To Calvinist or Not To Calvinist…

In Christian RealTalk, Tough Questions by Antwuan Malone21 Comments

Normally, the conversation of Calvinism (or predestination) should probably be had “in house.” For a couple of reasons. First, the general Christian public often gets riled up so much that having a real “conversation” is nearly impossible. A subject like this often leads to shouting matches and battles of biblical wits. In such interactions, I wish not to participate.

The second reason is for the potential damage it does to the seeking/new believer. The doctrine of predestination has been a “stumbling block” (as Apostle Paul might call it) to many, and thus should often be discussed among those more ready for the concept. To this, I agree. And since my audience spans seekers to seasoned believers, I ask all who engage to keep in mind the eyes reading this post and its comments.

Covering Calvinism and predestination in a short 1000 word blog is impossible. But I decided to post anyway. I was discussing Calvinism and predestination last week and became fascinated again with the topic. It was Tim Keller, my favorite Christian author right now, who ushered in the topic. Unbeknownst to him, I’m sure. While I highly respect Tim and his ministry (I’m reading his Center Church book now, which is absolutely fantastic so far!), I understand he is a Calvinist… and I disagree with that stance.

What is Calvinism?

Calvinism is named after John Calvin, a Reformation era theologian. It basically suggests God has complete control over all things. That is, God has ordained (or is in the driving seat for) all things. I personally think we need to better define what we mean by “control” and “ordain,” but these are the terms in use. I take it to mean that God is directing, in some way, all actions. At first glance, this may sound exactly right. A sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing God is the perfect candidate for “control” of all things.

The problem (for today) comes with how this affects “salvation.” One of Calvinism’s five key points suggest the notion of predestination. And predestination is the idea that God has already chosen who will spend eternity with him, and who will not. It suggests that God has pre-determined who will accept him and who will not. This, Calvinism teaches, is the epitome of grace. The reasoning goes that, since grace is a gift for which we do nothing to receive, then ultimately it is not up to us to allow it take effect. Grace places the salvation of the individual completely in God’s hands, and completely out of our hands. Biblical verses that are often referenced include:

What About Love?

The verses in those passages are hard to dispute. Hence the great debate over this topic for centuries. It is especially difficult when considering verses like Romans 10:9, John 3:16, and 2 Peter 3:9. In the Peter passage, we learn “God does not want anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance,” which is especially interesting to me considering that God will not get what he wants. Rob Bell asks the question about whether God gets what he wants in his provocative book “Love Wins.” You can see my retort here. It is an interesting point of contention for this conversation, especially considering that Calvinism pretty much puts all control in God’s hands. One does have to ask how it is God doesn’t get what he wants when he’s the one in full control.

There are two ways in which I reconcile the grace of God (not by work, even the work of  “believing”) and the free will of men (the importance of choosing God on our own).

I believe that Jesus paid the price for all sins. Every one of them. That means we are all saved from the penalty of Hell and eternal separation. This salvation is for all men: past, present and future. To this end, Jesus gave us all eternal life. So the question is not whether we will be saved from Hell because we deserve to go there. Yes, we do deserve to go, and the grace of God found in the sacrifice of Jesus clears all of us from such a destination. The question is, what will we do with our newfound freedom.

Consider a man sitting in jail. Another man comes and pays his bail. The guards then open the jail doors and says, “Your bail has been paid. You’re free to go.” At that point the jailed man is free. Actually, he was free as soon as the bail was paid, whether he knew about it or not. The question is, will the man now choose to walk out of the jail cell and embrace his freedom, or will he remain in jail, skeptical that he is being conned or tricked into something. And if he stays, is he really “saved” or not?

This is the grace of God in action, Jesus has paid our bail. We are free to leave the prison. But we are still left with a choice to embrace our salvation or to stay put. Where our salvation leads us is up to us. It’s an broken analogy (for the “faith” needed to accept the salvation you’ve already been given produces a spiritual change), but serves us to make the point that salvation and choice can, and does, coexist.

Which brings me to the second point of free will. I understand the purpose of God creating humanity was to form a relationship with him. I believe God wanted to give and receive true love with us. I also believe love is the product of free will; that without choice, love does not exist. Thus, Calvinism and the idea that God is doing the choosing, calls to question whether every Christian who ever existed actually loves God, as opposed to being manipulated by God to look as though they love him. In other words, if I don’t make an independent choice to engage in a loving relationship with God, then I am a mere technology functioning in the way my creator made me. You may say, “Exactly!” But I’d ask you, do you feel your car loves you when you push the gas and it goes? Or when you hit the power button on your remote control and it turns on the TV? No. Creator and created don’t often share “love” relationships.

But God is amazing in that he breaks this creator/created mode. He created us to love him, but in order to do that, he must relinquish some of his control to our free will. It’s the only way we can actually fulfill the purposes for which he made us.

So the problem with Calvinism, for me, ultimately comes to this. Do I really love God? Or, can I really love him, if I am not choosing to love on my own accord?

Oh, there’s so much more to be said, but I’m already over my word limit. Let’s continue in the comments though. You tell me…

What are your thoughts on Calvinism and predestination?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.
19 comments
Carl Rooker
Carl Rooker

A coin has two sides.  Head and tail.  Take away either side, you have counterfiet currency.

I view Predistination and Free Will as two sides to the same coin.  The Bible teaches both.

rogermitchell
rogermitchell

I just found your blog and I like it! I will be subscribing.

If I am ever forced to make a choice between free will and sovereignty, I will take sovereignty every time. I am not a pure, dyed in the wool Calvinist, but Calvinism does have some good answers about hard questions. In my opinion, free will gives to much power to man who tends to abuse it,  and not enough power to God Who owns it.

A few months ago, I wrote an article about this and where I believe the doctrine of free will leads. I have included an excerpt below. You can read the entire article at: http://poorrogersalmanac.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/free-will-predestination-none-of-the-above/

"The problem that I have in the discussion of “free will” or “free moral agent” is not whether God disassociates Himself from our decisions or controls them exclusively. It is something else entirely and it can be described in four words–neither God nor Satan. If we truly have a free will, then we should be able to come to the conclusion (and many have) that neither God nor Satan exists.  Heaven and Hell are non-existent. Eternal glory and eternal torment are figments of the imagination. Man is subject to no one."

upsidedwnworld
upsidedwnworld

I am not a Calvinist for many, many reasons. But don't worry - I won't go into all of them here. What I do want to point out is something which happened in Genesis 2:

"Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field."

Words are powerful things - "In the beginning was the Word . . . Through him all things were made." Naming has been seen in many cultures and in many times as an act with great mythological and symbolic power. And God gave the power to name and label the creatures of his own creation over to the man. This is not an act of a God whose notion of sovereignty is anything like the controlling, hyper-involved God posited by Calvin. This is the act of a God who is willing to allow for the unpredictable and in not threatened by what he doesn't direct. 

 One of the problems we have which seems particularly acute with Calvinism is that we have these ideas about God which don't align with either scripture or the reality which God has created for us to live in. Our perfection means straight lines and complete consistency. God's perfection means raining love on the deserving and undeserving alike. Our idea of sovereignty means control, direction and causation in all things. God's idea of sovereignty means allowing his own creation to self-direct to the point that it costs him everything to set it right. I think that God as he is is far greater and more mysterious - and far less like we humans - than Calvinism really allows for.

FayThompsonLamb
FayThompsonLamb

I'm not a Calvinist, but I do believe in the complete sovereignty of God. So, I do believe that God knows who is destined for heaven and who is destined for hell. Okay--sounds like a Calvinist, doesn't it? But wait, let me finish. While I believe that we have an omniscient Lord and Savior who knows everything about us...I'm also very aware that He hasn't favored me with that information. So to claim, as some extreme Calvinist do, that there is no need to witness, no call for an invitation at the end of a service, that God has it all under control, is terribly incorrect theological. It stands in the way of the great commission Jesus gave to all who follow Him. God may know if my neighbor Joe is going to heaven or hell, whether Joe will accept the grace offered to Him by God, but I have no way of knowing this. So, as a Christian, I must be the light. I must reach out to Joe and share the gospel with him.  

DiAneGates
DiAneGates

Antwuan, I've listened to this discussion in the Baptist Church far longer than I'm willing to admit to. For me the answer is simple and rests in the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign over all things whether you or I believe it or not. If God knew you before you were formed in your mother's womb, numbered your days (which Psalm 139 states) and numbered the hairs of your head (which Matthew says) why would it be so difficult to comprehend and believe that He saw down through the corridors of time and knew whether or not you would love and trust Him? He is not willing that any should perish but the fact is many will. Because they refuse to believe (now that's a word we should explore) and trust in the blood of our Passover Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ.  That's grace.

I grew up Southern Baptist and the word predestination led to church splits and division. That is not of God. As a matter of fact, I don't remember reading that word in the Word. Predestined? Yes. Our attitudes predestine us every day, one way or the other. But predestination? No Put that word away and concentrate on the sovereignty of God.


DiAne Gates

Mikemueller32
Mikemueller32

Yes I agree with both of you. Whatever your view is on Calvinism or predestination, as Christians we should not allow this to create division and separation among fellow believers. As brothers and sisters in Christ we are all one body working together for one purpose. Everyone may have their own personal view on it but we are all saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and we all, as believers, need to focus on what unites us. I think if we focused as much on the common goal of what Jesus commanded us to do (spread the gospel and make disciples, love, be the light, be fruitful, all of the things his gospel teaches) then I think we as a church would be doing a much better job of carrying out the task he has given us.

TheRev78
TheRev78

Not a bad effort at a virtually impossible task! But the best line in the whole thing was at the beginning, where you said that Tim Keller is your favorite author right now, in spite of the fact that YOU DISAGREE with one of his key positions. That speaks volumes about how we all need to be, in Christianity and beyond.

antwuanm
antwuanm moderator

@Carl Rooker Ah... so you are posing a "both-and" position which is likely correct. I am often amazed at how possible it is for God to inhabit and employ a union of ideas which are polar opposite to each other, (like say, Judgement and Grace). :)

antwuanm
antwuanm moderator

@rogermitchell Thanks for your comment and kind words Roger. I'd love to have you around! I'll head over to read your article, but I had a thought about the quote in your comment. It seems you suggest that free will, once mature, leads us to deny God's or Satan's existence. I'm not sure I follow the logic there. Perhaps it will become clearer when I read your article. It seems you are suggesting that free will makes us Gods. 

I'm not sure that logic holds entirely true, especially given that free will was created in beginning; implied by Lucifer and his angel's choices, and by Adam and Eve's exercise of disobedience. 

The issue of free will versus sovereignty (and sovereignty needs defining here) to me is that one reflects a compartmental, voluntary handover of control (free will) and the other is the knowledge of, and redemption of, the results of that control loss for greater purposes (sovereignty). If God is fully participant in the full control he has, then he becomes responsible for many an horrific deed in history, which certainly raises questions about his character.

Latest blog post: Is Church Too Girly For Men?

antwuanm
antwuanm moderator

@upsidedwnworld great comment! I couldn't agree more. One of the most amazing things about God is the creativity in his creation. I we see it time and time again, a sort of controlled chaos. You make excellent observations. I thanks for posting!

antwuanm
antwuanm moderator

@FayThompsonLamb indeed. Great point. I think the underlying principle of Calvinism is that God not only knows who will be saved, and but that he picks and chooses. I'm not sure any would disagree with the fact that God knows who will and won't be saved, but his predestined "election" the is a different matter altogether.

antwuanm
antwuanm moderator

@DiAneGates Oh yes, I remember having this conversation in a Bible study with my dad as we were going over Romans about 15 or so years ago. At the time I had no idea what a Calvinist was. I'd never even heard the word. But the idea of "predestined" people totally challenged my view of God, and became very important to me.

As I learn more and more about the next generation, I see where Calvinism has become the answer to many of the questions they have. This, and the idea of the "Glory of God" being an end-all to God's purposes. (that's a whole other topic). Here, I don't desire to divide anything, but I do wish to open the door to candid conversation about a Christian topic that, in some cases, have become taboo.

I think it's an important discussion (along with God's sovereignty), if we can keep our passions from taking us out of control (which I hope most of us can).

antwuanm
antwuanm moderator

@Mikemueller32 Indeed. Though I might offer the suggestion that some folks may feel discouraged, or even "tricked" if we do not completely cover who God is in his entirety. I think that does involve addressing tough conversations as this, and rightly dividing God's Word. It should absolutely be done in a civil manner, but it should done.

antwuanm
antwuanm moderator

@TheRev78 Thanks! I was really surprised when I learned about Keller's position, but I think Christians can disagree without condemning each other to hell. The art of conversation is often lost for the "religious."

Mikemueller32
Mikemueller32

@antwuanm @Mikemueller32

Yea I agree with you. We do need to have these conversations and they are important but I don't think it should be our main focus. But whatever we discuss it should be in a civil manner. My personal view is that we are predestined but God allowed us to have free will as well. How? If God is outside of time he can see our whole lives played out. He knew what our free choice was going to be. If he is all knowing then he must have known what choice we were goin to make. It doesn't mean he forced us one way or the other, it just means that nothing is a surprise to God. That's my personal view.

DiAneGates
DiAneGates

@antwuanm @TheRev78 If you read through the pages of the Old Testatement time and time again tells us "I sent, I brought, I put a hook in (someone's) nose and used them to judge My people".  Our Sovereign God is in control of all things. Either by His will or His permissive will. He spoke and all things were created and every Word He speaks will come to pass. His patience, longsuffering allows things we do not understand. Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us "The secret things belong to the Lord. The things revealed belong to you and  your children forever." But the secret things, things we don't know or understand belong to Him. The question then is not Calvinism or not, it becomes "do you trust Him?"

antwuanm
antwuanm moderator

@Mikemueller32 Got ya. So for you, predestined ends with his knowing what we'd choose, as opposed to his moving in us in such a way that he chose for us. I too hold the view that God already knows who will and will not accept him. 

Thanks for leaving a comment! I appreciate it.

Trackbacks

  1. […] The story ends with an offbeat situation about a man not properly dressed for the wedding feast. His wardrobe seems to earn him the boot! He gets thrown out of the wedding feast into a place of torture that sounds a lot like Hell. After which, Jesus ends on the “many are called, few are chosen” statement, which is bound to rile up the Calvinism conversation. […]