Friday, July 9

Calvinism: The Questions

I want to hear from you this week. I've been processing the Calvinism vs. Free Will stuff for some time now.

I was saved. Then I met some "reformed" friends who introduced me to the thinking of Luther, Calvin, Bunyan, Whyte, Edwards, Rutherford and some of the newer kids on the block (Sproul, Boice, etc). These were great men with great thoughts about God.

The reformed writers brought an intellectual, vertical approach to Christianity that appears to be lacking in so many circles. They elevate Christ. They emphasize God's sovereignty. They bring the gospel back to it's proper starting place ... God.

Yet, as I grew in appreciation I also grew in apprehension. Very few things in the modern Christian Church create as much division than the issues raised by the folks that believe only a select few are chosen by God.

So, I want to pose some questions about this. I want to hear from you. I want to see comments on your opinions. I'd like to see Scripture to back it up if you are able.

1. Do we have a choice in salvation? Does our will play a part in the salvation process?

2. Does God choose some and reject others? If so, on what basis? Is this equally seen in the NT as in the OT?

3. Does God control each and every decision we make? Does God cause a loved one to die in a car accident or get cancer? Does God cause some to gain wealth while others he causes to remain poor? Are there other circumstances involved (hard work, timing, effort, "luck", inheritance, genetics, etc.). How do these work together?

4. If all is set in stone, why are we commanded to ask, seek knock? Why are we told by Jesus to be persistent with God in prayer that we might get what we request? What is that about?

5. Is it possible that God's election of a select few and free will of many others can coexist without confusion? In other words, can some be called by God to salvation and others get there by choice? Can both exist without issue?

Welcome to the deep end of the pool folks! Welcome to theology 301. Welcome to reflection on Scripture and life.

Here are the ground rules:
1. Share what you think and feel ... God made both.
2. Share without fear.
3. State facts supported by Scripture.
4. Do not attack another person, deal with views (no argumentum ad hominem)

God's richest blessing on you as we journey together.


DevoLink: Devotions to help you Link with God.


  1. Wow, God's timing is amazing.

    The Monday night bible study I attend is about to start going through Romans, so I thought I would start studying a little on my own as well. Started reading Romans Verse by Verse (By William R. Newell). I also started listening to a series on Romans from my parents old church. It is from that audio series that I just herd what I would call a very Calvinistic comment yesterday. I submit it now in the form of a question relating to your first question.

    RE: #1
    Drawing on the parallel between The Passover and Christ's sacrifice for us. In the Passover it was the first born sons who were who needed to be saved. Was their a choice involved for them, or was it merely the choice of their Father to sacrifice a lamb and spread the blood on lintel and door posts? Would the will of the first born son have been able to influence the father not to make the sacrifice and spread to blood on lintel and door posts?

  2. Tell me what you are thinking ... Do you see a parallel with the father sacrificing for his son (sort of against his will) and what God does for us in Christ?

  3. I thought all weekend about getting involved with this subject. You are right, this is getting into the deep end. I kept telling myself I don't have time for this. It could last a very long time, and I agree with you, as fellow believers and heirs of the kingdom, it is important for us to "play nice". I have also wrestled with many of these questions you have asked, and they are not easily answered on their own. Sure I could give scriptures, and others will give others, but without some understanding of God first, either way the interpretation of those verses is useless.

    Take for instance your first respondent, Dirk. He asks a very interesting question. He is referring to passover and the oldest born son. In that case, why did God choose the oldest son? This was not only at that time in Egypt, but a perpetual duty by all Israelites. Exodus 13 tells us that they must redeem all 1st born males, they are His. Then in Numbers 3, God makes the Levi's the firstborns substitute for all time, and they are to be separated as God's, but still all 1st Israelite males must be redeemed. Jesus was in Luke 2:22-24. That is all intriguing, but I am getting ahead of myself.

    It is important to first understand who God is, and to establish what part He does play in all things. Yes, I am talking about His Sovereignty. This attribute does not trump any of His other ones, but it is what might or might not most affect the answer to these questions.

    What does sovereignty mean? I think we in the modern world have lost sight of what it does mean. It is about who rules, or who is in control. We know that God created everything from Genesis 1. We know that Christ upholds all things by the word of His power in Hebrews 1:3. According to Colossians 1:16-17 this whole world is by Him, and for Him, and He even holds it all together. He is the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:16). He is sovereign over the whole earth.

    I know you agree with me on this, so the questions become, does He relinquish some of that orchestrating authority when it comes to salvation, or those punished for their sin, or our circumstances both good and bad, or over the things we ask Him for? If He doesn't relinquish this, how do we deal with all the passages that you allude to in your questions?

    I have wrestled much over these things since we worked with you in HB. They are tough, and are not quick answers, but I think it is from this vantage point we need to come to an understanding. Sorry this is such a long beginning.

  4. Well stated Rick. I wonder if God, in His sovereignty, would allow human beings to interact with Him (even change things) without doing violence to Him?

    There are several instances in the OT where God seems to have "changed His mind" or was influenced by those who followed Him. Yet on other occasions there appears to be no budge in Him at all. How do we account for this?

    Really what I am driving at is this ... can we agree that God is at once fully in control and still allow us freedom to make decisions? Could God have made that choice after the fall? What are the implications of that? Where does that begin and end?

    Finally, how can God desire that none perish and yet not save all people? I can only reach one conclusion on that ... He allows folks to be held accountable for real choices they can and in fact do make.

    There is a way to merge election and free will without confusion or contradiction.

  5. I am sorry I cannot respond sooner, but I am glad for this exchange. Please be patient with me as I try to stay involved in the time God allows me.

    Your statement at the end (and questioning throughout) is indeed the dilemma we humans face when trying to understand God Himself. As Paul states at the end of Romans 11, that His judgments are unsearchable, and His ways beyond comprehension. One day we will see Him face to face and understand. Praise God Almighty.

    The problem with both "sides" is there is a tendency to ignore or deny the other side, and that is a big mistake. One side says God is fully responsible and in control, and the other says we are held responsible for rejecting or believing in Christ by faith. I think to say merging those 2 ideas might be difficult for me to say, but it must be said that the bible does teach both things. In fact, in almost every passage that most strongly supports one "argument", the other viewpoint is also strongly expressed. To me that is a great mystery that only God knows. I believe them by faith.

    There are so many passages that are examples of this, and a book (or several) would be needed to go over all of them. Let me give one example in John 3. I will not go verse by verse. I will let whoever reads this and wants to study and meditate over it to do that. I will just mention how I see these ideas in the passage and let the passage speak for itself, by the Holy Spirit.

    The analogy of physical birth to show spiritual birth is interesting by Jesus. None of us had anything to do with our own birth. Others decided it. So also with salvation. No one will get to heaven without spiritual birth from God. We don't even know where it came from by the analogy of the wind.

    Yet, Jesus goes on from there to give us our responsibility. Whoever believes will be saved. He asks Nicodemus how is he going to believe. He gave that answer already, if the Spirit (wind) gives spiritual birth. Jesus mentions then 3 times that salvation comes from belief.

    The responsibility of man for unbelief is also mentioned here. Unbelief brings judgment. Everyone who does evil hates Jesus and their evil deeds will be exposed.

    So, I am confused, yes. Are these contradictions? No. Paradox? Yes. The great mysteries of the gospel beyond everyone's understanding but God's? YES. I am content with that. I have enemies on both sides of the issue because of what I have expressed. I am content with the mystery, and yet strive always to more deeply understand it better. I hope you do to.

  6. Since God is not the author of confusion we must conclude that there are things we do not understand. But, we must also seek Him in prayer and study for these answers.

    I do not believe that God has made these things impossible to understand nor that we are stuck with confusion on the matter. I believe that there is a way to reconcile God's election and man's ability. I believe this can be done biblically. I believe that this understanding opens up many passages and puts them in context.

    I will share this as we move along.

    For now, thanks for being a part of the discussion. I look forward to seeing what God has in it for us.

    In Christ,

  7. I too am sorry for the slow responses, but as you said it takes time to process God's word and hopefully have the Spirit lead us in our understanding.

    on idea I came across recently is the possibility of a distinction between Redemption and Salvation. I hope myself to start a few word studies to help me determine what that might be. This will be a slow process for me though.

    One thing I have noticed in comments I have often heard on this subject is an presumed cause/effect relationship that at least many time is not clear to me in the language of God's word. Could some things that we read (with out presumptions) as being a cause merely be an indicator of a fact, or could we even at times reverse cause and effect when the language isn't quite clear. These are thoughts that may just be muddying the view in my brain. Looking forward to more discussion.

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  9. Rick - your ability to articulate your thoughts is commendable. Your heart's desire to honor God but also embrace mystery shows a lot of wisdom. Thanks for sharing.

    Dirk - you are thinking deeper than my brain can handle ... it hurts!!! :) I would expect nothing less from you.

    Make sure to read the current post. More will be coming in the near term.

    Some are upset with me for asking the questions. I do not believe that God is harmed by humans seeking him and wanting to understand what we can. I think at some point we have to surrender to his clear, revealed will in the Scripture but am concerned that we do that far too quickly.