Blog

The Day I Became a Calvinist


There are a few things that people never forget. The details of certain tragedies and trials stay by your side and the vivid details remind you of their significance. People remember where they were when the planes hit the World Trade Centers. I was leaving for work and glanced at the TV. People remember where they were when the first space-shuttle exploded. I was in eighth grade down by the snack machine getting Bugles. I remember where I was when I was told about my sisters death. I was driving down 635 just passing Preston Rd. I remember where I was when I was told about my mothers aneurysm. I was sitting on the couch on the middle cushion with cereal in my mouth. We remember certain events because of their significance. Unfortunately, most of these are tragic. It is funny to bring this up in this context, but most Christians remember where they were when they first heard about God’s election – predestination.

It was nearly 20 years ago. I was outside my mother’s room and she came to me with her Bible and said, “You think you have got it all figured out? Well, how do you deal with this?” She gave me her Bible opened to Romans 9. It was the first time I had read it. I read it right there in the hallway. When I read the words, “It does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but upon God who has mercy,” I got mad. Well, I started off confused. But I did not let my mother know this because at the time I was a know-it-all (hence, the “You think you have got it all figured out” etc.). My confusion turned into determination. Determination to resolve this “crisis.” I went into my room and laid down on my stomach on the left side of my bed. I studied that passage inside out. No, I did not consult any commentaries. I was too smart for them at the time. All I needed was the Bible and the Holy Spirit. My mother was sure to tell me that she had asked people all her life and no one could give her an answer. This fueled my motivation.

After hours alone with the text, I went back into my mother’s room and sat down on her right side on her bed. I said, “I have figured it out.” I proceeded to tell her that God “elected” people based upon what He already knew. I had reasoned this way: If God knows everything, even the future, then He knows who will choose Him. Therefore, He simply looks ahead in time and chooses those who choose Him! That is it! Next question please.

Yes, I came to that conclusion on my own without even knowing that I was articulating an Arminian position with regards to election. I left her room satisfied that she still believed I could solve any biblical dilemma. Yet, the problem was that I was not satisfied with my answer. I knew that my answer was insufficient. Deep down, I knew it. I knew that I was not being intellectually honest with my mom, myself, or the text. I knew that I was simply trying to solve a problem that when looked at in the face was very frightening. No, it was repulsive. This know-it-all-Arminian-by-nature was thoroughly confused. Why? Because the answer I gave was exactly what the text would not allow. It said, “For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls.” And I just told my mother that it DID depend on whether or not someone had done something good or bad, namely whether or not someone had faith.

That day, whether I admitted it or not, I knew my theology was changing. I did not know what Calvinism was and was greatly unaware of the debate surrounding the issue of election, but I was becoming a Calvinist. I did not want to. I fought it for weeks, months, even years. I was a reluctant Calvinist.

However, things did change. I also remember the day that I fully (and joyfully) embraced unconditional election. I was at a seminar led by James Montgomery Boice. I don’t remember much of what he said, but I do remember this story. I will do the best I can with it.

“Imagine this. Imagine yourself being in heaven and walking with the angels. One of them asks you, “How did you get here.” You would say ‘Well, I got here by the grace of God alone.’ The angel responds and asks, ‘Well, I don’t understand. Why are you here and others are not?’ You say, ‘Because God had mercy on me.’ ‘Yes, but,’ the angel replies, ‘What makes you different.’ If you are an Arminian, you would ultimately say, ‘Well, when it comes down to it, the major difference between those people who did not make it and myself is that I choose to place my faith in God.” [At this point Boice places his thumbs under his arms with a haughty look]. The angel then says, ‘Oh, so ultimately, you are the cause of your salvation.’ But to the Calvinist, things are different. There will never be an opportunity or a place for boasting before the angels or anyone else. Not even in the slightest. There is nothing that you can claim. There is no haughtiness, no pride, no self-esteem. Only a deep understanding that God did everything and you did nothing. This is grace. To the angel, all the Calvinist can say is ‘I don’t know why God had mercy on me and not others. All I know is that it has nothing to do with me.'” 

That day I finally came to a settled conclusion that this is what the Bible teaches and I had better submit to its authority, not the authority of my emotion. That day I realized that salvation is a monergistic work of God. That day I realized that my faith was a response to God’s mercy upon me. That day I realized how radical grace is and how sovereign God is in His administration of it. That day I joyfully gave the Potter charge over the clay and placed my hand over my mouth. That day I knew that I could never be lost since I had nothing to do with being found.

Since then, the struggles with regards to this issue have not ceased. I still understand the problems that people have with Romans 9 and the entire doctrine of election. I understand why people reject it. Yet all the arguments that I have ever heard against it only serve to confirm my conviction of the truthfulness of unconditional election.

PS: This blog post is not necessarily meant to be an argument for Calvinism (though it is implied), but simply some details about my theological journey, if you will.

PSS: NO, I am NOT still a know-it-all. Silence!

182 Responses to “The Day I Became a Calvinist”

  1. Thanks for sharing, Michael, and I mean that sincerely. I think your story is typical of many people who choose (snerk!) Calvinism. It’s not at all unusual for people, when faced with a Scriptural difficulty, to be attracted to a theological grid that can explain it, and Calvinism can certainly do that. I feel, however, that its theological grid is far too rigid, and while it can explain many passages, there are many others that it has severe difficulties with (e.g., John 3:16, 1 John 2:2).

    I find Romans to be an extremely difficult book to grasp fully; certainly the most difficult of the “really important” (if I can say that) books of the Bible. Paul’s argument is iterative and cumulative; if one just reads a chapter a morning, one will never get the full picture. Chap. 1-8 at the minimum need to be imbibed in one gulp.

    See, so much of the case for Calvinism depends on Rom. 9, but when I turn to Rom. 10, I see a very “Arminian” (if I can say that) chapter. It speaks of “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” being saved. Preachers must be sent and proclaim the word, or how else will they believe? which is not a very Calvinist thought. (Remember what they told William Carey.) It is very clear that salvation is open to all who will respond. I don’t see that chap. 9 has to be the overriding control passage.

    I can’t believe in unconditional election of Rom. 8:29. Predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge. I don’t buy the Calvinist argument that foreknowledge is basically a synonym for election/predestination. The substitution “For those whom he predestined he also predestined” simply doesn’t work.

    I must say I am a little dismayed if you found Boice’s rhetorical straw man persuasive. My impression from the way you described it is of a typical Calvinist, haughty, simplistic, distorted caricature of Arminianism. It’s very distasteful. I don’t want this post to turn into a book, neither do I have the time for that, but there are about a dozen holes in it.

    PS: This response post is not necessarily meant to be an argument for Arminianism (though it is implied), but simply to share with others that their theological journeys don’t have to take this path in order to make sense of the Bible.

    All the best,

    Sean

  2. Fourth paragraph first line should begin: “I can’t believe in unconditional election because of Rom. 8:29.”

    Can you enable a preview function for your com boxes? Please?

  3. Sean,

    I really don’t see the difficulty in John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2 because it speaks of God’s love for the world but is different from His election. If they are one in the same, then these passages could be used to support a universalist argument that God saves everybody.

    I think the greater difficulty is understanding how He can love everybody but yet only save some by His choosing . In addition to Romans 9, how do we get around these passages: Col 3:12, I Thess 1:14, Eph 1:4, Eph 1:11, II Thess 2:13,14, Acts 13:48, 2 Timothy 2:10, I Peter 5:13.

  4. And that I would add, is where we fill in for what we don’t understand.

  5. There are good responses to your questions, Sean, and many more passages that support unconditional election than Romans 9. I won’t offer those here since they are offered elsewhere, and offered more convincingly than I can articulate. Besides that, this would become just one more out-of-control blog on Reformed vs Arminian theology.

    I will say that I can totally sympathize with you Michael, and with your Mom. One of the key questions that could be asked is “How far did we fall?” We are made in the image of God, so do we still have some capacity to choose good, as did Adam before the fall? Or have we fallen so far that we have no capacity for morally good choices? I think if Isaiah had not written and Paul reiterated that we are “not good, no not one”, and later that “Christ died for the ungodly” and that we are “dead in our trespasses”, I could begin to allow for some morally good choices based on being made in the image of God.

  6. Michael,

    Thanks once again for your transparency. More than anything else, it serves as an example.

  7. Lisa,

    I’m not raising those verses in reference to election. I’m raising them in reference to the reformed doctrine of limited atonement, which contradicts them. Strict Calvinists, however, will say that you can’t be a four-pointer and be a true Calvinist. For me, that point is the unraveling of the TULIP. It’s simply not sustainable.

    Arminians do believe in election, but not unconditional election. Election, as it says in Romans 8:29, is based or conditioned on God’s foreknowledge, which includes (but is not limited to) their response to his genuine offer of salvation to all (Rom. 10).

    Blessings,

    Sean

  8. Michael,

    I find your story very interesting, not only because I’m some sort of Calvinist myself, but also hearing of your Mother’s role in your “conversion.” Mothers, I’m convinced, have historically played the most significant role (apart from God!) in the conversion of their children. Your story reminded me of the very different story Charles Templeton tells in this book “Farewell to God.” He wrote the book after he lost his faith–which a good Calvinist would say he could not do–though as a good Arminian, I guess, he had the right to lose his faith!! Right? I write and quote the following in “Walking Away from Faith” (34):

    He was transformed one night after he returned at 3 a.m. from a strip show that he described as “a sleezy affair.” His mother was still awake, and she called to him.

    “She began to talk to me about God, and about how she longed to see me with the other children in church. . . . I felt shoddy, unclean. . . . As I went down the hall, I was forming the first fumbling words of a prayer in my mind. I knelt by my bed in the darkness. . . . I found myself—I don’t know how much later—my head in my hands, crouched small on the floor at the center of a vast, dark emptiness. Slowly, a weight began to lift. . . . I hardly dared breathe, fearing that I might alter or end the moment. And I heard myself whispering softly over and over again, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

  9. Richards,

    You said: “Besides that, this would become just one more out-of-control blog on Reformed vs Arminian theology.”

    Arminians are reformed (so are Lutherans) — They’re just not Calvinists. ;)

    Michael,

    I’m curious to know how extensively you’ve read Arminius himself (and if you read him at all before becoming a Calvinist). It seems that at least a basic reading of his works would have shown J.M Boice’s argument to be misrepresentative at best. I don’t mean to paint with a broad brush and I certainly am not omniscient when it comes to Calvinist authors/speakers but I have never read/heard an accurate representation of Arminianism come from the pen/mouth of a Calvinist. On the other hand, while I have read/heard some caricatures of Calvinism come from Arminians, in general I would say that they represent Calvinism fairly and honestly. I won’t speculate here why this is but I do have my suspicions.

    Having said that, I’m not convinced that one has to choose either of the two theological camps — there seems to be more out there — but I am convinced that one cannot merge the two successfully and be a Calminian or Arvinist. :)

  10. Ok, this is something I’ve been mulling over…

    Frequently in hermenuetics we see OT narratives as types and shadows of later NT fulfillments.

    To me God’s relationship with Israel as a type and shadow of the NT Church is much closer to Calvinism than Arminianism.

    God chose Israel to make his covenant with, not out of foreknowledge that they would make a Covenant with him, but because that was His Plan. He did not offer his covenant to the Gentiles at that time. He “elected” Abraham and Isaac and Moses and Joseph and David, etc. Even when they tried to deny him he was “irresistible”.

    I don’t know what do you think?

  11. I don’t want to cause division or make waves, but I was always curious why people who are against the doctrine of unconditional election site John 3:16, as though it somehow gives weight to their argument.

    I ask because if you look at the whole context, more specifically the first part of this chapter Jesus is basically telling Nicodemus that the kingdom of heaven is based on some form of election, “Jesus answered, “truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again” The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

    Just curious of your thoughts.

    Your brother in Christ,

    -Josh

  12. To be honest, I am still working my way through the L in TULIP but am strongly convinced of the TUIP.

    But getting back to Romans 10 – whoever calls on the name of the Lord, shall be saved. The question of the whoever is not the who but the how.

    I Cor 12:13: Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. If we say election is conditional, then doesn’t that suppose that us being dead in trespasses and sins have the ability to override the grace, gift and sovereignty of God (Eph 1,2)?

    So isn’t the whoever in Romans 10, those that would believe anyway?

  13. Sean,

    Going through your objections to the Reformed position on these matters I think one who subscribes to TULIP always needs to wrestle with those passages. One of the tendencies I have seen in the past is to try and play exegetical gymnastics with them in order to defend their position. Even Spurgeon himself criticized this (in relation to the “world” verses). I don’t think it’s really necessary for the most part.

    However, I don’t think many of the passages you’ve raised are objectionable, nor do they need to be explained away. You mentioned the verse that states “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” and no Calvinist that I know of would say otherwise (except maybe a hypercalvinist). Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord *will* be saved. Dead sinners, however, will never call on the name of the Lord unless the grace of God changes their hearts to do so. One has to keep tota scriptura in mind on these issues. We don’t take Romans 10 and buttress it up against John 6:44 or 1 Corinthians 2:14 to make them contradictory.

    Modern Calvinism has a bad reputation for missional work (though that is changing, fortunately). That Calvinism is antithetical to evangelism is untenable historically, however. William Carey’s detractors were distinctly hypercalvinistic and never represented mainstream Reformed beliefs. One need only mention the names of Calvin, Knox, Spurgeon, Whitefield, Edwards, Carey, Mather, Ryle, Packer, Sproul, Piper, Schaeffer, J. P. Boyce, Newton, among a host of others and the argument that it is opposed to evangelism is absurd. Rather, I believe the doctrines of grace are an impetus to evangelism, because we believe God’s sovereign will through our preaching will come to fruition with His blessing.

    With Romans 8:29, I am not sure I have ever heard the those He predestined He predestined argument, but rather that the term foreknowledge here is used in the same sense in which “knowing” is used throughout the rest of scripture, and that is in the terms of knowing in an intimate, relational way. Even if you take it to mean that God knows aforehand who will choose Him, it doesn’t negate unconditional election. In that respect, God knows who will choose Him because He is the one enabling them to do so. The point of the issue is that Rom. 8:28-33 is all the action of God. Which leads right into the verses in Romans 9 which speak of it being dependent on God’s mercy and not man’s willing or exerting. I think the Arminian position on the Romans verses requires a lot more eisogetical interpretations than the Calvinist position.

  14. Since this post will garner lots of comments, I’d like to mention two resources that will be very beneficial.

    1) Humble Calvinism: http://spurgeon.wordpress.com/2007/01/09/humble-calvinism-series-index/

    2) Covenant Seminary’s course on the Institutes: http://www.covenantseminary.edu/worldwide/en/CH523/CH523.asp

    While the focus of this post is Calvinism’s view of election, Calvinism is far more than soteriology.

  15. I agree entirely with what you wrote, Nick. Well said.

    Michael, have you read Olson’s Arminian Theology?

    ***
    Again, John 3:16 is not cited as a negation of unconditional election but of limited atonement. Most orthodox Calvinist theologians will state that the five points hang or fall together. Limited atonement is a doctrine unique to the Calvinist camp, prevailing in no other major Christian tradition, including Lutheranism, which is otherwise rather close in soteriological matters. Accordingly, the burden of proof is on the Calvinist camp for this one, and John 3:16 etc. make it a very heavy burden.
    ***
    Arminianism is not ultimately about fighting against the sovereignty of God or putting human merit or works alongside his grace. It is ultimately about fighting over the character of God, something that we feel that some Calvinists misrepresent because the image of God, specifically his love, created by that theological grid is distorted. That some people are eternal excluded from the love of God and any opportunity of salvation ultimately because of… what? God’s capricious choice? is unacceptable theology for a religion that is supposed to be based on the teachings of Jesus.

    (And before you say, “No, they’re excluded because they sinned,” remember that in Calvinism God decreed the fall and as was discussed recently, holds every single person guilty for Adam’s sins even before they commit any of their own. Ultimately, their damnation is his choice. Calvin himself called reprobation a “horrible doctrine,” though he believed in it. Contemporary Calvinists should be very cautious in defending it.)

  16. Josh,

    John 3:16 is not brought up in reference to the problem it presents for unconditional election, but rather for the problem it presents for limited atonement.

    Hope that clears it up for you. :)

    Lisa,

    You said: “If we say election is conditional, then doesn’t that suppose that us being dead in trespasses and sins have the ability to override the grace, gift and sovereignty of God (Eph 1,2)?”

    Absolutely not! It is the grace of God that gives men the ability to repent (Acts 5:31; Rom. 2:4; 2Tim. 2:25) and believe (Rom. 12:3; Eph. 2:8).

    Whatever side of the argument you fall on, grace is the sole means of salvation which is what makes the J.M. Boice argument all the more disappointing.

  17. Well said Sean… I started writing my comment before yours posted. I agree 100%

  18. Matthew, I missed your post while composing my response. I just have time for a quick note. I agree that it is unfair to state that contemporary Calvinism is antithetical to evangelism. That argument does come up sometimes in debates, but I really don’t think it is helpful with the theological issues.

    I do believe, however, that the strict predestinarianism common in protestantism before Carey did inhibit missions and is part of the reason why protestants lag behind catholics in numbers. (That, however, is a whole ‘nother can of worms.)

  19. For those who object to God’s unconditional choice, not just to offer salvation
    but to actually carry out the work as well, I would like to see your exegesis
    of Romans 9. We need to separate the doctrine of election with the doctrine
    of repentance and saving faith. They both involve salvation. One is what God
    does, the other is our response. We won’t do our part until enabled by Him.

    In response to Sean and God’s capricious choice. I offer Romans 9:20-21.
    We must always remain humble that He’s God and we’re not. I would much
    rather trust that an all loving and sovereign God who is infinite will bring his
    plan to pass rather than the sinful finite creatures that we are.

    Your thoughts

  20. I think your internal instincts were right, but then you over-intellectualized it and “logicked” your way out of what you instinctively knew to be true! :)

    Honestly, every time I begin to get engrossed in this issue (and I have from time to time), I catch myself and step back a bit. I see both sides throwing proof-texts back and forth, and attempting systematic constructs to figure all of this out. Ultimately, however, I think the exact nature of what predestination and foreknowledge and election, etc, all mean to God and His process is not something that we, as mere humans, can not clearly articulate. That is why even Paul was all over the board on this, and why we have very, very smart people, with deep insights into Scripture still falling squarely into one camp or the other.

    Then I had a general epiphany on the subject. In the end, some are saved, and some are not.

    Pretty simple, really.

    And, for all of us, there is a time when that happens, and we all feel as if it is both God calling and us responding. Whether God foreknew or predestined does not matter. Whether than feeling of us turning to God is due to an irresistible force or God giving us the power to choose (still being entirely God, of course), does not matter. It all ends up in the same place, with some of us being saved and some of us being lost.

    The mechanics, ultimately, are irrelevant to me. Yes, there is the “pride” issue, but really, I have seen just as much pride among Calvinists as Arminians, so that does not seem to be a factor, really. If someone thinks that they had some part in the process of turning to God, that does not mean they don’t realize that it is still all by God’s Grace that the even had the choice in the first place, so no pride is called for.

    Yes, there is the issue of “backsliding”, but this ends up as a non-issue as well. The Arminian labels it “losing” salvation, the Calvinist labels it “never really being saved in the first place”, but the end result is the same.

    So, in the end, it is mere semantics over the mechanics, and I have not seen any real “outcome difference” between the two positions. I don’t see any more pride in the Arminian, or any less evangelism in the Calvinist, for example.

    So, while I still consider myself an Arminian, it is not because I think there is any substantive issue there, but because I see them both as merely fallible human expressions of “God things”, and that fallibe presentation is the one I feel more instinctively in tune with.

  21. ooh, sorry for the double negative in the second paragraph. It should read “. . . is not something that we, as mere humans, can clearly articulate.”

  22. And as usual Vance has a lot of good points.

    I tell my students not to think about this too much as they will go mad. I offer to give them names & address of people who have. :D

    BTW, though I’m an Arminian, when I talk with Arminian-type people I remind them that “free will isn’t all that.”

  23. Thanks for the clarification on John 3:16.

    Another question, would you consider the doctrine of total inability (depravity) to go hand in hand with the doctrine of limited atonement?

    Your brother in Christ,

    -Josh

  24. Romans 9 has to be understood within the backdrop of Paul’s larger discussion of God’s dealings with Israel and the nations. Its primary intent is with regard to Israel, a group. To some extent, it is a misinterpretation to apply it directly to the question of the salvation or reprobation of individuals.

  25. Let me reiterate that the purpose of this post was just to give you all a glimpse into the day I started dealing with this issue. Obviously I did not expand upon the months, really years, that have followed where there was an intense struggle as I fought to deny that which seemed to be the clear teaching of Scripture. It is a personal journey.

    Having said that, I agree with those who have posted that Calvinism is not antithetical, even limited atonement, to God’s love for all people, his desire for all to be saved, and even that the atonement is potentially sufficient for all.

    The issue, when all is set aside, letting go of the labels Calvinism and Arminianism, is the nature of election. Is it conditional or unconditional. There is not in between or middle ground. Even Olson attests to this in his book on Arminianism.

    My struggle started with the idea of unconditional election offered by Paul in Romans 9. I don’t think Paul could have been more clear. Romans 10 does not contradict Romans 9 in any way. Those who believe in unconditional election also believe in human responsibility. It is not an either/or. There is no logical contradiction in saying that all people are accountable for their rebellion, but the only way that people will be delivered from this rebellion is the sovereign mercy of God.

    Another point of this post is to suggest that no one goes kicking and screaming to the Arminian position. Emotionally, this is the way we are bent. While I don’t discount the place of emotions in our theology, it does take a back-seat to Scripture. In this case, my emotions said one thing (God could not have unconditionally elected people) and the Scripture said something else (God did unconditionally elect people). That people must go kicking and screaming to the unconditional election position is another testimony to its persuasiveness. I don’t think anyone ever, at the beginning, wants to be an advocate of unconditional election, but they must, in my opinion, submit to it. Who are we to answer back to God?

    While I do think that there is mystery concerning the relationship between human freedom/responsibility and divine sovereignty, we cannot use this mystery as an excuse for allowing Scripture to speak clearly about basic truths that provide the mystery. I strongly believe that unconditional election is clearly taught in Romans 9. Not to use an ad populum argument, but there are not many good exegetes that I know of, liberal or conservative, who would deny that this is what Paul believed (I. Howard Marshall would be an exception – and NO, Olson and Wright are not exegetes). He most certainly was not all over the board on this issue at all!!

    I would suggest you all read my article on Romans 9 and my response to Arminianism if you want to deal with this issue head on.

  26. Again I agree 100% with Sean. We can’t read Romans 9 without having dealt with the first 8 chapters and even then chapter 9 is the first of a 3 chapter treatise (9-11) dealing specifically with the Nation of Israel. I also agree with Vance’s points concerning the functional differences between the two theological camps — there really aren’t any.

    Josh,

    I would say that all 5 points of TULIP go hand in hand with one another — so much so that if any one of the five were to be shown false then the entire system crumbles (this is not to say that there can’t be some points that are true — it just says that the system doesn’t work unless it is firing on all cylinders). Having said that, I would say that Limited Atonement is probably more directly linked to Unconditional Election than it would be to Total Depravity. The reason I say this is because even classical Arminians believe in total depravity (although they nuance it slightly differently than Calvinists).

    For example, Jacobus Arminius said:

    “But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good. When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace.”

    [The Works of James Arminius, trans. James and William Nichols, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1986), 1.227-28.]

  27. Oh, and for anyone who wants to give Arminius a reading, his works are available online Here and Here. You’d be surprised to find out just how reformed he was.

  28. Ruth, mom did play a primary role in my faith. Yet she does not believe in unconditional election. We have gone years where we would not talk about theological issues in our house because she gets so mad about it.

  29. I don’t think the “functional” argument is fair. I could make the same type argument about other religions. As long as they tell you to help and love other people, does it really matter. Or about the openness view of God. As long as everything else plays out the same, who cares whether God is transcendent or not.

    Doctrine does matter. There are reasons why God included these issues in Scripture. Right doctrine is a primary motivator for our action. You can have the right actions with the wrong motives and the God who weighs the heart will see the difference.

    Obviously, we must understand that God did think it important enough to devote a significant portion of Paul’s writings and presumption it this issue. It is interesting that Paul even includes the doctrine of election in the fuller Gospel message. Romans is a book about the Gospel.

    I think we have some problems when we relegate this to something that is not important. Granted, you don’t have to believe in unconditional election to be saved, but God does want us to know about it.

    As well, it is interesting to note that whether Paul was at a church for two months or two years, he writes back to these churches telling them to remember what he taught about this subject. This means that it was one of the initial teachings from Paul lips. It is sad that most Christians have to wait years before even being exposed to this doctrine. Then when they are, their presuppositions are so strong that they cannot even consider it . . . sigh. We front load the Gospel with all the nicities of the Christian faith (God loves you, has a wonderful plan for you, you are special, etc.) but are not up front with the “severity” of God (God is sovereign, God is righteous, no man can stand before Him, etc.). Such is the weakness of the theological educational program of the church today.

  30. I just did a FIND search to check whether double predestination had been brought up. No, but Vance did introduce a double negative along the way–not quite the same thing.

    Doesn’t predestination logically assume double predestination? If God elects me for salvation and does not elect you, aren’t you by default elected for damnation? If I were to choose 7 (and 7 only) of my 37 students to pass my church history course (by no merit of their own), aren’t I also determining that the 30 remaining will fail?

    A lot of good Calvinists are horrified by the concept of double predestination.

  31. Michael,
    I can relate to your journey into believing unconditional election. I think that
    at the root of the issue is thinking that man has some say so in their
    destination. I mean, we make choices everyday so why would this be any
    different. When we make the understanding that God is timeless
    and that we are not, then it’s easier to see how decisions play out
    according to our plan. To be honest what convinced me of Unconditional
    election is that in many passages I simply see it as being the exegetical
    answer. The question came down to “Do I want to be more (in my view)
    loving?” or “Do I want to be more biblical?” I have to put emotion aside
    when exegeting texts. If not then I will not truly receive that God is saying.
    I’m not saying that it is not emotionally stirring, but simply that I should not
    let emotions change my exegete.

  32. Ruth,
    If all are sinful and are headed to hell, is God unloving by selecting some by
    His Grace to be saved? He doesn’t send them somewhere that they are
    already going, but He does let them go.

  33. So, Kris and Michael, are you both saying straight out that God elects people–the vast majority of the world’s population–to go to hell?

  34. Michael, I agree that doctrine does matter, which is why I think your comparisons to other religions is a bit of a straw man, since those doctrinal differences are, indeed, salvation issues.

    And, I would agree that it is not only the salvation issues which are worth discussing and thinking about and studying. We need to seek to understand the things of God.

    BUT . . .

    I think this area is not quite as clear as you present it. I think there are definitely enough texts that push the dialogue back and forth for me to wonder whether the problem is a matter that we are taking an area that is mystery and trying to squeeze into a systematic construct. I believe that the study and the analysis and the seeking after God’s truths can get us close, but my general approach to all of this is that there is a limit. There is a point at which we have to say, OK, if I try to pin it down any tighter than this with human language and understanding, I will be more likely to do damage to the truth than understand it.

    At that point, we step back, accept that we must accept the points that we can grasp, and hold the rest loosely, if we must go there at all. We can only grasp the Trinity so far, we can only grasp the dual nature of Christ and the Kenosis so far. We have to accept the level of mystery involved in these areas and remain humble about our abilities to fine tune this down to fully graspable system. I think the areas in this debate are very much in that category.

    We see it a lot in Scripture, and the basic concept of God’s Grace and our Faith are there to be grasped, but if the details of the exact mechanics and the distinctions we want to make in this debate were clear in Scripture, we would not have SO much dispute over these details. I think the reason we have it so often in Scripture is that we have to talk about it in a variety of ways since it IS not something we can grasp fully!

    Call me Eastern Orthodox on this one!

    Oh, and why is Wright not an exegete?

  35. Ruth, I think it does in one sense. By not being elected, you are being elected. But I think we have to understand the election to hell much differently. God is not choosing who will spend eternity without Him necessarily, but allowing people to follow a path without mercy. Therefore, this election is passive, not active. It is interesting the way that Paul words his argument about the potter and the clay. Notice the use of pronouns.

    Romans 9:22-23 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.

    Notice that the “vessels of mercy” are explicitly said to be prepared by God (“He prepared beforehand for glory”), while the “vessels of wrath” does not have the same pronoun. This may suggest that the vessels of wrath prepared themselves.

    Notice also that the “vessels of mercy” are prepared “beforehand.” This is not said about the “vessels of wrath.” This would follow the same line of thinking. Paul believes that the non-elect prepare themselves for their destruction here on earth (not before time), while God prepares the “vessels of mercy” before all time for their end.

    Let me be up front so that I don’t look too much like a Calvinist groupie. My biggest problem with Calvinism is the non-elect. If what I say is correct, God could have chosen everyone. I don’t know why He did not. I am disturbed greatly by this. I am often tempted to go to a quasi-univeralist position like Bloesch, or just an “we don’t really know what will happen to the non-elect . . . maybe (hopefully) there is a loophole that we are not aware of or God is hiding from us to test our faith” type argument.

    In the end, this is the first question that I will ask God. “Why didn’t you elect everyone?” I may end up with my hand over my mouth, but it is a problem non-the-less.

  36. Ruth, I didn’t use the term, but I did bring up reprobation in #15.

    Protection of God’s sovereignty and majesty lies behind much of Calvinist thought; protection of God’s character lies behind much of that of Arminianism. Arminians have doubts about Calvinists’ definition of God’s love. We fear that (some) are calling something that really isn’t love, “love,” because they have to. The God of the decree of reprobation does not seem to match the Father of love Jesus revealed to us.

    The shield of “who are we to question God?” is only so big; it can’t totally deflect this problem. Questioning our understanding of God in this area is no more daring than confessing double predestination. No one said this was an easy one.

    I’d love to chat more but I have to go to bed (other side of the world and all that.) If I may ask Michael one more direct question: do you still think Boice’s presentation and representation of Arminianism as fair and accurate?

  37. Sean,

    The problem with interpreting Romans 9 as referring to the nation of Israel is twofold; One is the obvious fact that national Israel was still made up of individuals. Those individuals had to be chosen by God to build up the earthly nation (Saul, David, Solomon, et al.). It is true that prior to verses 11ff. Paul mentions national Israel, but he quickly breaks it down to an individual level by bringing Jacob and Esau into it. Though Jacob is a direct forebear to national Israel he as an individual still had to be chosen over Esau.

    Secondly, verses 14ff. directly relate to the issue of salvation. As Paul weaves mercy and grace into his prior discussion of the choice of Israel over other nations. Paul’s imaginary dialogue is all an individual level (“who are you, o man, to answer back to God?”). He then speaks of the vessels of mercy and the vessels of wrath. These are clearly individuals he is speaking of and not nations. He then continues with the elect remnant of individuals within Israel itself.

  38. Vance, if you accept the Trinity, then you are doing what I propose to do with this doctrine. For example:

    It is clear that Christ is God, the Father is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. It is also clear that there is one God. It is also clear that Christ is not the Father, the Father is not Christ, and the Spirit is not either. Yet you accept the tension by confessing that all are true, we just don’t understand this.

    The issue is the same with the doctrine of election. It is clear that God chooses us unconditionally. It is clear that we have a responsibility to choose Him. It is clear that no one can come to God unless He sovereignly intervenes. There is tension, but no contradiction.

    You see, Arminians are very modernist in their approach. Pinnock, Boyd, and others follow under the presumption that it has to make sense if we are to believe it. Arminians try to alleviate themselves of the tension presented by unconditional election and human responsibility. Calvinists do not. They take it much more like the issue of the Trinity. While we don’t understand how it all works, we believe that it is true.

    Advocates of unconditional election seem to be willing to admit tension and mystery into their system. Advocates of conditional election attempt to solve the tension, but fail to do justice to the text. This is where your belief in sola Scriptura is going to be tested. Is rightly interpreted Scripture the final norm, or just a contributing norm?

    I am not saying that Arminians are such simply because they are trying to be logical or modernistic (for most, like myself before I became convinced of unconditional election are motivated by love for others – a good thing), but this is one of the factors that play into their arguments.

  39. Michael,

    I agree with your trepidations about God not having chosen everyone on earth to be elect.
    It still bears repeating, however, that He simply doesn’t have to. He doesn’t reveal in scripture why He doesn’t choose them for salvation. The only time it is addressed is that He chose Pharaoh and other of the wicked in order to display His power in them. I imagine that scripture paints it that God must display His justice as well as His electing love. Which then is all the greater magnified when set against the backdrop of His wrath. If He simply chose to save everyone, perhaps the glory of it would not be as obvious, because we wouldn’t have the context of the result of not believing in Christ.
    All in all, we dare not go beyond what is revealed!

  40. Ruth, conditional immortality is what has allowed me to keep my sanity in the mission field. That and the hope that the reason God resurrects everyone at the end is that pardon will available for those who seek it. (Even then, I don’t believe all would seek it.)

  41. Sean, Boice’s illustration is most certianly a valid one. But it assumes that we cannot boast about our faith. Maybe we can. Maybe when we get to heaven it WILL be the one small thing that we have contributed to our salvation. Maybe it is the deciding factor of whether we stand before God or not. Therefore, it begs the question appealing to an assumption of monergism.

    However, in his defense, it did not beg the question at the time. The whole session was a defense of Calvinism.

    BTW: I went to an undergraduate Arminian school for my undergrad.

  42. Exactly Matthew. “The problem with interpreting Romans 9 as referring to the nation of Israel is twofold; One is the obvious fact that national Israel was still made up of individuals.”

    If Paul were simply talking about electing nations, then we have two issues. 1) This just pushes unconditional election up one level, but does not solve any difficulty. 2) If it did solve the difficulty, why is the diatribe set up in such a way in vs. 19-20. These verses make no sense outside a presumption that Paul is speaking about unconditional election. Why would the objector object to conditional election?

  43. Michael wrote:

    “The issue, when all is set aside, letting go of the labels Calvinism and Arminianism, is the nature of election. Is it conditional or unconditional. There is not in between or middle ground. Even Olson attests to this in his book on Arminianism.”

    At first, this makes logical sense, but when you look at the definitions that are implied you get into trouble.

    Simply put, one view (Calvinism) sees God as the sole or major determinative factor both in salvation and damnation and the other (Arminianism) sees man as decisive, at least in the sense of making some type of contribution.

    Lutheran theology occupies the halfway house holding that God alone is responsible for the salvation of the redeemed and that each man alone is responsible for his own damnation.

    Lutherans come to their view because it best satisfies the biblical data and it finds a firm basis in the great Reformation principles which recognizes the total depravity of man and more especially the magnificence of God’s grace in the salvation of man, the sola gratia. The doctrines of the total depravity and the sola gratia stand in such a delicate juxtaposition that the slightest imbalance can introduce fatalism or synergism.

  44. Michael said:

    “The issue is the same with the doctrine of election. It is clear that God chooses us unconditionally. It is clear that we have a responsibility to choose Him. It is clear that no one can come to God unless He sovereignly intervenes. There is tension, but no contradiction.”

    Yes, absolutely, I think those things are clear, and we must hold them in tension and allow the mystery from that point. But, the Calvinist position (or the Arminian position, for that matter) does not stop there. It goes on to mandate the nature of that unconditional choosing (based on foreknowledge v. strict predestination), HOW God intervenes, the degree of the intervention, and the exact nature of our responsibility.

    And, I agree that the current popular Arminian position does have problems as well.

    I think we are on the same path there, but I think I stop shorter on where we can go with certainty. My point of “OK, here we have tension, but not conflict” is very much where you have set it. And I think that is about as far as I can go. I can’t follow either side of the debate much further.

    The main issue where I think the mystery goes that you may not is the “unconditional” part. There is no linear time for God. It is all the same, all in an instant and all forever. There is not “this, then this, etc”, it all just “is”. This is, of course, entirely IMPOSSIBLE for us to grasp. God can’t choose us without already knowing how we would respond, so it was not unconditional in the pure sense, since for God, all that has ever happened and all that will happen, and everything about us and how we would/have/will act, is all ONE THING to Him. Yet, it is unconditional, for this same reason: God did not just lay it out there, with that election being being “up for grabs” depending on our reactions, with God waiting to see what we do, leaving it up to us to decide. The forces of foreknowledge, election, predestination, and its unconditional nature are all just attempts for humans to understand what we can never really grasp about how God works.

    In the end, I still come to a point of wondering whether this particular doctrinal dispute is more about pushing doctrine into areas of mystery.

  45. Michael,

    may I ask of the Arminian school that you attended?

    Also, I can see how Calvinists still admit to the tension. A humble Calvinist
    will see the difference between what has been revealed and what has not,
    mainly the elect has not been revealed, but His plan to gather His elect has.
    Personally to me an Arminian God is a passive God who simply responds to
    our call.

    And yes, I have read Olsen’s “Arminian Theology”. It was good, but seemed
    more philosophical than anything else.

  46. Mark, good comments. But I think you are seeing Calvinism as monolithic on its view concerning the ordo salutis, which they are not. Some are supralapsarian (“before the [allowance of] the fall”), some are sublaparians (“after the [allowance of] the fall”). Some are even infralapsarians (more of a unlimited atonement variety). But this does not effect whether people are conditionally elected or unconditionally elected. It has more to do with the implications.

    You said:
    “Simply put, one view (Calvinism) sees God as the sole or major determinative factor both in salvation and damnation and the other (Arminianism) sees man as decisive, at least in the sense of making some type of contribution.

    Lutheran theology occupies the halfway house holding that God alone is responsible for the salvation of the redeemed and that each man alone is responsible for his own damnation.”

    Most Calvinists of the Sublapsarian and Infralapsarian would agree with the “halfway house” you presented. Man alone is responsible for his own damnation. This is where I stand.

    Thanks for the contribution!

  47. BTW, here is a blog to add to the blogroll! :)

    http://arminianperspectives.blogspot.com/

  48. Congratulations Sean on the birth of your son. You know of course that your child does not naturally love you. He will have to be taught to love you. When and if he does you will love him. But, if he does not, you will love him just the same.

    Do you think that pre-fall Adam, created in the image of God, by nature loved God? Do you think that Jesus by nature loved God or did he have to learn to love God because he was born with a nature that did not? Is Jesus the firstborn among many brothers? In the “regeneration” of Adam represented by the Second Adam, there is quite a contrast. He by nature could not sin, therefore loved the Father from conception forward, perfectly. Jesus was the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth. From conception forward he always did the will of the Father. He did not learn his nature, he grew into it. How contrary to lapsarian mankind, for we must learn our fallen nature and be forced to deny it.

    Birth is not the beginning of life. The beginning is in the secret place and the person who is generated by will of another only breaks into the light according to the nature and will of the progenitor. No one chooses to be born, that is conceived, but just as Jesus contrasts the birth natural and supernatural he also contrasts the conception, natural and supernatural. “If I tell you about earthly things and you do not understand, how will you understand if I tell you heavenly things. “Anothen” is often translated born again and sometimes from above. It has another connotation, from the beginning. Two things can be said about this. It may refer to the conception of regeneration, it may also have to do with the predeterminate will of the Father. In neither case, either natural or supernatural birth, is the conception of the conceptus by the will of the thing conceived. We infact use this verb to speak of thought. It is in our mind what we will to produce in natural generation, and likewise, it is in the mind of God what he will produce in supernatural regeneration. Each is according to its kind, not of its choice, but because of the predetermination of the conceiver.

    As Christ was conceived of the Holy Spirit, albeit in a unique way and sense, we are conceived by that very same Spirit, set apart from conception for the very purpose of producing fruit after our own kind. Which is why we come to the knowledged of the faith, which is discerned spiritually by the Spirit in us, 1 Corinthians 2, which must be received before we can understand the things of God. In other words, only those conceived after His own kind can hear his voice. Just as with animals, the language of the Spirit is not discernable by the flesh. It requires supernatual ears and a supernatural mind conceived after a heavenly kind. It is the supernatural result, logically, of a monergistic work of God in creating. Something of which we play no part in except as the vessels of mercy for Gods glory.

    John 1:12 is always quoted by neglecting the next verse by those who wish to deny Gods sovereign, limited and unconditional election. They make receiving Christ the determinative action, when if fact the controlling verb is in John 1:13, “who were born, not by national identity, not by the will of a earthly father, or any man’s will, but by the will of God.” (my paraphrase). You see, verse thirteen can come before twelve without doing any damage to the meaning. It is because they “were born” that they could receive. Which splices nicely with John 6.44 where it is God who draws and enables individuals, not nations to come to him. And only those he enables come.

    Again, notice that being born means to be carried, not to be birthed. Being carried means from conception forward. That the birth happens latter does not negate the choice of the Father to beget a child, and it is not the choice of the child born that the conception has taken place. Yet, we know that as the Spirit does its work and is not seen, His work is evident by the effects, the wind that follows Him. So we rejoice when we hear the first cries of an infant, and more so do the angels in heaven when one sinner repents. For that cry of repentance to Abba Father means that the Holy Spirit has gone forth in the Word and done that thing for which it was sent and the Word does not return to the Father void but brings with it many sons drawn to the Son by the Father.

    It is a beautiful story, one which, unfortunately, the Arminian turns into a cloning exercise, producing another after his own kind, sinful, unable to love, naturally. He must be trained to deny his nature and love the Father by law. An action by which no man is justified.

  49. Retractions:

    I said that I. Howard Marshall was the only good exegete that I know who is an Arminian. I think Scott Mcknight is also a decent exegete and he is an Arminian. In fact, Scott is a convert from Calvinism! His arguments can be seen at http://www.jesuscreed.org. Although, I don’t think his change was exegetically motivated.

    In sum. The two best exegetes for the Arminian positions, I believe, are:
    I. Howard Marshall
    Scott McKnight.

    The two best (modern day) theologians (both with a historical bent) are:
    Roger Olson
    Thomas Oden

    You should really read these guys. They are good and well able to defend the Arminian position.

    But you must consider the mass amount of exegetes (let alone theologians) who are persuaded that the Scriptures teach unconditional election:

    Douglas Moo
    Henry Morris
    Tom Schreiner
    Cranefield
    Stott
    Newell
    Daniel Wallace
    Darrel Bock

    And all of these people would not even part of the Reformed tradition (in the sense of denomination). They are just exegetes.

    Honestly, I don’t know of one good commentary on Romans that takes the position that election in Romans 9 is conditional. It is usually theologians and philosophers who would do such with the text, not exegetes. I could be missing something though.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. No Room to Boast, eh? « Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth - September 12, 2007

    […] Room to Boast, eh? C. Michael Patton in a post on Parchment and Pen entitled The Day I Became a Calvinist recounted the day he embraced unconditional election saying: I also remember the day that I fully […]

  2. Parchment and Pen » Tension in Calvinism - September 15, 2007

    […] the blog “The Day I Became a Calvinist“ is way too long, I thought that I would take a very good question concerning the tension […]

  3. Round-up: From G-d to a great put-down » Metacatholic - September 15, 2007

    […] open-hearted evangelicalism, or something I struggle to get my head around. It was the latter with this statement by C Michael Patton: “most Christians remember where they were when they first heard about God’s election – […]

  4. Gentle Wisdom » The spoof that wasn’t - September 15, 2007

    […] linked to a post The Day I Became a Calvinist at Parchment and Pen which he seemed puzzled by. I read it and decided that it was a rather […]

  5. The Bible Archive » Blog Archive » Calvinism Illustrated - August 14, 2008

    […] wasn’t using the following so much as an argument but as a retelling of his own theological journey. What’s interesting about the story is that […]

Leave a Reply