A. Historical and Biographical Introduction
1. Augustine and Pelagius
2. The Protestant Reformation
B. The Debate
1. Beware Premature Systematization
2. Beware Polarization
3. Beware of Just "Five Points"
4. Beware Misidentification
C. Seven Key Questions
1. What Is the Nature of God's Sovereignty?
2. How Depraved Is Fallen Man?
3. Does God Restore Man to Free Choice?
4. Is Election Conditional?
5. What Is the Extent of the Atonement?
6. Is Grace Irresistible?
7. Will Believers Persevere
1. Faith and Works
2. Volition and Free Will
3. Sovereignty and Free Will
4. Sovereignty, Certainty, and Responsibility
6. The meaning of "dead in sins"
7. Universal Intent and Universal Invitation
8. Basis of Judgment
9. Accountability Based on Knowledge
10. Eternal Security
E. Key Passages Used by Calvinists
1. Acts 13:48
2. Romans 9:11-21
3. 1 Corinthians 2:14
4. John 15:16
F. Summary of Biblical Teaching
|Do not go beyond what is written. Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. (1 Corinthians 4:6)|
For many centuries there have been opposing views regarding the inherent goodness of man. Two early theologians who were on opposite sides of this issue were Augustine and Pelagius.
Saint Augustine (A.D. 354 - 430), bishop of Hippo, North Africa, is regarded by many as one of the greatest thinkers of early Christianity. He strongly held that fallen man was utterly incapable of any good works and was thus completely dependent on the initiative of divine grace for salvation. Some regard the Protestant Reformation, over a thousand years later, as a revival of the views of Augustine.
Pelagius (probably A.D. 354 - after 418), a British monk and contemporary of Augustine, reacted against Augustine's views on grace and determinism. He observed that others often used these views as an excuse for loose living, so he preached that man should take more responsibility for his own actions. He denied original sin and affirmed unhindered human free will. He held that, in spite of the fall, man retained his innate goodness and could perform righteous acts if only he would choose to do them. Because he taught that man retained natural goodness and emphasized free will rather than grace, he was excommunicated from the church by Pope Innocent I in A.D. 417.
Ever since the Roman Emperor Constantine (early 300's) the state and the church were closely allied. During the 1400's and 1500's in Europe the state was viewed as the arm of the church, and theological differences often became civil legislative matters. This meant that a variation in belief could become, not merely a matter of conscience and debate, but a matter of life and death.
There had been tensions building for over a hundred years between the people, civil government, and the Roman Catholic Church before the Protestant Reformation began in earnest. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther (1483-1546), a German monk and theology professor in the church, made known his concerns regarding the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church (particularly the sale of indulgences) by nailing his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the catholic Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
In 1521 Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther from the Roman Catholic Church. Shortly thereafter Luther had to appear before the diet (council) in Worms, Germany where he was ordered to recant his views. Luther's refusal resulted in the Edict of Worms, which labeled Luther an outlaw and made it legal for anyone to kill him without punishment.
Luther and other Reformation leaders agreed on a number of basic themes, including (1) the Bible rather than the Roman Catholic Church as the basis of all doctrine, (2) justification (salvation) by grace through faith alone rather than by good works, and (3) the priesthood of all believers, not just the Roman Catholic clergy.
John Calvin was born into a Catholic family in 1509 in France; he was eight years old when the Reformation began. He was educated in Catholic schools in France and later lived in Switzerland and Germany. He proclaimed his conversion to Protestantism in 1533 and became one of the principal leaders of the Protestant Reformation. In 1536 he published his Institutes of the Christian Religion – a two volume work written in Latin then translated by Calvin himself into French. Calvin's ministry was wide ranging, including preaching, writing, organizing clerical and ecclesiastical groups, presiding at church tribunals, and encouraging and supporting the spread of Christianity both through missionary and military activity. Calvin died in Geneva in 1564.
There are three things that should be kept in mind regarding Calvin's Institutes. First, Calvin was only 27 years old when he wrote it. Second, only three years before writing the Institutes he converted from Catholicism to Protestantism, so it may be reasonable to assume that he was a relatively new believer. Third, it appears that Calvin adopted a peculiar approach to truth, judging from his earlier book, which appeared in 1532. This book was a critical edition and commentary on the Roman philosopher Seneca's work De clementia (“Concerning Clemency”). In this book Calvin demonstrated his scholarly abilities, but also showed that he favored the opinions of the rhetoricians over those of the dialecticians. The dialecticians believed that a statement's truth is best tested by how well it fits into a coherent logical system. The rhetoricians believed that a statement's truth is best tested by its clarity and elegance as well as its persuasive power. (Robert M. Kingdon, “John Calvin,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed, 1982, Vol 3, p 671)
Calvin's tendency to underplay the importance of logic can also be seen in his Institutes. Here are just three examples from the Institutes where Calvin emphatically states ideas that are logically weak – a sure indication of the rhetorician's approach to truth. First, any discussion of free will is logically related to the subject of divine predestination. However, when Calvin discusses Adam's free will, he claims that it is unreasonable to introduce the subject of divine predestination.
It were here unreasonable to introduce the question concerning the secret predestination of God, because we are not considering what might or might not happen, but what the nature of man truly was. (Book 1, Chap 15, Sec 8).Second, the idea that human punishment is ultimately based on man's actions is logically contradictory to the idea that it is ultimately based on God's decision. Yet, Calvin states both of these ideas in the same sentence.
Though their perdition depends on the predestination of God, the cause and matter of it is in themselves. (Book 3, Chap 23, Sec 8).
Third, Calvin states that man makes voluntary choices which are not free. This is an obvious logical contradiction which can be avoided only by adopting a very narrow and inappropriate definition of volition.
... a thing may be done voluntarily, though not subject to free choice. (Book 2, Chap 5, Sec 1)The Institutes are Calvin's most systematic statement of his theology. Calvin's style is polemic, even caustic; he refers to his opponents as “filthy swine” who speak “profane blasphemies” (Book 3, Chap 23, Sec 12). Calvin's teachings, while in line with the three basic themes of the Reformation mentioned above, included certain ideas about divine election (choosing) of believers which were controversial right from the start. Calvin was banished from Geneva, Switzerland by its Protestant city council in 1538, but later he was welcomed back to a position of leadership in Geneva. While at Geneva, Calvin instituted many ecclesiastical regulations and presided over the Consistory. People who were accused of heretical beliefs or evil behavior were required to appear before the Consistory where they received a vehement scolding from Calvin himself and, if the crime were serious enough, they were excommunicated from the church or turned over to civil authorities for punishment. (Kingdon, op cit, p 673)
It was while he was in this position that he committed the act that most saddens his modern followers. Michael Servetus (Spanish, Miguel Serveto, born 1511) was a scientist, physician, and theologian who had published several works in which he disagreed with Calvin on the trinity, astrology, baptism, and the need for a separation between church and state. Calvin had been aware of Servetus' views probably as early as 1531 and in 1546, in a letter, had expressed his desire to see Servetus dead (“I shall never permit him to depart alive.”). After escaping the Catholic inquisitor in France, Servetus was arrested by protestant authorities in Geneva. At Servetus' trial Calvin pushed for his death. Servetus was burned alive on October 27, 1553. Among Calvin's contemporary followers some supported this action, but some were critical, most notably Sebastian Castellio, a former colleague at Geneva. Centuries later Calvin’s followers publicly condemned it. (Kingdon, op cit, p 674. See also Timothy H. Wadkins, “A Recipe for Intolerance: A Study of the Reasons Behind John Calvin’s Approval of Punishment for Heresy,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Dec. 1983, pp 431-441)
Some regard Calvin's Institutes as the most influential single treatise to come out of the Reformation. His ideas on doctrine, church and civil government, and the responsibility of the church to society influenced many people in Switzerland, England, and Scotland. Thousands of his followers in France, known as the Huguenots, were killed by the pro-Catholic civil authorities. Calvin also influenced the Puritans and thus had an effect on colonial North America. He promoted the pattern of church polity now known as presbyterianism.
When Calvin wrote, he was not responding to Arminius. Arminius was not even born when Calvin wrote his Institutes and was only four years old when Calvin died. On issues such as the extent of depravity and the capabilities of the unregenerate, Calvin was responding primarily to the views of Pelagius and his followers. In defending against Pelagian views, Calvin frequently quotes Augustine.
James Arminius (Latin name), or Jacobus Hermann (Dutch name), was born in 1560 in The Netherlands. Arminius was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church and theological professor at the University of Leiden. He died in 1609.
Initially a Calvinist, Arminius later rejected Calvin's views on election. Arminius taught that man's restored free will was active in seeking salvation. It is important to realize that when Arminius talks about free will, he is not following the lead of Pelagius. Whereas Pelagius denied the debilitating effects of the fall, Arminius affirmed them. Arminius believed just as strongly as Calvin in the total depravity of man, but Arminius believed that Scripture taught a different solution to the problem of depravity.
In 1610 Arminius' followers, known as the Remonstrant Brotherhood, published their views in a Remonstrance, to which Calvin's followers answered with their own Counterremonstrance. In 1619 Arminius' views were debated at the synod of Dort (an assembly of the Dutch Reformed Church which also included representatives from a number of surrounding countries) resulting in his condemnation and, for a time, the persecution of his followers. Arminius' own works, The Writings of James Arminius (three volumes written in Latin) were not published until 1629, after his death. His views affected many Europeans including John and Charles Wesley and the Methodist movement.
It is most unfortunate when either Calvinism or Arminianism is equated with biblical Christianity. For example, notice how Charles H. Spurgeon equated the gospel and Calvinism.
There is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism … Calvinism is the gospel. (from the pamphlet “Election” Bible Truth Depot, included in Spurgeon's Sermons on Sovereignty, Baptist Examiner Book Shop, Ashland, Kentucky)There is a grave danger here. When you think of any doctrinal system as faithfully representing the Bible's teachings on a particular subject, it is all too easy to turn that doctrinal system into a hermeneutical system by which you interpret every passage in the Bible. And this is exactly what has happened in the Calvinism-Arminianism debate. We must remember that the Bible is our only authoritative source of information on spiritual matters, and every question drives us back to the Bible. When we go to the Bible, we must let it speak for itself.
It is easy to use a doctrinal system to violate the Bible. We do this when we read a passage and use our doctrinal system as the context in which we interpret that passage. Then we often turn around and claim that the passage supports our system. But every passage has its own literary and cultural context. It is this context that must be allowed to govern our interpretation of the passage. Then, and only then, should we try to systematize those teachings, or compare that teaching with our present doctrinal system. Sometimes the passage will confirm our doctrinal system, other times it will correct it. But if we allow our doctrinal system to control the interpretation of the passage, then our theology has become more basic that the Bible! Systematic theology must always be built upon sound interpretation of the Bible.
Keep in mind that both John Calvin and James Arminius were saints in the same universal body of Christ, reading the same Bible, wanting to honor the same Lord, and intent on the same goal of bringing the lost to Christ. Yet, they are sometimes portrayed as enemies, and their views as being irreconcilable. For example, David Steele and Curtis Thomas claim that
There is no middle ground between these two systems; either one is a Calvinist or he is an Arminian – he cannot be both, for the two systems are mutually exclusive of each other (Romans, An Interpretive Outline, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1963, p. 139-140)While this may be true of some Calvinists and Arminians today, it certainly was not true of Calvin and Arminius themselves. Even when you consider the five points (explained below) which later formed five principal areas of difference between Calvin's and Arminius' followers, you find that Calvin and Arminius themselves held non-mutually-exclusive views on the first, third, and fifth points.
Today, in some circles, the atmosphere is highly charged and labels are thrown about in haste. If you are so bold as to disagree with one point of Calvinism, you might immediately be labeled an Arminian. Or, if you disagree with one point of Arminianism, you are labeled a Calvinist. This sort of polarizing snap judgment is very far from the biblical injunction to “be quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19), and to “preserve the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3).
The Calvinism-Arminianism debate has often focused around the so-called “five points of Calvinism.” These five points can be organized around the acrostic, TULIP, which follows.
U - unconditional election
L - limited atonement (particular redemption)
I - irresistible grace (effectual call)
P - perseverance of the saints (eternal security)
Calvin's teachings were much broader than the five points listed above. He had a great deal to say about other aspects of doctrine besides soteriology. And regarding soteriology, he had a great deal more to say than just the five points listed above.
In fact, neither Calvin nor Arminius organized their views around these five points. The first appearance of five points (in different order) was in the Remonstrance of Arminius' followers mentioned above. However, ever since the remonstrance and the counterremonstrance, the Calvinism-Arminian debate has revolved around these five points. The key questions discussed in the next section include these five points, but they also include two additional points which are crucial to the debate, namely, the nature of sovereignty and the true nature of fallen man (questions 1 and 3 in the next section).
It is not uncommon in modern Calvinism-versus-Arminianism discussions to hear someone confuse Arminius and Pelagius. Some modern Calvinists adopt Calvin's arguments thinking that they are making points against Arminius, but Calvin's arguments were actually directed against Pelagius (among others). Calvin frequently addressed Pelagian views, but only rarely addressed views that would later become known as unique Arminian views. Even today Calvinists often assume that all Arminians hold Pelagian views, and thus they manufacture straw men to shoot down in their arguments.
Nor is Arminianism to be identified with Semi-Pelagianism. The Semi-Pelagian view stands somewhere between Pelagius and Augustine. It accepts the fall with its corrupting effects, and holds that divine grace is needed for salvation and Christian living. However, according to this view man can, without divine help, desire the divine help needed for salvation. So, while Semi-Pelagianism assigns more necessity to grace than does Pelagianism, it still holds that man retains what John Cassian called the beginning of faith – man can by his unaided will decide that he needs and wants salvation. But even this view is significantly different from Arminius. (This difference is completely overlooked by Loraine Boettner. See his The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1932, pp 47-48) Notice how Arminius describes the inability of man and the necessity of grace.
Free will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without grace.… This grace is simply and absolutely necessary for the illumination of the mind, the due ordering of the affections, and the inclination of the will to that which is good.… I confess that the mind of a natural and carnal man is obscure and dark, that his affections are corrupt and inordinate, that his will is stubborn and disobedient, and that the man himself is dead in sins. (The Writings of James Arminius, Vol 2, p 472-473)
The distinctive teachings of Calvin and Arminius can be grouped under seven key questions.
T - 2 - How depraved is fallen mankind?
3 - To what extent does God restore fallen mankind?
U - 4 - Is God's election conditional?
L - 5 - Is the intent of the atonement limited?
I - 6 - Is saving grace irresistible?
P - 7 - Will the Christian persevere?
Remember that, for both Calvin and Arminius, their followers continued to develop (and in some cases alter) their original views. Present-day Calvinists and Arminians are much farther apart than Calvin and Arminius were, mainly due to the migration of some of Arminius' followers back toward Pelagianism. Currently there are many brands of both Calvinism and Arminianism.
In this section we attempt to limit the debate to the original views of Calvin and Arminius by quoting exclusively from their writings. All quotations from Calvin are from his Institutes of the Christian Religion (Eerdmans 1957 edition, translated by Henry Beveridge) unless otherwise noted. All quotations from Arminius are from The Writings of James Arminius (Baker 1956 reprint, translated by Nichols and Bagnall).
Both Calvin's Institutes and Arminius' Writings are also available online. See the bibliography at the end of the paper "How To Approach the Election Dispute."
|Whenever God is pleased to make way for his providence, he even in external matters so turns and bends the wills of men, that whatever the freedom of their choice may be, it is still subject to the disposal of God. That your mind depends more on the agency of God than the freedom of your own choice, daily experience teaches. (Book 2, Chap 4, Sec 7)|
|The arrangement of all things is in the hand of God, since to him belongs the disposal of life and death, he arranges all things by his sovereign counsel, in such a way that individuals are born, who are doomed from the womb to certain death, and are to glorify him by their destruction. (Book 3, Chap 23, Sec 6)|
|I place in subjection to Divine Providence both the free-will and even the actions of a rational creature, so that nothing can be done without the will of God, not even any of those things which are done in opposition to it; … God both wills and performs good acts, but … he only freely permits those which are evil. (Vol 1, Sentiments, sec. II on the Providence of God, italics in original)|
|God in the administration of his Providence conducts all things in such a manner that when he is pleased to employ his creatures in the execution of his decrees, he does not take away from them their nature, natural properties or the use of them, but allows them to perform and complete their own proper motions. (Vol 1, Apology or Defense of James Arminius, Article 7, 2., (1.))|
|… something is done contingently … in such a manner as makes it possible not to be done. (Vol 1, Apology or Defense of James Arminius, Article 7, 2., (2.))|
|[Concerning the opposite view] It makes God to be the author of sin, and man to be exempt from blame. (Vol 1, Apology or Defense of James Arminius, Article 7, 2., (3.))|
Both Calvin and Arminius believed in the sovereignty of God, but they defined sovereignty differently. Calvin believed in a direct sovereignty. When God wills, he causes whatever he has determined to happen. This means that man is not free. Man may make what seem to him to be “voluntary” choices, nevertheless those choices are predetermined by God.
Arminius believed in an indirect or permissive sovereignty. When God wills, he sometimes causes what he has determined to happen, but other times permits others to determine what happens. This means that man is free in certain areas including salvation. Thus, Arminius held that God, as part of his sovereignty, allows man to make his own free choices – choices which in each case could have been the opposite.
|All the parts of the soul were possessed by sin, ever since Adam revolted …. Paul … says that corruption does not dwell in one part only, but that no part is free from its deadly taint.… The whole man, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, is so deluged, as it were, that no part remains exempt from sin, and, therefore, everything which proceeds from him is imputed as sin. (Book 2, Chap 1, Sec 9)|
|We are intoxicated with a false opinion of our own discernment, and can scarcely be persuaded that in divine things it is altogether stupid and blind.… When the Spirit describes men under the term darkness, he declares them void of all power of spiritual intelligence.… The flesh has no capacity for such sublime wisdom as to apprehend God, and the things of God, unless illuminated by his Spirit. (Book 2, Chap 2, Sec 19, italics in original)|
|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. (Vol 1, Arminius' Theological Sentiments, sec. III on the Free Will of Man, italics in original)|
|The free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.… The mind of man, in this state, is dark, destitute of the saving knowledge of God, and, according to the Apostle, incapable of those things which belong to the Spirit of God.… To the darkness of the mind succeeds the perverseness of the affections and of the heart, according to which it hates and has an aversion to that which is truly good and pleasing to God; but it loves and pursues what is evil.… Exactly correspondent to this darkness of the mind, and perverseness of the heart, is the utter weakness of all the powers to perform that which is truly good, and to omit the perpetration of that which is evil …. He is altogether dead in sin. (Vol 1, Public Disputations, Disputation 11 on The Free Will of Man and Its Powers, par 7-11, italics in original)|
Both Calvin and Arminius hold firmly to the total depravity of man, which makes man utterly incapable of doing any spiritual good without God's intervention.
Because of Arminius' view of the effect of the fall on mankind, he should never be confused with Pelagius. In fact, Arminius worked hard to “keep at the greatest possible distance from Pelagianism” (Vol 1, p 300).
Some have claimed that, once you accept the total depravity of man, you must accept the other points of Calvinism because they are logically required by total depravity. They reason as follows. Since every individual is totally depraved and cannot choose anything good, God must choose whomever he wants without any regard for anything in the individual. This is unconditional election. This then leads to the view that the atonement is intended to benefit only the elect. After all, those who are not elect have no possibility of salvation, and thus they have no need of the atonement as a basis for salvation. Total depravity also leads to irresistible grace since the elect are effectually called and thus regenerated before (logically) they can even believe. Salvation, being entirely dependent upon God's initiative, leaves no room for man to respond in his lost state; for if an individual's salvation depended upon whether or not he resisted the call, then salvation would depend on the individual. Besides that, because of total depravity all would resist and none would be saved. Thus, divine grace must be applied to certain individuals without even the possibility of their being able to resist it. Finally, perseverance of the saints is required since God's unconditioned election is at the base of everything else related to salvation, including predestination and glorification. Since it all depends on God, the individual can do nothing to alter his predetermined end.
But if the second, third, fourth, and fifth points (of the so-called five points) proceed logically from the first, how is any other view possible if you begin with total depravity? In particular, how could Calvin and Arminius differ on unconditional election and irresistible grace if they both started with total depravity? The answer is that the first point, total depravity, is incomplete. While individuals are totally depraved, that is not all they are. Total depravity, which is completely true, is a partial truth! When you say that an individual is totally depraved, you have not said enough, because Scripture says more than that about individuals. It says that the Father draws individuals to Christ (John 6:44). It also says that every individual is enlightened by Christ (John 1:9), drawn by Christ (John 12:32), and convicted by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11). In other words, there have never been any individuals who are totally depraved and that is all. Every individual, besides being totally depraved is also enlightened, drawn, and convicted. To build an entire soteriology on a null category is complete nonsense, but this is exactly what Calvin did!
Arminius, while he held firmly to total depravity, saw that it did not represent the Bible's complete description of fallen man, as illustrated by the next question.
|We … repudiate the oft-repeated sentiment of Chrysostom, “Whom he draws, he draws willingly;” insinuating that the Lord only stretches out his hand, and waits to see whether we will be pleased to take his aid.… The Apostle's doctrine is not, that the grace of a good will is offered to us if we will accept of it, but that God himself is pleased so to work in us as to guide, turn, and govern our hearts by his Spirit, and reign in it as his own possession.… The grace of God is effectual in itself.… Augustine justly derides some who arrogate to themselves a certain power of willing …. (Book 2, Chap 3, Sec 10)|
|Our will is not free from the first fall; that is, it is not free to good, unless it be made free by the Son through his Spirit. (Vol 1,Public Disputations, Disputation 11 on The Free Will of Man and Its Powers, par 11)|
|That teacher obtains my highest approbation who ascribes as much as possible to divine grace, provided he so pleads the cause of grace, as not to inflict any injury on the justice of God, and not to take away the free will to that which is evil. (Vol 2, Letter to Hippolytus, sec 4 on Grace and Free Will, italics in original)|
|God … decreed to receive into favor those who repent and believe, and, in Christ, for his sake and through him, to effect the salvation of such penitents and believers as persevered to the end; but to leave in sin, and under wrath, all impenitent persons and unbelievers, and to damn them as aliens from Christ. (Vol 1, Sentiments, sec 6 on My Own Sentiments on Predestination, par 2, italics in original)|
Calvin denies that God restores human free choice. He holds that God does not offer salvation to man and then look to see who will receive it. Rather, God “governs” human hearts. Calvin assigns all of the willing to God and leaves none for man.
In contrast, Arminius claims that God's Spirit performs a work of grace for mankind which makes man's will free – free toward both good and evil. Thus, individual salvation, while it is always dependent upon God's grace, is ultimately determined by the individual's belief or unbelief.
|How did it fail to occur to Chrysostom, that it is divine election which distinguishes among men? … While we all labour naturally under the same disease, those only recover health to whom the Lord is pleased to put forth his healing hand. (Book 2, Chap 5, Sec 3)|
|It is plainly owing to the mere pleasure of God that salvation is spontaneously offered to some, while others have no access to it. … of the great body of mankind some should be predestined to salvation, and others to destruction.… God … gives to some what he denies to others. (Book 3, Chap 21, Sec 1)|
|We, indeed ascribe both prescience and predestination to God; but we say that it is absurd to make the latter subordinate to the former.… By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death. (Book 3, Chap 21, Sec 5)|
|God by his eternal and immutable counsel determined once and for all those whom it was his pleasure one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was his pleasure to doom to destruction. (Book 3, Chap 21, Sec 7)|
|The Lord has created those who, as he certainly foreknew, were to go to destruction, and he did so because he so willed. (Book 3, Chap 23, Sec 5)|
|God decreed to save and damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the foreknowledge of God, by which he knew from all eternity those individuals who would, through his preventing [going before] grace, believe, and, through his subsequent grace would persevere … by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew those who would not believe and persevere. (Vol 1, Sentiments, sec 6 on My Own Sengiments on Predestination, par 4, italics in original)|
According to Calvin, God's election (choice) is not conditioned on anything outside himself. Calvin does speak of foreknowledge (or “prescience”), but he does not mean that God merely knows something about individuals ahead of time (such as, that they would believe). Rather, according to Calvin's view of foreknowledge, God intimately knows certain individuals and thus favored (or elected) them ahead of time.
According to Arminius, God's election is conditioned upon his foreseeing who would believe and who would not believe. When Arminius speaks of foreknowledge, he means that God knows something ahead of time, that is, he foresees it without causing it. For Arminius, belief (faith) is not a merit. When God looks into the future and sees faith, and bases his election of the individual on that foreknowledge, he is not basing his election on human merit.
|Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and in the goodness of God is offered unto all men without distinction, his blood being shed not for a part of the world only, but for the whole human race; for although in the world nothing is found worthy of the favor of God, yet he holds out the propitiation to the whole world, since without exception he summons all to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than the door unto hope. (from Calvin's commentary on 1 John 2:2, quoted in A. H. Strong's Systematic Theology, p. 778)|
|Scriptures … declare, that Christ died for all men; that he is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. (Vol 1, Apology, Article 12, (2))|
You will notice that the quotation from Calvin is not from his Institutes. Actually, Calvin did not write explicitly on the subject of the extent of the atonement until later when he wrote his commentaries. And as you can see from the quotation, Calvin is here expressing a universalist rather than a limited view of the extent of the atonement. This comes as a surprise to many modern Calvinists.
Modern Calvinists generally insist on limited atonement, some preferring to refer to it as particular redemption. Many of them assume that Calvin also held a limited atonement early in his career. This has led to some interesting reactions to the above quotation. Some theologians (including Henry Thiessen and A. H. Strong) regard it as a rare example of Calvin changing his mind. They feel that the above quotation is a clear statement of a universalist view, and based on the assumption that Calvin earlier held to a limited atonement, feel that he must have changed his mind.
Other theologians (including James Oliver Buswell Jr. and A. A. Hodge) attempt to water down these comments of Calvin by claiming that he is merely agreeing with what Augustine said centuries earlier regarding the death of Christ, “Sufficient for all, efficient for the elect,” suggesting that Calvin never really moved from his position of limited atonement (see Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, Vol 2, p 141). However, in the above quote Calvin is not merely talking about the sufficiency of the atonement, but is clearly talking about the offer (note the use of “offered”, “holds out”, and “summons”) which is the “door unto hope.”
Even though Calvin never explicitly states a belief in limited atonement in the Institutes, it is quite difficult to reconcile the above quotation with his own statements cited earlier. For example, consider his statement cited under Question 4 (Book 3, Chap 21, Sec 1) that some have no access to salvation, being predestined to destruction. This would seem to be an unequivocal denial of hope. The bottom line is that it is difficult to tell where Calvin stood on the issue of the extent of the atonement, and whether or not he changed his view over time.
It is interesting to note that the doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace are much more strongly tied to the doctrine of total depravity than the doctrine of limited atonement. So, it is conceivable that Calvin could have held to universal atonement along with total depravity, unconditional election, and irresistible grace. Remember that many modern Calvinists insist that all the points of Calvinism (including limited atonement) stand or fall together. Calvin himself may prove otherwise.
In Arminius' view, God intended that the atonement be universal – not that all would be saved, but that Christ paid the penalty for all. Thus, the death of Christ forms the basis of a genuine offer to all men of salvation, if they will believe.
|The grace offered by the Lord is not merely one which every individual has full liberty of choosing to receive or reject, but a grace which produces in the heart both choice and will (Book 2, Chap 3, Sec 13)|
|As the Lord by the efficacy of his calling accomplishes towards his elect the salvation to which he had by his eternal counsel destined them, so he has judgments against the reprobate, by which he executes his counsel concerning them.|
|Infants who are to be saved (and that some are saved at this age is certain) must, without question, be previously regenerated by the Lord. (Book 4, Chap 16, Sec 17)|
|This, at least, we set down as incontrovertible, that none of the elect is called away from the present life without being previously sanctified and regenerated by the Spirit of God. (Book 4, Chap 16, Sec 18)|
|External vocation is by the ministry of men, who propound the word of the law and of the gospel… Internal vocation is by the operation of the Holy Spirit illuminating the mind and affecting the heart, that serious attention may be given to those things which are spoken, and that faith or credence may be given to the word. (Vol 1, Disputation 16, sec 11, italics in original)|
Calvin combines the sovereignty of God and the total depravity of man to come to the conclusion that God must initiate any spiritual activity in man. Not only must God initiate it, he must complete it, for man is dead in sin. Thus, when God calls a person to salvation, he first regenerates that person, giving him eternal life, and the individual is then (and only then) able to respond positively. And, of course, the individual cannot do otherwise.
By the way, as you would expect from the third quotation from Calvin above, Calvin also believed in infant baptism. See Book 4, Chap 16, Sec 18.
Arminius, while also holding to God's sovereignty and man's total depravity, taught that the Holy Spirit calls individuals, illuminating them and giving them the ability to decide for or against Christ.
|The Lord … declares that all by whom he is received in true faith have been given him by the Father, and that none of them, while he is their Guardian and Shepherd, will perish. (Book 3, Chap 24, Sec 7)|
|However feeble and slender the faith of the elect may be, yet as the Spirit of God is to them a sure earnest and seal of their adoption, the impression once engraven can never be effaced from their hearts …. (Book 3, Chap 2, Sec 12)|
respecting the perseverance of the Saints are, that those persons who have been grafted into Christ by true faith, and have thus been made partakers of his life-giving Spirit, possess sufficient powers to fight against Satan, sin, the world and their own flesh, and to gain the victory over these enemies – yet not without the assistance of the grace of the same Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ also by his Spirit assists them in all their temptations, and affords them the ready aid of his hand; and, provided they stand prepared for the battle, implore his help, and be not wanting to themselves, Christ preserves them from falling. So that it is not possible for them, by any of
the cunning craftiness or power of Satan, to be either seduced or dragged
out of the hands of Christ. But I think it is useful and will be
quite necessary in our first convention, to institute a diligent enquiry from
the Scriptures, whether it is not possible for some individuals through
negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave
again to the present evil world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was
once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and to cause Divine grace
to be ineffectual.|
Though I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that a true believer can either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish; yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of Scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding. On the other hand, certain passages are produced for the contrary doctrine [of unconditional perseverance] which are worthy of much consideration. (Vol 1, Sentiments, sec 5 on The Perseverance of the Saints, italics in original)
Calvin states that the truly regenerate person is sealed and secure for eternity.
Elsewhere Calvin refers to a temporary enlightenment from God which certain nonelect receive, only to be abandoned later in punishment for their ingratitude (Book 3, Chap 24, Sec 8). Although Calvin never refers to these individuals as truly regenerate, this certainly is a curious aberration in his thought.
Arminius states that he needs further study on the possibility of a believer turning from Christ, since he feels that there appear to be scripture passages on both sides of the issue.
Calvin appears to be unaware of the argument that God's election of individuals to salvation is based on foreknowledge of their faith. He assumes that everyone who makes foreknowledge the cause or origin of election claims that God foresees the individuals' merit or lack of merit.
The question considered is the origin and cause of election. The advocates of foreknowledge insist that it is to be found in the virtues and vices of men. (Book 3, Chap 22, Sec 4)This is an example of Calvin's response to a Pelagian view rather than an Arminian view.
Many modern Calvinists treat faith as though it were a work, that is, a form of human merit. They argue that salvation is entirely of grace and man can do nothing spiritual until he is regenerated. For them, to hold that man exercises faith and thus is saved would be to hold that man does something for his own salvation. In this sense they classify faith as a work. However, Paul and James make it clear that faith and works are not to be confused. Paul states repeatedly that salvation is by faith, not by works (e.g.: Romans 3:27-28; Galatians 3:1-14; Ephesians 2:8-9) requiring a sharp contrast between faith and works. And James' argument that both faith and works are necessary because genuine faith will produce good works (James 2:14-26) also requires a definite distinction between faith and works.
Saving faith, when properly understood, is the opposite of works. When the individual realizes that he has no merit of his own to offer God, he cries out for help. This request for God's help expresses both the belief that God is able to help, and the belief that the individual cannot help himself. The individual realizes that it is only due to God's goodness that he will be saved. In other words, the individual's act of faith affirms God's grace.
Some Calvinists attempt to bolster the idea that God elects certain individuals by claiming that God gives certain individuals faith, passing over other individuals. They attempt to support this claim by referring to Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
They interpret the word “that” as though it refers to “faith”. However, in the Greek both “grace” and “faith” are feminine nouns, and the demonstrative pronoun “that” (touto) is neuter, as shown in the following graphic (from Mounce and Mounce, Greek and English Interlinear New Testament, Zondervan, 2011. See the red arrows.)
Thus, the word “that” ("this" in the above interlinear) does not refer just to faith, nor just to grace, but to the whole idea of salvation by grace through faith, all of which is a gift from God. And certainly this is what we would expect since no one would be able to understand anything about his own need of the gospel or be able to exercise faith if it were not for the grace of God in restoring everyone to a place of free choice. The above passage does not support the idea that God gives faith to certain individuals but not to others.
Unfortunately, Calvin claims that there is a valid distinction between volition and free will. He claims that fallen man's will is not free (he must sin), yet man uses his volition (that is, he makes voluntary choices).
I deny the inference, that sin may be avoided because it is voluntary. … a thing may be done voluntarily, though not subject to free choice. (Book 2, Chap 5, Sec 1)In the same and subsequent sections Calvin uses this regrettable distinction between free will (which he says man does not possess) and volition (which he says man does possess) to makes the point that man's sin, although he cannot do otherwise, is still man's responsibility and subject to divine punishment.
However, any concept of volition which does not allow for alternate choice is a sham. We would not blame a blind man for not seeing. Likewise, we should not blame a man who does not have a genuine alternate choice when he does the only thing he can.
The question of free will should not even be brought into the discussion when there are no alternatives to choose between. Here is a simple example involving design and choice: A civil engineer designs a road that makes a bend at a certain location. Motorists drive along the road and follow the bend. Certainly we do not say that they made a voluntary choice to turn. Choice does not enter the picture until the motorist comes to a fork, or a crossing – a place where he can go more than one way. If he can only go one way, we do not even consider that he has made a choice, let alone a free choice. And we certainly do not blame him for following the only path available.
For a discussion of
see the paper "God's Sovereignty," especially the section entitled The nature of sovereignty.
Some Calvinistic theologians argue that God's certainty of future events is based on his direct sovereignty. They reason that, if God does not directly determine an event, he cannot be certain whether or not the event will occur. For example, Loraine Boettner claims that God plans every single event, for if he didn't, he would not know what was going to happen.
God … directs the course of history even down to its minutest details. His decree … extends not merely to the course of the physical world but to every event in human history from the creation to the judgment, and includes all the activities of saints and angels in heaven and of reprobates and demons in hell. (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Presbyterian & Reformed, 1932, p 13)
If God had not foreordained the course of events but waited until some undetermined condition was or was not fulfilled, His decrees could be neither eternal nor immutable. We know, however, that he is incapable of mistake, and that He cannot be surprised by any unforeseen inconveniences. … His plan must, therefore, include every event in the entire sweep of history. (op cit, p 21-22)
If He foreordained only certain isolated events, confusion … would be introduced into the system and He would need to be constantly developing new plans to accomplish what he desired. His government of the world then would be a capricious patchwork of new expedients; He would at best govern only in a general way, and would be ignorant of much of the future. (op cit, p 23-24)Such reasoning makes the serious mistake of applying a human limitation to God. If we, as humans, do not determine a future event (that is, if we allow someone else to determine it), then we will be uncertain of the outcome until after it happens. But God has no such limitation.
Boettner goes on to state the corollary, that since God is certain of future events, he must have determined them. But notice how he has to switch gears and introduce the concept of permission of sinful acts, in order to avoid making God the author of sin.
Since He knew perfectly every event of every kind which would be involved in this particular world-order, He very obviously predetermined every event …. Even the sinful acts of men are included in this plan. They are foreseen, permitted, and have their exact place. (op cit, p 24)But if God's certain knowledge of all events forces us to accept God's determination of all events (as Boettner claims), then that must apply to both good and bad. This blatant inconsistency highlights the principal dilemma of all Calvinists. It is impossible to simultaneously maintain both God's direct sovereignty and God’s innocence.
James Oliver Buswell displays the same inconsistency. Notice how he supports the notion of limited atonement (and by inference, unconditional election) by claiming that without it God would be uncertain of the future. He then goes on to claim that sinners (not God) are to be blamed for their own rejection of Christ (not being among the elect).
The doctrine of particular atonement gives me the greatest assurance …. If I believed otherwise, I should, at least unconsciously, have a qualified message, as though one should say, “God was not quite sure how this would turn out …”. (A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, Zondervan, 1962, Vol 2, p 144)
The plan of salvation is not symmetrical. Those who are lost are lost “because” they have resisted the grace of God in Christ (John 3:18). Those who are saved are saved because God saves them, and for no other reason (Romans 9:16). (op cit, p 145)
But this is theological double-talk. They cannot have it both ways. We will not let them attempt to maintain these two contradictory ideas – that God determines everything directly (which must include the sinner's rejection of Christ), and that God is not responsible for the sinner's rejection of Christ.
Calvin states that election is not subordinate to foreknowledge (see earlier quote under Question 4 from Book 3, Chap 21, Sec 5). However, both Paul and Peter state that election is based on foreknowledge. In the context of establishing the security of the believer, Paul traces the sequence of five divine acts: foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. The obvious implication is that there is an unbroken chain here. Each leads to (is the basis for) the next. Foreknowledge is mentioned first making predestination and all the others subordinate to it.
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined …; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Romans 8:29-30)Peter wrote to believers, referring to them as
chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood (1 Peter 1:1-2)
For a more complete discussion of these passages and the subject of foreknowledge, see the paper The Order of Salvation and Divine Foreknowledge.
Paul speaks of people before salvation as being "dead in sins" (Colossians 2:13; Ephesians 2:1, 5). Thus, it is a frequent practice to compare an individual who is not yet saved with a person who is physically dead. The usual argument is rather straightforward: A (physically) dead person can do nothing, so the unsaved individual can do nothing and God must do it all. While such logic is good, the starting point (using the analogy of physical death) is incorrect, as can be seen by examining the Ephesians passage.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:1-5, emphasis added)
In describing these Ephesians, Paul speaks of them as both dead and alive. Physically that would be impossible, but relationally it makes perfect sense. According to the passage, the unsaved are alive to transgression, sin, the ways of this world, the ruler of the kingdom of the air, and the cravings and desires of the sinful nature. Thus they are also dead to righteousness and to God. When they get saved they are alive to righteousness and to God and dead to sin – or at least they should be.
… count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11)
Paul's relational usage of the word "dead" is not at all surprising. Indeed, it mimics Christ's usage in the story of the Prodigal Son when he has the Father say that his son was "dead" (Luke 15:24, 32).
The death that Paul speaks of in describing the unsaved is a relational death. It is personal separation or alienation for God. It is that separation which the death of Christ (also a spiritual death, separation from the Father) was meant to remedy.
Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18)
Rather than going to an analogy of physical death to find out what a spiritually dead person can do, we should see what scripture says about the spiritually dead person. The dead are told to wake up!
I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. (Revelation 3:1-2)
The dead also hear.
I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. (John 5:25)
How can the dead wake up? How can they hear? Only by the grace of God who enlightens, draws, and convicts (John 1:9; 12:32; 16:8). Note that these passages indicate that this gracious work of God is done to "every man," "all men," and "the world." This is God's general call to salvation. No one gets saved apart from this gracious work of God (John 6:44, 65).
While it is true that the physically dead cannot hear, wake up, or respond in any way, the spiritually dead are able to respond to God invitation to salvation because they have been enlightened, drawn, and convicted by God.
The Bible states a number of times that the death of Christ was intended for all mankind. Notice especially 1 Timothy 2:4-6; 2 Peter 2:1; Hebrews 2:9; and 1 John 2:2. The Bible also states a number of times that God wants all men to be saved, including Romans 11:32; 1 Timothy 2:4; and 2 Peter 3:9.
. . . who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony borne at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:4-6)The above teachings allow us to accept at face value those passages which speak of salvation being offered to “whoever” and “everyone,” rather than having to twist them to say something else. Notice especially Matthew 10:32; Luke 11:9-13; John 3:14-17; John 4:14; 6:40; 11:25-26; 12:46; Acts 2:21; Acts 10:43; Romans 1:16; Romans 10:11-13; 1 John 4:14-15; Revelation 22:17.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. (John 3:14-17)
Also consider Paul's "trustworthy saying" to Timothy:
This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:9-10)
Saying that God is the Savior of all men is not the same as saying that all men are saved. God is the only real Savior available to the lost. Who else could save them? And he is the actual Savior of those who believe.
The above teachings also allow us to accept at face value God's many commands that all men repent and believe (for example, Acts 17:30; Mark 1:14-15)
According to Calvin, judgment of each individual is ultimately determined by God's sovereign determination (see earlier quote under Question 1 from Book 3, Chap 23, Sec 6). However, there are many passages which deal explicitly with the basis of judgment, showing that God's judgment is based on individuals' responses. Note especially the use of the word “because,” in many of the following passages.
For example, note the explicit wording of the judgments at the fall of man. (We have included the passage that speaks of God's judgment of Satan to show that God's basis of judgment is consistent whether he is judging man or Satan.)
And the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly shall you go, And dust shall you eat All the days of your life … Then to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. (Gen 3:14-17)
The same basis for judgment, man's responses, is found at the next moral crisis.
And He said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. (Genesis 4:10-11)
And lovingkindness is Thine, O Lord, For Thou dost recompense a man according to his work (Psalm 62:12)
… will he not render to man according to his work? (Proverbs 24:12)John's statement of reward based on human response is especially helpful because it also speaks of the reward as a free gift rather than as a recognition of human position or merit, or a payment for something earned, confirming that the response of faith should not be thought of as a work.
… as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13)
John also records the following clear statement of human responsibility as the basis of judgment.
He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)
Jesus, when describing the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, again placed human response as the basis of the conviction.
… concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me … (John 16:9)
Paul gives an extended discussion of divine judgment in Romans chapter 1. There is an obvious cause and effect in this passage – man's evil is the cause and God's wrath is the effect. Note the occurrences of "therefore," and "because" (and certain occurrences of "since").
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32)
Paul continues this statement of the basis of the judgment in Romans chapter 2.
But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:5-11, compare 1 Peter 1:17)
After warning the Ephesians to avoid certain evil practices, Paul states that
... because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 5:6)
Paul also describes the coming of the Lord and the judgment that will take place.
… dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. … and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10)
The writer of Hebrews also speaks of the basis of judgment.
And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:18-19)
Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, (Hebrews 4:6)
It is important to realize that many Calvinists will agree that every man's punishment is based on his own sin, but they will insist that every man's reward comes solely from God's grace with man playing no part. However, Psalm 62:12, John 1:12-13, John 3:18, and Romans 2:5-11, cited above, clearly speak of reward based on man's response.
Calvinism teaches both that man is accountable and that man neither understands anything spiritual nor has free choice. In contrast, the Bible teaches that (1) unregenerate man can understand certain spiritual truths, and (2) accountability is dependent on knowledge.
Regarding the ability of the unregenerate to understand some spiritual truth, notice the words of Paul regarding the knowledge possessed by the heathen.
… just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God (literally, to have God in knowledge) any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind …. (Romans 1:28, see margin)
Also notice the words of Peter regarding the knowledge possessed by the false prophets.
… if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. (2 Peter 2:20-21)
Regarding knowledge as the basis of accountability, James ties the presence of sin closely to the presence of knowledge.
To one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin. (James 4:17)
And Paul states regarding the gentiles that their knowledge resulted in their accountability (being without excuse).
Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
Paul explains over and over that without knowledge of the Law there is no violation of the Law, but with knowledge of the Law (and disobedience) comes the penalty.
… through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)
The Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation. (Romans 4:15)
… sin is not imputed when there is no law. (Romans 5:13)
I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” … and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me …. (Romans 7:7-10)Isaiah also referred to a stage of human development when a young child “knows enough to refuse evil and choose good” (Isaiah 7:15-16), thus highlighting the importance of knowledge for accountability.
This demonstrates the importance of the work of Jesus in enlightening the world (John 1:9) and the Holy Spirit in convicting the world (John 16:8). Knowledge is the basis for real choice. For those who exercise faith (trust) in Christ, this knowledge is a necessary link in their faith. And since the knowledge comes from God, not from the individual, again salvation is all of grace. For those who do not exercise faith, the knowledge is what is required so that they can be judged fairly.
So the function of knowledge is twofold. First, it enlightens the mind so that an informed choice (and thus a free choice) can be made. Second, it serves as a basis of accountability. In fact, it serves as a basis of accountability precisely because it enables free choice. But this is not the picture of accountability presented by Calvin. For Calvin, man is accountable even while he is completely devoid of knowledge – a tragic misrepresentation of biblical justice!
Arminius was undecided regarding eternal security. He felt that further study of Scripture was necessary. While it is unfortunate that Arminius did not have a definite opinion on this important subject, it is to his credit that he withheld judgment rather than seeking a “logical” solution apart from further Bible study.
Calvin did express a definite opinion, namely that the elect will persevere. However, Calvin's approach to this issue has a built-in problem. He bolsters his view of perseverance the same way he bolsters most of his other points of soteriology, by appealing to the sovereignty of God and the total depravity of man. In other words, he reasons that since God ultimately decides, and the elect cannot reverse God's decision, thus the elect persevere. The problem is that, in typical Calvinistic thought, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is made to be dependent on the doctrines of direct sovereignty and total depravity. Once you see that the Bible teaches that God's sovereignty includes human free choice and that God graciously restores fallen man to free choice, your doctrine of perseverance (to the degree that it depends on these other two doctrines) is weakened.
As you will see in the summary at the end of this paper, this author holds that the Bible explicitly teaches eternal security. The doctrine of eternal security is not derived second-hand from any other doctrine. However, further discussion of eternal security and its supporting passages is beyond the scope of this paper.
There is a very simple and fundamental rule of methodology that applies to all fields of study. The rule is: Get all the facts before you make up your mind. When you have all the facts in view and then systematize, you are on much safer ground than when you systematize too early.
Calvin systematized his thought much too early. He did not have all the facts. As a result, his system left out several very important biblical teachings.
If you don't get all the facts first, then when you face certain questions, you draw inferences from the few facts that you do have in an attempt to logically determine the answers to those questions. We make this mistake in many fields, but it is most damaging when we do it in the field of theology. And we have to be slow to point the finger, because we may be just as guilty. For example, some of us let our definition of the church answer questions about eschatology, when we should let the explicit eschatological passages of the Bible answer those questions. Nevertheless, we all need to beware of the temptation to systematize too quickly. When we do this we give too much place to logic and not enough to Scripture. We wonder if Calvin might have expressed different views in his Institutes had he written it after he wrote his commentaries, rather than before.
Arminius demonstrated a much better methodology. This is illustrated both by the fact that he included the biblical teachings on the six issues cited above, and by his willingness to withhold judgment on the question of eternal security. Rather than systematizing too early by allowing other doctrines to decide the doctrine of eternal security, Arminius preferred to wait until he could examine more carefully the relevant biblical passages.
While Calvinists attempt to harmonize many Bible passage with their views, there are certain key passages which they feel explicitly state and thus establish their views. Here are explanations of certain representative passages.
Acts 13:48 says that “all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” Being appointed would be essentially the same as being elected or being predestined, so you could paraphrase this verse as follows, “all who were elect believed” or “all who were predestined believed.”
Calvin and many of his followers have claimed that this passage supports unconditional election, but this interpretation is based on the assumption that the appointment is the reason the individuals believed. However, this verse does not say that the appointment is the reason they believed. All it says is that all who were appointed did in fact believe. Actually, just the opposite is the case (their belief is the reason for their appointment) as established by the various “because” passages (cited earlier under “Basis of Judgment”).
Acts 13:48 should be correlated with Romans 8:29 and Ephesians 1:13 as follows.
him with the
Romans 8:29 supplies 1, 2, 3, 6, and 8, Acts 13:48 supplies 2 and 5, and Ephesians 1:13 supplies 4, 5, and 7. As explained above, faith is the element that determines who is saved, and God's foreknowledge (prior knowledge) of that faith forms the basis for God's other actions on behalf of the individual. In other words, the logical order begins with 5. That is, the individual's belief (5) is what God foresees (1) and is thus the logical basis for all of God's other activities. The chronological order, of course, begins with 1 which occurs before the creation of the world. (Of course, there is no discernible time lapse between 1 and 2, and between 5, 6 and 7.)
Romans 9:11-21 is a go-to passage for Calvinists. Here we quote just selected verses.
Before the twins [Jacob and Esau] were born or had done anything good or bad — in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls — she [Rebecca] was told, “the older will serve the younger” . . . “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” . . . God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” (verses 11-13, 18)
This passage appears at first glance to be talking about the election of individuals. However, a closer examination indicates that the election spoken of here is actually the election of the nation Israel. This difference of interpretation is explained in the paper Romans chapters 9 - 11.
Calvin and his followers (as well as many non-Calvinistic interpreters) understand the “natural man” in 1 Corinthians 2:14 to refer to the unsaved. This interpretation fits well with the Calvinistic understanding of total depravity. However, if we assume that the “natural man” stands for the unsaved person and “spiritual man” (v 15) stands for the saved person, then a problem immediately arises when we read the next five verses. Since the Corinthians were saved (1:1-9), they would be categorized (according to our assumpion) with the “spiritual man” of verse 15. But verse 15 says that the spiritual man “appraises all things” while 3:1-3 says that the Corinthians were only able to handle milk – a far cry from “all things.”
If we look further at the context we will see that “natural man” actually refers to unresponsive, infant believers, in this case the Corinthians.
The first six chapters form a unit in which Paul deals with several interwoven themes related to the Corinthians' spiritual immaturity. These themes include:
Of course, other problems are also discussed in the remaining chapters, but the structure of the book appears to change at 7:1. This is where Paul begins answering various doctrinal and practical questions about which the Corinthians had written him. So we will treat the first six chapters as a unit. Within these first six chapters we need to look closely at two sections, 1:18 - 2:5, and 2:6 - 3:3.
In the first section (1:18 - 2:5) Paul begins by contrasting those who are perishing and those who are being saved (1:18) and explains that the former understand earthly wisdom and consider God's wisdom foolishness, while the latter consider human wisdom foolishness and appreciate God's wisdom. This contrast centers around the message of the gospel (1:18, 21, 23; 2:2) and is clearly a contrast between the lost and the saved.
In the second section (2:6 - 3:3) Paul begins explaining how he speaks wisdom among the mature. He then affirms that this wisdom comes from God (2:7-12) and then repeats the idea that he is communicating spiritual truths to spiritual men (2:13). (This marginal reading, "spiritual men" or something similar, at the end of 1 Corinthians 2:13 in the NIV, NASB, and many other translations, fits the context much better than the reading "spiritual words" found in the NIV and NASB). Paul again refers to the “spiritual man” in 2:15, and then describes the immaturity of the Corinthians in 3:1-3. Whereas the first section focuses on the contrast between the lost and the saved in their response to spiritual truth, this second section focuses on the contrast between mature and immature believers in their response to spiritual truth.
When Paul refers to the “natural man” (or the man “without the spirit”) in 2:14, he is referring to the Corinthians. Of course, he is not saying that they are positionally without the Spirit, for they were definitely saved (1:1-9). But in their immaturity they are acting as though they did not have the Spirit. The following phrases from 3:1-3 certainly identify the Corinthians with the unspiritual man of 2:14: “not … spiritual,” “men of flesh,” “babes,” “fleshly” (twice), “walking like mere men.” And their lack of spiritual understanding of various basic principles of Christian living is seen in the fact that eight times in just these first six chapters Paul asks “Do you not know that … ?” (3:16; 5:6; 6:2,3,9,15,16,19). Although Paul instructs many churches, he asks this question only of the Corinthians and the Romans, usually in the context of corrective teaching.
It fits the context perfectly to understand 2:14 as a contrast between spirit-insensitive and spirit-sensitive believers. In other words, this is Paul's way of saying that the Corinthians are not welcoming spiritual truth. (It would defeat his purpose in this context to contrast unbelievers and believers and thus assure the Corinthians that, because they were believers, they could spiritually “appraise all things”.)
So, the oversimplification that is often assumed (that the lost understand nothing spiritual and the saved understand all spiritual things) is simply not supported by this passage. In reality, the picture is much more complex. While there is a definite contrast in understanding between saved and lost as far as the message of the cross is concerned (1 Corinthians 1:18 - 2:5), there is at least a minimal level of spiritual understanding among the lost regarding God's power and deity, sin, righteousness, and judgment (Romans 1:20; John 16:8-11). And among the saved there are various levels of spiritual understanding (1 Corinthians 2:6 - 3:3).
Jesus said to his disciples:
You did not choose Me, but I chose you. (John 15:16)
This could be a very powerful argument for unconditional election, assuming it refers to individual salvation, because it states both that Jesus chose, and that the disciples did not choose. Of course, Calvinists often interpret this as a reference to the individual salvation of the disciples, and apply it to all believers. However, the context indicates that these words do not refer to individual salvation, but to the disciples' appointment as Jesus' earthly band of disciples, that is, “The Twelve.”
By placing the negative and the affirmative side by side Jesus makes the statement strongly emphatic. The negation, "you did not choose me," is proof that the affirmation, "I did choose you," cannot refer to predestination but must refer to the choice of the disciples as the friends whom Jesus selected for himself (middle voice) for the apostleship (6:70; 13:18). (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel. Augsburg Pub. House, 1942, p. 1051)
Note that even Calvin admits that this passage is speaking directly about the selection of the twelve disciples. But, as we might expect, he also applies it to the salvation of all believers.
True, the subject now in hand is not the ordinary election of believers, by which they are adopted to be the children of God, but that special election, by which he set apart his disciples to the office of preaching the Gospel. But if it was by free gift, and not by their own merit, that they were chosen to the apostolic office, much more is it certain that the election, by which, from being the children of wrath and an accursed seed, we become the children of God, is of free grace. … Yet I acknowledge that Christ treats expressly of the apostleship; for his design is, to excite the disciples to execute their office diligently and faithfully. (Calvin's commentary on John 15:16, translated from Latin by Rev. William Pringle)
Jesus continues his instruction of the disciples throughout this passage, mentioning the fact that he chose them again in verse 19, but also giving several indications that his remarks apply to them as his twelve disciples, not necessarily to all believers. For example, in verse 27 Jesus refers to the fact that they had been with him from the beginning. And in 16:4-7 Jesus refers to the past when he was with them and the future when he will leave them. Indeed, when you read the context of this passage (chapters 14-16) you see that the original twelve are the primary focus of everything Jesus says.
Also consider the two previous times Jesus referred to his choice of the disciples (6:70-71 and 13:18). In both cases, because of the inclusion of Judas, it is clear that he is referring to his choice of them as his earthly band of disciples. This is especially plain in John 6.
Then Jesus replied, "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!" (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.) (John 6:70-71)
Even the verse that immediately precedes 15:16 contains a clue that the twelve disciples are in view, not all believers. Jesus refers to their progress in understanding when he says that he calls them friends now instead of slaves, because his friends know what he is doing, but slaves do not know what their master is doing. Among other things, he told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and die, and that he would be leaving them but the Holy Spirit would be coming to be with them, and that they would face the hatred of the world. Each of these was a step forward in their understanding. These particular steps were part of the experience of the twelve disciples, but not necessarily part of the experience of all believers.
Think of the inconsistency in interpretation shown by those who, on the one hand, apply to all believers one statement ("You did not choose Me, but I chose you," verse 15), but on the other hand, understand the statements earlier and later in the same context (that Jesus was leaving his disciples, 14:2, 28; 16:5-7, 16ff) as applying only to Jesus' initial band of followers.
Here is a brief statement of the biblical answers to the seven key questions raised earlier. Remember that, in the Calvin-Arminius debate, your choice is not between Calvin and Arminius, but between the Bible, Calvin, Arminius, and many other theologians and views. When you settle on the biblical view you will find that you agree with some things taught by Calvin and disagree with others, and you will agree with some things taught by Arminius and disagree with others.
God is sovereign in the sense that he has ultimate control. But his sovereignty does not destroy human freedom of will. God created us in his own image (Genesis 1:26-27) which includes the ability to make free (alternate) choices. God reserves to himself many decisions, but he gives to us the ability and the responsibility to ask (or not ask) for salvation.
The fall resulted in our total depravity (Romans 3:10-12). We are incapable of producing any spiritual good apart from God's intervention.
God does intervene! This makes salvation entirely of grace, for if God did not act, all would be lost. God restores each individual to the place of free will – where he can understand sin, righteousness, and judgment and accept or reject Christ. This is done by the work of the Father in drawing men to Jesus (John 6:44), by the work of Jesus in enlightening every man (John 1:9) and drawing every man (John 12:32), and by the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting every man (John 16:8-11). This is also done by nature (Romans 1:19-20,28,32; 2:15). These combine with the preaching of the gospel message (Romans 10:17) to constitute a restoration of all and a genuine invitation to all.
God's election of the saved is based on his foreknowledge of their faith. Long before any individuals decided to accept Christ, God knew their decisions and on the basis of that knowledge chose them and predestined them to eternal life. (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2) When a lost individual decides to accept Christ, that act of faith is not a meritorious work. Rather, it is a request – an admission that he can do nothing of spiritual merit, and thus a cry for help. This means that, even though election is conditional, it is not based on any merit in man. Salvation is entirely due to God's grace, because man is able to comprehend his lost condition and able to cry out for help only because God graciously intervenes in mankind's hopeless condition and restores free will.
God intended that the death of Jesus be the basis upon which any individual may be saved (1 Timothy 2:6; Heb 2:9; 1 John 2:2). In that sense, Christ died for the whole world. Not everyone accepts Christ, so salvation is far from universal. Nevertheless, Christ died for all so that anyone who asks may be saved (John 3:16).
God's grace can be resisted. Jesus enlightens every man (John 1:9), draws all men to himself (John 12:32), and the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). Certainly this is God's grace in action. Yet, God allows individuals to reject, as illustrated in Matthew 23:37; Luke 7:30; John 5:40; Revelation 2:21.
Every genuine believer is secure eternally (John 6:39-40; 10:28-29, Romans 8:29-30). Although not all genuine believers persevere, all genuine believers will be saved in the end. Even though we are not faithful, God remains faithful (2 Timothy 2:13). The case of certain Corinthians illustrates the fact that God steps in when believers have seriously faltered in order to preserve them from final destruction (1 Corinthians 11:30-32). This is not a license to sin, for all sin is punished, and believers are explicitly warned not to consider God's grace an opportunity for sin (Romans 6:1-2,15).
Every system of belief, whether in the field of history, physics, theology, or any other field, must pass two tests. It must be (1) consistent with the evidence, and (2) consistent with itself. In the case of Christian theology, of course, the evidence is the Bible. So we expect Christian theology to be both biblical and self-consistent.
The central task in building a theology is to let the Bible speak for itself. We must let the context of each passage control its meaning. Whenever we insist on selecting and interpreting passages according to a particular theological system, we may think that we are voicing a coherent theology, but in reality we are silencing the Bible and promoting our own errors. We should allow no church creed (no matter how historic) nor theologian to determine our beliefs – only the Bible.
Especially in regard to the two theologians we have examined in this paper, we need to take the warning of Paul to heart.
Do not go beyond what is written. Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. (1 Corinthians 4:6)
Olson, C. Gordon, Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: A Inductive Mediate Theology of Salvation, Global Gospel Publishers, 2002, 538 pages.
This should be a required textbook in all classes covering soteriology. It shows why biblical theology must precede systematic theology and serve as its foundation. Olson's experiences (training, linguistics, foreign missions, and years of teaching both theology and missions) give him an excellent background for dealing with such a complex and long debated subject. He describes many weaknesses in the way theology develops, particularly the deductive development of today's popular views. He stresses that theology must be inductive, and thus includes a wealth of linguistic research and suggests a number of improvements in the translation of certain scripture passages.
Olson's soteriology is mediate in two senses: First, he is between Calvinism and Arminianism on certain issues. Second (and more significantly, as it helps determine where he arrives), he emphasizes the mediate influence of God through scripture, witness, etc. In chapter 3 he does an inductive study of sovereignty, correcting errors on both sides. Then he deals carefully and inductively with each of the remaining points of tension between Calvinism and Arminianism (as well as a number of other errors), and shows the practical missions outcome of a true biblical soteriology. Along the way is a most helpful chapter on Matthew 16:5-21 where Jesus is the rock, including revealing information from the Aramaic missed by most others. Olson is both respectful and straightforward in dealing with others' views.
There is a less technical version of this book called Getting the Gospel Right (374 pages). See mediatetheology.org.
Hunt, Dave, What Love Is This? Calvinism's Misrepresentation of God, 3rd ed., The Berean Call, 2006, 590 pages.
This book provides a fair minded and well documented criticism of Calvinistic soteriology. After a couple introductory chapters, Hunt includes four historical chapters which point out Calvin's long connection with Roman Catholicism and also show that the basics of Calvinism were not new with Calvin, but were based largely on Augustine. Then Hunt discusses all aspects of Calvinism organized around the well known TULIP. He explains how the entire system stems from an overly deterministic view of God's sovereignty. He also provides an excellent discussion of key passages often cited as proof texts by Calvinists, especially Romans 9. Hunt frequently and effectively makes the point that Calvinism misrepresents the God of the Bible, particularly with regard to God's love for all mankind. This resource and many others are available at thebereancall.org.
Geisler, Norman L., Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God's Sovereignty and Free Will, 3rd ed., Bethany House Publishers, 2010, 347 pages.
Geisler evaluates two extremes, what he calls hyper Calvinism on one end of the spectrum, and extreme Arminianism (Open Theism) on the other. His conclusions are generally sound and grounded in scripture. In the process, he explains the nature of God's sovereignty and the nature of free will, which exist harmoniously side by side. His style is somewhat repetitive, but well worth the time since he provides helpful explanations of many relevant passages and demonstrates a wide familiarity with both the historical and current literature related to
Geisler's greatest weakness is his occasional dependence upon philosophical reasoning that is not supported with scripture. For example, he argues that, since God is simple (that is, absolutely indivisible), his thoughts are all simultaneous and thus are neither chronologically or logically sequential. Accordingly, God's election is in accord with foreknowledge, but is not based on foreknowledge. "Whatever God fore-chooses cannot be based on what He foreknows" (p. 145). Geisler even carries this idea to the extreme by stating that "whatever God knows, he determines" (ibid.), but does this include sin?
Geisler argues for what he calls both moderate Calvinism and moderate Arminianism (although I would call his view moderate Calvinism.) Here is his own summary: "In short, genuine free will (with the power of contrary choice) is possible in a completely determined world where (by analogy) the Author wrote the history of free people in advance. The story is predetermined from the standpoint of God's omniscience, but it is open and free from the vantage point of human free will. The two are complementary, not contradictory." (p. 151)
Craig, William Lane, The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom, Wipf and Stock, 1999 (previously published by Baker, 1987)
Sound scholarship and very thought provoking, yet readable. Provides an excellent resource for the question of how human free choice relates to divine foreknowledge, providence, and predestination. Craig adopts a philosophical approach, but his handling of the biblical evidence is thorough and sound. He concludes that divine foreknowledge and human freedom are completely compatible. The heart of the argument is contained in chapters 1, 2, 3, 5, 11, and 12. (This last chapter nicely explains the concept of middle knowledge). Occasionally Graig branches into abstract hypothetical areas unnecessarily.
Anderson, David R., Free Grace Soteriology, Xulon Press, 2010, 383 pages
Anderson covers all the aspects of the election debate, including examinations of the meanings of many Greek words. His final position is somewhere between modern Arminianism and modern Calvinism. Anderson's view of repentance (chapter 7) is questionable in that he limits it to fellowship and sanctification and claims it is not a requirement for regeneration. (The lack of chapter numbers, along with the lack of chapter titles at the top of each right-hand page, make it rather inconvenient to move around the book.)