Believinforareason – and the Reason’s Not Calvinism

Lately I have been thinking about Calvinism – what it means, whether it makes sense, and how it relates to Hobbes (OK, just kidding about the Hobbes part). According to Theopedia.com,

Calvinism is named after 16th century Reformer, John Calvin whose overall theology is contained in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559). Sometimes Calvinism is referred to by other names such as “Augustinianism” because Calvin followed Augustine(A.D. 354–430) in many areas of predestination and the sovereignty of God.

Theopedia further explains Calvinist doctrine can be summarized in five points referred to by the acronym “TULIP”. Each of the following excerpts of the acronym are taken from the Theopedia.com entry for Calvanism.

“T” is for…

Total depravity

Calvinism teaches that humanity is totally depraved. Due to the Fall, the original relationship that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God was severed by sin. This affected the entire human race, corrupting the heart, mind, and will of every person born. Thus, people’s natural actions and affections, whether viewed by man as bad or good, are never pleasing to God. The Calvinist understanding of total depravity does not mean that people are as evil as they possibly could be. People still make good choices (from a human perspective), but no matter how good they may be, they never gain favor with God. While total depravity is commonly associated with John Calvin, this theological viewpoint is based on the theology of Augustine (b. 354).

While I believe human beings are sinful by nature I believe labeling us all as “totally depraved” is a bit much. I do agree with Calvin that making good choices relative to human perspectives is not congruent with doing that which pleases God, I disagree with Calvin’s stance that we will never gain favor with God. I have said in the past, and this view still hold true for me today, that God is the definition of good. As such, anything contrary to God’s will is less than good. Thus, considering humans have both free will, and access to the Word of God we can and do sometimes make choices that are purposefully congruent with God’s will. Logically, such choices would be pleasing to God, which would likely, in turn, mean that we would find favor with God having made such compatible choices. Why am I so sure? Because, folks are still allowed into Heaven. If that is not a demonstration of having favor with God than nothing would be. So while I would agree that humanity is pretty jacked up, let’s save the phrase “totally depraved” for the extra tough cases.

“U” is for…

Unconditional election

Unconditional election is the doctrine which states that God chose those whom he was pleased to bring to a knowledge of himself, not based upon any merit shown by the object of his grace and not based upon foreseen faith (especially a mere decisional faith). God has elected, based solely upon the counsel of his own will, some for glory and others for damnation (Romans 9:1521). He has done this act before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4–8).

Unconditional election is a tough pill to swallow. The most important bit here is the indication that God has chosen “some for glory and others for damnation”. This is flat out incorrect when compared to what scripture teaches. The verses referred to in Romans are intended to drive home the point that God can do as He pleases. These verses are not intended to indicate that God arbitrarily picks and chooses people for damnation or glory like some luck-of-the-draw plane boarding. Attention all passengers, if your ticket reads “Zone 1” you are destined for damnation. Thank you for choosing air Hell, and better luck next time. Furthermore, the verses mentioned in Ephesians 1:4-8 are meant to explain that all of our sin was destined to be paid for by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, not that the sin of some folks would be cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. This specific doctrine speaks directly to predestination. The fact that God knows what is to come is not the same as God putting specific pieces in play to cause specific outcomes.

“L” is for…

Limited atonement

Limited atonement (also known as “definite atonement”) is a doctrine offered in answer to the question, “for whose sins did Christ atone?” The Bible teaches that Christ died for those whom God gave him to save (John 17:9). Christ died, indeed, for many people, but not all (Matthew 26:28). Specifically, Christ died for the invisible Church — the sum total of all those who would ever rightly bear the name “Christian” (Ephesians 5:25).

I think this concept of limited atonement requires further clarity. Christ did not die only for those pre-chosen by God to be destined to know His glory. Rather Christ died for the past, present and future sins of all of those who accept Jesus as lord and savior. I would agreed  with the last bit stating “Specifically, Christ died for the invisible Church — the sum total of all those who would every rightly bear the name ‘Christian'”. To me this means that Christ died for those who actively seek and maintain a positive relationship with God, and share the good news with others so they may do the same. As long as we stay away from the concept of predestination this limited atonement piece makes sense to me.

“I” is for…

Irresistible grace

The result of God’s irresistible grace is the certain response by the elect to the inward call of the Holy Spirit, when the outward call is given by the evangelist or minister of the Word of God. Christ, himself, teaches that all whom God has elected will come to a knowledge of him (John 6:37). Men come to Christ in salvation when the Father calls them (John 6:44), and the very Spirit of God leads God’s beloved to repentance (Romans 8:14). What a comfort it is to know that the gospel of Christ will penetrate our hard, sinful hearts and wondrously save us through the gracious inward call of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 5:10)!

I have written in a previous post, The Morality of God in the Old Testament Part 1: Would a Moral God Kill Children?, about how God does not directly harden the hearts of humans, rather God allows the circumstances that lead to the hardening of hearts. The same can be said of the softening of hearts. After all, God is committed to this free will thing, and directly influencing decision making negates the purpose of free will. While the grace of God should not be underestimated, I do not believe people come to God because he has pre-chosen them to be knocked over the top of the head with grace. If this were true, why even bother with the charade of free will. Furthermore, if God truly wants us to love Him, why intervene at all? Can someone really love anyone if that person is left with no other choice? There is no “I” in me, so this doctrine is not for me.

“P” is for…

Perseverance of the saints

Those called and justified will certainly be glorified (Romans 8:28–39). The work of sanctification which God has brought about in his elect will continue until it reaches its fulfillment in eternal life (Phil. 1:6). Christ assures the elect that he will not lose them and that they will be glorified at the “last day” (John 6:39). The Calvinist stands upon the Word of God and trusts in Christ’s promise that he will perfectly fulfill the will of the Father in saving all the elect.

Interesting that Romans 8:28-39 is used here. Even in the above explanation it seems that these “elect” have favor with God. How can people have favor with God, yet be totally depraved? Apparently tulips are contradictory. Once again we should touch on the concept of election and predestination. While I would agree that God has some level of predestination for us in that after Jesus’ death and resurrection God predestined those who chose to seek Jesus to be saved for eternity by Jesus, God did not pick and choose who would seek this opportunity.

Free Will is Incompatible with Calvinism

Free will, and predestination simply do not jive. How can we have free will if some plan has already been set in place that dictates exactly what the outcome of our lives will be? Simply stated – we cannot. How can we show love true love to God if we are not allowed the choice not to love God – we cannot. How can we ascertain the point of life in a if all of the most important choices in life have already been made for us – we cannot. It is for these reasons that I am not a Calvinist. Fortunately, Calvinism is not my only option. I have choices, and the freedom of will to make such choices. That is why I am…

believinforareason!

Stand to Reason Blog: Challenge: Does God Have Free Will?

Stand to Reason Blog: Challenge: Does God Have Free Will?.

Stand to Reason has bi-weekly question whereby readers of the blog can post questions for other readers to respond to. I found a recent question interesting. The question posted is as follows:

If morality is in God’s nature, then He is omnibenevolent, right? Does that mean that God cannot choose evil? So, if God cannot choose to do evil, does that mean He doesn’t have free will?

I have linked to the blog above. We should keep in mind when responding to this question that the Bible states that things do exist that God cannot do. For example, Hebrews 6:18 tells us God cannot lie.

Hebrews 6:18

so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
Does this mean that God does not have free will? I suggest taking a look at an article on letusreason.org before answering the question, which gives a list of things God cannot do. If you prefer the Cliff’s Notes version I can summarize as follows: God cannot do anything that is against His nature. So what is against His nature? Here are a few examples:
  • Sin
  • Deceit
  • Evil in general
  • Speaking falsehoods

I could go on, but I will not. God is good. The very basis of objective moral truths and duties. As such, anything contrary to God’s nature is not good, but let’s get back to the question. Does God have free will? The answer is, absolutely, yes. After all, how can a being without free will create beings with free will. Seems contrary in nature. Additionally, God makes choices all throughout history in a free fashion. God is both omniscient, and omnipresent. As such, God is in a unique position to exercise His free will with the benefit of knowing what the outcome of those choices will be until the end of time.

Let us take one more look at this from a different angle. Let’s take me. for example. I cannot throw a 1983 Chevy Malibu across the street. Does that mean I do not have free will? Certainly not. This does, however, speak to my limitedness, whereas God is unlimited. If God cannot do certain things doesn’t that limit Him? I contend that the fact that God cannot do the types of things listed above speaks to God’s power rather than perceived weakness. Items such as sin, deceit, evil,  and lies show a tremendous amount of weakness. The fact that God cannot engage in such activities means that God is so powerful that His power cannot be lessened by the issues of the world that plague mankind. How else can we have faith in God unless He is the ever-constant, omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent, ever-graceful being that we know Him to be? I could never worship a God who is subject to the same weaknesses that I am through my sin-nature. Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

2 Corinthians 12:9

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

2 Corinthians 12:10

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
A weak God could not give us strength in the times of our weakness. Only a God who cannot do things such as those listed above can provide strength, as one additional thing exists that God cannot do… God cannot be weak. God is good/strong/benevolent/awesome, and that is why I am…
believinforareason

The Two Things You Can’t Do in Heaven

A while back I read Mark Cahill’s book, “One Thing You Can’t Do in Heaven”. Cahill contended that “one thing” he refers to is witnessing. This, of course, makes good sense considering everyone in Heaven has already been saved. I recently read a quick comment on The Poached Egg site entitled “Can We Sin in Heaven? Here’s the Poop“. The author, Greg West, indicates that one can sin in Heaven insomuch as one has the ability to do so, but that one would not want to sin. Greg likens this to eating poop for a long time, then getting a steak, and not wanting to eat poop anymore after experiencing how delicious steak really is. Granted, Greg takes some liberties with his analogy, but I get the point.

While I appreciate Greg’s colorful analogy I disagree with his assessment. Jude 1:24 states:

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy (Bible.is)

If we are presented “faultless” before God then we will be in the presence of God without sin. To go to Heaven is to be delivered from sin for all eternity. This is just one piece of the puzzle though. God is pure goodness, thus without sin. To be in the presence of His glory is to be in the presence of pure good. Evil, or sin cannot exist in the presence of pure good. As such, no room exists in Heaven for sin.

So, while I agree with Cahill’s view about not being able to witness in Heaven, I would suggest two things cannot be done in Heaven:

  • You cannot witness in Heaven
  • You cannot sin in Heaven

believinforareason

The Morality of God in the Old Testament Part 3: The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

Genesis chapters 18 and 19 tell of God’s destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Does this show that God is immoral for killing the men, women and children in these cities? What about free will? Did God override our gift of free will out of wrath?

Background

Three men visited Abraham. As it turned out these men were the Lord and two angels. The Lord was en route to Sodom  as the Lord had heard the outcry that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were sinning gravely (See Genesis chapters 18 & 19 for the full text). Abraham attempted to intercede asking the Lord if He would spare the cities if 50 righteous people were found, then 45, then 40, then 30 until Abraham went as low as 10 righteous people. Each time the Lord agreed He would spare the cities if the number of righteous people Abraham suggested were found within. The Lord then sent the angels ahead to Sodom. Once the angels arrived in Sodom Abraham’s brother, Lot, took them in, and was hospitable, as was the strict custom in the region during this time.

Map of Sodom and Gomorrah locations by bibleatlas.org

Before the angels laid down for the night Lot’s house was surrounded by the men of Sodom, who insisted that Lot release the men (in this case, angels, but the men of Sodom were unaware of this fact), so the men of Sodom could have sex with the strangers. Lot refused, and even offered his own virgin daughters to the men of Sodom instead! The men of Sodom refused the offering of Lot’s daughters and rushed Lot, but the angels pulled Lot inside, and blinded the men of Sodom, so they could not find their way inside. Lot was allowed to leave Sodom with his two daughters to Zoar (his son-in-laws-to-be refused to leave), and the Lord rained sulfur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah thereby killing all of the people in the two cities.

What does the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah say about the morality of God in the Old Testament?

The short answer is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is demonstrative of two attributes of God: His pure goodness, and His grace. Consider that God said the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were “very grave” (ESV), or “extremely serious” (HCSB). For the Lord, in His purity and goodness, to give special attention to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah the immorality and sinfulness of the people of the cities had to have been outstandingly heinous. Further, the Lord’s omniscience allows Him to see what will happen in the future should the gravely sinful acts of the people of the cities be allowed to continue unchecked. Certainly we have evidence of what could have occurred (albeit on a much larger scale if the cities were not destroyed) recorded in the book of Numbers, which we will get into briefly in a bit. The Lord was outraged at the people of the cities in a way that no other being could be based on His own pure goodness. The Lord showed His grace by destroying the people of Sodom and Gomorrah thereby eliminating the possibility of the grievous sins of the people infecting others who may have come in contact with the people of the cities.

Did God directly impede His gift of free will by destroying Sodom and Gomorrah?

No, God certainly did not get in the way of the gift of free will the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were enjoying so frivolously. The impediment of free will should not be confused with consequences borne of the choices one makes. All choices have consequences. In this case the choices made by the people of Sodom and Gomorrah led to their ultimate demise. Any individual living today faces the same danger. While we may not see the Lord rain down sulfur and fire we certainly could face an eternity spent in a similar environment should we make choices in life that separate us from the Lord.

A taste of what could have been

We got a peek into Lot’s twisted sense of right and wrong based on the influence of Sodom when lot offered his own daughters to the men of Sodom in order to protect his house guests. The moral corruption does not stop there. After fleeing Sodom, Lot’s daughters executed a plan to get Lot drunk on wine, so they could have babies by him. Their plan worked, and each of the daughters birthed a son.

37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today.

If you recall in my post, The Morality of God in the Old Testament Part 2: Would a Moral God Condone Genocide and Rape?, it was the daughters of Moab and Midian that seduced the Israelites in an effort to curse the Israelites. Imagine this type of corruption on a much larger scale if two full cities of like-minded sinners were allowed to continue.

God alone can forgive us our sins, but only if we truly seek Him to do so. God is the ultimate good. Ask yourself, would you do anything less for your children? When you ask yourself that question bare in mind that our human anger is more often then not, unjustified. God’s anger is righteous and just, as He knows all and sees all. Without God no objective moral truths or duties can exist, as we have no ultimate good on which to base such objectivity. God is good, and that is why I am…

believinforareason

Hell, Free Will, and the Importance of Options

I was reading an article on the CARM website by Matt Slick:

Does God hate anyone? | Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.

I was prompted to read this article due to a conversation I had recently with a fellow blogger, and a podcast I listened to consisting of a debate between Dr. William Lane Craig and Shabir Ally. All of these topics really came down to the following four questions in my mind:

  • Does God hate anyone?
  • Do people get sent to hell?
  • How important is free will?
  • What are we gonna do about it?!?

I believe the article by Matt Slick presents come compelling evidence that God does “hate”. I would, however, add that hate from God falls into the righteous anger bucket, while human hate falls into the unforgiving sinner bucket. So what does God due to those He has righteous anger toward? He disciplines them, of course. This concept is explained well in Hebrews 12:5-11:

 5And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

#“My son, #do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

6For #the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.”

7It is for discipline that you have to endure. #God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8If you are left without discipline, #in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to #the Father of spirits #and live? 10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, #that we may share his holiness. 11#For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields #the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

So, is part of that discipline sending those individuals to hell? I do not believe so. After all, going to hell is optional. God provides us with the knowledge and tools to understand Him, and follow His will. Furthermore, He provides us with free will to make the choice to use that knowledge and those tools in a way that is pleasing to Him. If we choose to turn away from that which God has provided we are, in a very real sense, choosing hell. Certainly we do not have a situation here where an individual has done everything he or she could do to have a relationship with God, but God decided to “send” him or her to hell. Folks are just opting in!

Let us not forget that one of the most arguably amazing attributes of God is grace. So why does God let people make choices that result in an eternity in Hell? I would answer that by asking the question: how important is free will? I contend that free will is extremely important. Without free will what is the point? We cannot love God or anyone else without free will. None of the “choices” we make in life would have any meaning because we would have no choices to make – no free will. Should God step in where He sees fit, and interject to ensure that hell remains having plenty of vacancies? I would argue that free will is an all or nothing proposition. 
OK, so we have free will, and can make choices that keep us out of the whole weeping a gnashing of teeth scenario, but let us look at this from a different angle. My worldview includes an omniscient God. If God knows all than God knows which people will not accept Him, and will ultimately end up in Hell. Is this really fair? In fewer than 500 words… yes. Let us not forget that God calls us to be witnesses.Matthew 28:19-20 reads:

 19#Go therefore and #make disciples of #all nations, #baptizing them #in# #the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them #to observe all that #I have commanded you. And behold, #I am with you always, to #the end of the age.”

So, if we – Christians – would be work harder at what we are called by God to do perhaps fewer people would be born with the inevitable life conclusion resulting in an eternity in hell.

Let us not blame God for “sending” people to hell. Let’s smash the walls off of our comfort zone, and go do something about it. After all, we could be one conversation away from keeping hell at least one soul lighter.