Continued brain pain…

brainHere are some more of my thoughts on the Calvinism thing…

First, I’m not writing as an apologist of the opposition trying to convince you my position is more tenable. I’m simply writing to express my position.  This is what makes sense to me.   This is my best attempt to embrace the beauty of the character of God and the meaning of being created in the image of the Creator.

Like I said last Friday, I certainly believe in the total depravity of humans, although I never really use those words, because they have been co-opted by Calvinism and a more far-reaching definition is usually implied.  I don’t believe total depravity implies or necessitates total evil or the total inability to respond to God’s love and mercy by faith.

In spite of being “spiritually dead and helpless”, all humans are special, loved, possessors of dignity and worth, and most importantly, redeemable.

This is critical.  Because of this belief, these are my necessary and inevitable responses to the other four core tenets of Calvinism (TULIP):

T – Total Depravity (but not total inability to respond to God).

U – Unconditional Election.  I reject this belief completely.  God loves everyone equally and desires that all people live the life He designed for us to live.  I don’t believe that God arbitrarily assigned “a few” to eternity in heaven and “the masses” to eternal, unending torment.  I do not believe that God destined some to live for his honor and created all the others to live for evil, with no hope of redemption.   For me, this is not consistent with character of God revealed in the Bible (in spite of the apparent need for continual justice and violence in the OT).

L – Limited Atonement.  I believe his atonement, just like his love and mercy, is universal and not limited. Christ died equally for all people, and paid the ultimate price that made salvation possible for all, but guaranteed it to none.  I believe when God’s word says, “whosoever believes in Me will have eternal life”, I actually think He meant that.

I – Irresistible Grace.  Because of my belief in the God-given freedom of the human willand because I do not accept the premise of arbitrary and unconditional election, I most surely believe that God’s overtures of love and mercy to his children can be resisted (rejected).  The potential to receive or reject His grace is always present.  I do not see God as the Cosmic Puppet Master who pulls strings to make us love Himany more than I believe He pulls the strings to make evil and disaster happen.  I believe that is the work of Satan and the presence of evil in a broken, but redeemable, world.

P – Perseverance of the Saints.  This is most certainly the logical and understandable conclusion to Calvinist theology.  If God wants you saved, you are saved.  Period.  You may not know it, you may not act like it, you may never experience the life Jesus died to give you, but you will make it to heaven.  No matter what.  But I do not hold to this belief.  I believe that God’s grace and human faith work in tandem together.  They are the two sides of the same coin.  I believe that is the reality we see on every page of Scripture.

This is my logical and understandable conclusion:  I live every day with confidence, boldness and assurance that my salvation is secure, because I trust God at his word and by faith, I believe that Jesus rose from the dead.  I experience the reality and presence of a life in the Spirit, as the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 5-8.  I hold on to his promises and the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit is in, and around, every part of my life.  But I can never be tethered to this life of faith against my will.  

As freely as I have received the gift of grace and tasted the fruit of a new life, I can just as freely turn my back. That’s how love is.

In my next post, I’ll give Scripture references that reflect my position, if you wish to do some further study and comparison.


3 thoughts on “Continued brain pain…

  1. Well OK. Here goes nothing. Rather than participating in a point-by-point debate of which we will likely never agree, let me give you my take on Calvinism as I have come to see it after about 12 years of study.

    First, and I don’t mean for this to sound condescending but the argument against Reformed Theology using the “Grand Puppet Master” argument is a bit tired and overdone. If one studies back into Augustine, Aquinas & Luther, you will not see much evidence of a God that orchestrates evil, nor a God that hand selects people and manages their lives and actions in such a way that subjects choose him and do his bidding.

    Wendell Berry, author of the book, Jayber Crow, writes; “Just as a good man would not coerce the love of his wife, God does not coerce the love of His human creatures.” Now this could be a plug for Arminianism but I don’t think so. It is true that the Will of God is the necessity of all things, but the aforementioned theologians would make a great distinction on the definition of necessity. In fact the tradition of Christian Orthodoxy, would reject that we are all mere affectations of external coercion.

    This is why the whole puppet mastery and robot analogy falls flat. If I am a true Calvinist, while I believe that God’s grace is irresistible, and that he loves us with his “elected” love, I also believe that our Christian calling, transformation and/or justification, renews us from within.

    If you want to get a great sense of true reformed theology, take a look at the Canons of Dort.

    If you know this or read them now, you will learn that Calvinists do not wholly subscribe to a coerced Christian life. Instead, you should know that we believe that God sovereignly, irresistably and supernaturally renews our spirit so that our lives mirror his will and that while we live within that will, we are drawn by the holy spirit to live a life within that framework.

    That is not to say that we are sinless (obviously), nor does it say that we will not stray The Perseverance of the Saints says that while we may stray, if we have truly been justified, we will return.

    In simple terms I look at it like this. Surely there is an elect. It is not God physically picking and choosing who enters heaven and who is cast out. It is merely in the context of God’s omniscient power. He knows who will answer his call and who will not. Could he alter our choices? Of course. He is God after all. He is capable of anything. However, it is within the context of our own free will that he knows who will and who won’t. The “wills” are the elect. That is to say that God, through his loving mercy and sovereign grace, by his writing our names in the Book of Life, chooses to love us first.

    1. Sean, this is a really well-written response. As our dialogue continues, I suspect we will find more common ground. However, theological impasses will probably always remain. It’s good we have the greatness of the National League to agree on. Here are three observations you can comment back on:

      First, I agree (both from your references and all of my own personal study through the years, as well) there is a “truer” expression of breformed theology than is generally expressed these days. I would have been put off by my “puppet master” reference, if I were you, also. But from my angle, that take on reformed theology is the one being marketed by the big-name and incredibly influential pastors and authors who lead the popular neo-reformed movement these days. No matter what the original framers of reformed theology intended, today’s pop-Calvinists present a God of coercion and the cause of both good and evil. It would seem your biggest beef should be with your Calvinist family. You guys are clearly not on the same page. (Uh, like Arminians. Yeah. Right.)

      It’s obvious I am reacting to hyper, strong, 4-5 point Calvinism. Your brand of Calvinism (the “true” one!), is much milder. Most Arminians believe in what Wesley referred to as prevenient grace. That is the belief that through the actions of Jesus on the cross and the preaching of the gospel (Ro 10:17 “…and faith comes by hearing…”), all people receive sufficient grace to respond by faith. Though Arminians still hold to the belief that there is still freedom to resist, they also believe no one can respond properly to God, without His prior working to enable it to happen. Would you agree there is some common ground?

      Finally, no matter how you write it (“Surely there is an elect. It is not God physically picking and choosing who enters heaven and who is cast out. It is merely in the context of God’s omniscient power. He knows who will answer his call and who will not…”), my filter still hears, “God is orchestrating it. There is no real freedom, just perceived freedom.” Just how it sounds to me, bro.

  2. Mike, I always get good stuff from your posts. Though I’m not an expert in any of the “…isms,” I am a long-term Bible student, age 78, converted at age 35. Questions/comments re: your take on Calvin. T = I agree with your distinction re: TD and TI, though Jesus did say, “No one comes to me unless the Father draw him.” But that does not say everyone the Father draws will come (which would apply to IG). UE = I always thought this meant there are no conditions (such as law-keeping) on His election. I guess I read it as unconditional love, with love and election being somewhat synonymous. P of S: I’m not sure how one can be a Saint without knowing it, and don’t think that’s what Calvin taught, but never mind. It’s the will thing I want to comment on. Phi. 2:13 says “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure.” As we say to the kids, “God gives you a new ‘want-to’.” This is the heart of flesh replacing the heart of stone; this is the law now written on your heart. For me, salvation is all about that transaction: Christ took all my sins upon Himself at Calvary and gave me in exchange a new heart which WANTS to do things His way. He lives within me. The first month I was a believer, I thought that was creepy. Would I be a robot? But before long, I was just grateful, as I experienced the freedom, joy and peace that came from my intimate, unbreakable connection with Him. Could I break fellowship? Yes indeed; but I could never break the connection because it all originated and is maintained by Him, as He promised in Phil. 1:6 and in countless proclamations by O.T. prophets as well as by the Lord Jesus Himself, “Whoever comes to me, I will in no wise cast out.” Loose paraphrase.
    Thanks for caring about all of us out here in the hinterland.

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