peoples' concept of Calvinism to get to these points. I can't resist pointing out that in your comment you sound a bit elitist with the 8 to 9 years point. To that I will say that one of my team members had a unique opportunity to interview a captured Taliban fighter back in 1999. The Talib was challenged with several inconsistencies in his theology and practice- most notably using drug money to fund their jihad. His response was that this was a very complex issue and that even if he had two weeks to explain it we would not likely understand it. My team member's response was that perhaps the reason it took two weeks to explain it was that it didn't actually make sense.
But really I do not want you to be offended by my posts and I do hope you keep reading because I am honored that a person of your caliber reads my blog anyway.

Strider said...

Rev- Thanks for the distinction between salvation and election. This makes sense to me and you are correct in that I agree with this distinction. While I do not believe in election as in predestination I do believe that God does not call us with 'conditions' in mind. Our receiving salvation most assuredly carries the conditions I have outlined so I think your comment is valuable to the post. I will deal with the 'unconditionally chosen' aspect a bit more in the next post on limited atonement. I have made my point with this post that I do not see irresistible grace at work in this world or in the scriptures. Thank you for your good comments they are very helpful.

Rev said...

Ah shoot! sorry my comment double posted.

Strider, if you delete the double post then i wouldn't look like the goober i truly am ;-)

Hi Debbie,

So why should we start with the attributes of God? If we really are to let "Scripture interpret scripture" (as you say) then where does Scripture ever suggest we should "start" with arbitrary categories that describe God and man? I don't get it.

And If God wanted his Word to interpret itself into a systematic theology of attributes, points and Q&A then why would he use the Bible for a grand Story of Redemption? Why not just give us a topical bible with a Q&A spreadsheet on the back?

IMO there is more to studying the actual Story and less to systems than we westerners are willing to admit.

Your Calvinist bro,

Rev said...

Yeah Strider, i think i understand where you are coming from.

This usually the part where they start the endless debate loop where the Calvinist says, "we believe because we were chosen" and opponent says "we are chosen because we believe" and around and around they go! Loop a recording of that and play it for seminary students and it has the same affect as white-noise. Hahaha.

Basically the Calvinist is forced to modify her original statement to say "Sometimes Irrisistible Grace" which messes up the acronym. Really what the calvinist is saying it is sometimes "I".

I am curious if you think God's grace that draws people to Christ can be "sometimes irresistible", or do you think that all such grace is always resistible?

I just read in Acts where Jesus knocks Saul off his pony, speaks to him, blinds him, giving him a vision, and sends Ananias to share the gospel with him. Maybe Saul could have resisted... maybe he couldn't have. But even if you think he could have resisted it interestingly it raises the same dilemma. Why does God apparently go all-out with saving Saul and not so obviously with everybody else?

Anyways... that question may best be left unanswered after all. I say we move on and leave the "I" behind us. I am interested in hearing your reflections on the "L"

Travel well Strider,

debbiekaufman said...

Cheers: I am anything but elitist. My point is personal for me only. It's not something that is grasped overnight by anyone. I think those who hold to the five points always get accused of being elitist, which is why there is no apology on my part. This is standard. But it's wrong. At least for myself. I come from a church who has those who are five point and those who are not. In the sixteen years I have been there this has not presented a problem. Both co-exist.

I think Timmy Brister is doing a wonderful job of speaking on this very issue over on his blog. It may be a good place to begin to understand what I think is misunderstood here. I understand the arguments, I've had them, but it was based on misconception. My point is not to sway, change minds, or argue concerning the five points. My goal is to get people to see the truth of what five pointers believe and argue specifically from that. Timmy Brister is explaining it well as he is dealing with Steve Lemke's objections over on Provocations and Pantings.

debbiekaufman said...

I'm sorry, that should be Strider, and I was probably harsher in the beginning of this post than I intended. But it is an accusation that gets thrown around often. I guess it gets a little wearing after a while but still does not excuse my brashness.

Strider said...

Debbie, I understand and appreciate what you are saying. I don't think you are elitist because I have read your blog and I think I know you a little better than if I had only read one or two comments here. As I said, this conversation has been good for me to better the issues. In the end I am not a Calvinist because of what I see of God as revealed by Christ. In my next post I will elaborate in much greater detail on this.

Strider said...

Wow, proofreading- what a concept!

That should have been 'to better UNDERSTAND the issues'.

Rev said...

dude Strider, i thought you were on track to beat the 2 posts a month average... but something happened.

Strider said...

Sorry Rev, I just took the wife for a wonderful three days to San Antonio without the kids. Somehow, blogging didn't come up. But we did have a great time on the Riverwalk eating great food. I will get up the next post in a couple of days.

debbiekaufman said...

Thank you for that Strider. Calvinist vs. Non-Calvinist has never been anything I have ever been drawn to. I am a agree to disagree person on this issue. Both love scripture, believing it to be the words of God, both love Christ deeply, and both seek truth. I just want to correct the misconceptions, and have people object from there. I hope you will allow me that. I don't mind disagreement as long as it's disagreement on what Calvinist truly teach, not misconceptions.

Rev: I don't know that I could classify you as Calvinist with your points of view, but I won't argue that you are or aren't, preferring to take your word for it, but I must say I have never met anyone who claimed to be Calvinist and thinks as you do. Sometimes people claim to be Calvinist so that they can disarm it, while looking good. I don't know if that is what you are doing or not, but you seem to have the same misconceptions as many who are Non-Calvinist have.

Rev said...

Debbie,

Im sure i have said nothing on these posts that other calvinistic theologians and preachers haven't already said.

namely,
Vern Poythress
Mark Driscoll
John Piper

Im not disarming Calvinism. Im disarming reductionism. If someone acts like there are no valid points beyond the 5 points then they are being reductionistic. All i have been saying is that there are SOME valid points complimentary to the 5 points. Truth is, many of our non-calvinist brothers make very valid points that are complimentary to Calvinism, not disarming of it. There are points where im sure i disagree with Styder. Election im sure is one. Even though we haven't been able to hash it out more fully.

But lets take another one.... Limited Atonement. Im guessing Stryder will probably say, clearely, that Jesus died for the whole world. Then he will have a mountian of Bible verses to back it up. The Calvinist will say, "nonono, Jesus died for the elect", and then will provide a mountain of verses talking about Jesus died for "some", "his people", "his sheep", "his bride", and then the Calvinist will say, "SEE! I got Bible verses too!".

Then the two parties will leave the Bible and venture into philosophy, "How can God love the whole world if Jesus didn't die for the whole world?" the non-calvinist will say, and the calvinist responds, "so if Jesus died for the sins of the entire world, and absorbed the wrath of God towards every sin of every person, then there is no punishment left for hell, and everyone should go to heaven in your view". and around they go... i can almost hear the carousel music. The debate turns philosophical and not biblical and that is where I lose interest.

In the end, if you pick Limited Atonement you have to deal with the mountian of verses about Jesus died for the world. You could say stuff like "'world' doesn't mean 'world' and 'all' doesn't mean 'all'", which A) sounds silly and B) isn't true for every verse in the non-calvinist pile.

If you deny Limited Atonement you have to deal with the mountain of verse talking about Jesus' death for "his sheep", "his bride", "his people". The only option for the non-calvinist is to take part in the similar shenanigans that "'some' doesn't really mean 'some'"! HAHA!

So is the Atonement so monochromatic that it can only be applied to "some" or "all"?. I don't think the Atonement is monochromatic. There are multiple aspects of the atonement explained in your Bible like:

Propitiation: Jesus absorbing God's wrath against sin
Expiation: Jesus cleansing and removing sins
Ransom: Jesus purchasing us
Cristus Victor: Jesus' triumph over Satan and Demons
Imputation: Jesus's righteousness becoming our own.
Adoption...
Redemption...
Etc. Etc.

Calvinist usually only focus on Propitiation (and they often argue for this word in Bible translation like the ESV). I believe 100% that in view of Propitiation the Atonement is Limited to the Elect. I agree with that point of Calvinism, just as i affirm the other 4 points.

BUT.... Debbie, are you telling me that EVERYTHING Jesus did on the cross is only for the elect??? You know it doesn't make you not a calvinist to believe there is MORE to the Cross than the particular redemption of the elect ;-)

Take the gospel. The gospel should go to all people, all creation, yet the "goodnews" itself is accomplished by the Atonement. In at least one sense Jesus clearly died for everyone... namely that everyone should know that Jesus died for them in that if they believed they would be saved. In this way "God so loved the world.... that whoever would believe in him would... inherit eternal life". The universal offer of the gospel accomplished by the Cross is for is for everyone right????

Also... what "points of misconceptions" do i have about Calvinism? If you are going to accuse me of misconceptions don't just say it, show it, pleaze.

Debbie, It may take time for you to fully grasp higher-ground-calvinism. It took me years for the light bulb to go on so i don't expect others to grasp it quickly. (tongue firmly placed in cheek!)

Your brother in Jesus,



P.S. Strider!!! its looks like we are going ahead without you!!! LOL! Im praying for the peeps at the Ministry of inJustice. I hope whatever happens the goodnews will "get out of hand".