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3/07/2006

CALVINISM: TRUE OR FALSE? PT2 (UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION)

In part one of this series we thought together about the "T" in "TULIP" theology, or Calvinism as it's sometimes called. It should be pointed out that the thoughts represented by the letter in "tulip" are not all of reformed theology - also a name given to these beliefs. The letters only represent parts of Calvin's theology under attack during his lifetime by another branch of theology called Arminianism. TULIP represents the points of Calvin's theology folks calling themselves Arminians disagreed with, and the acronym "TULIP" was thought up for a tract circulated across Europe to educate Calvinists and ready them to defend their theology. Calvinism goes much deeper and wider than five letters could ever represent.

That said, we've skimmed the surface and asked questions about only one letter so far: T for Total Depravity. Now we skim and poke and prod U: Unconditional Election.

Unconditional meaning we do nothing to earn it, nothing to attract it or refuse it. Nothing. It happens to us. And what is "it"? It is election. Election might be best summed up in one word "chosen." So if I'm understanding correctly, and please kindly correct me if I'm not, unconditional election could be defined as being chosen by God without out regard for our worthiness or unworthiness, our wealth, nation, place in history or any other factors.

God stands on the playground. We're in a line. He's choosing teams. One team is the Sheep - going to Heaven. The other are the Goats - going to hell. He doesn't care how muscley we think we are, how straight we think we stand, how many years we've played the game.

Or, to put it much more dryly and theologically and probably correctly, John Calvin wrote "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 the other of these ends, we say that we have been predestinated to life or to death" (Institutes of the Christian Religion 3:21:5). He goes on to say, "God...determined once for all those whom it was His good pleasure one day to admit to salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, it was His good pleasure to doom to destruction" (ICR 3:21:7).

Now, wait a minute, you might say. I thought "T" said we were all depraved. How can humanity, all depraved, be said to not be "created on equal terms"? Well, not equal, according to Calvin, because some were created to be eternally with God and some were created to be damned to hell.

And more theological jargon: According to the Canons of Dordt (1st Head of Doctrine - Article 7), "Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He has out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from their primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect and the foundation of salvation. This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification, and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His Son, finally to glorify them for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of the riches of His glorious grace."

I have many questions about all this: What does the word "predestined" mean in the original Greek - before Calvinism may have projected a meaning onto it? Wen Paul says God predestined those he foreknew was he not saying God predestined everyone since God foreknew everyone (Psalm 139)? And many more. What questions do you have? And what answers for the rest of us? Teach us.

9 Comments:

Blogger Matthew Smith said...

I think it's easy for people (myself included) to have an immediate "it's not fair" emotional reaction to election.

First, are people predestined to Hell, or are we just all Hell-bound unless God mercifully chooses to save some of us? I see predestination more as God rescuing many from the fire, rather than choosing teams on the playground. Everyone chooses themselves over God, our kingdom over his Kingdom, and ultimately, Hell over Heaven, but God is gracious to intervene and change our hearts of stone to hearts of flesh to love him. It's an important distinction. Frankly, I'm not sure if Calvin himself made that distinction or not, though from your quotes it sounds like he didn't.

Even with this distinction, I think we should hesistate to try and make God conform to our ideas of fairness. Paul addresses this head-on in Romans:

Romans 9:22-24
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory-- even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?"

Now, he does say "what if," and to go beyond that "what if" to say "God definitely made people in order to show his wrath" is, I think, going outside the bounds of scripture.

But still...what if? The concept offends us deeply, because at a very basic level, we believe we are worth something, and that God is cruel for destroying us. But I can't get away from the fact that we are worth nothing, know nothing, and are nothing compared to who God is. He is the one who determines what is fair and not fair, right and not right, and for me to presume I know better than God is the worst kind of foolishness.

Second, election makes us face the problem of Hell. Whether God chooses some and not others for Heaven, or whether we choose God, either way we can't avoid the fact that God created Hell, and he created people that he foreknew would go there. Much like the problem of evil, I don't think it's a question we will ever find a comfortable answer to this side of Heaven.

One more thing that I always think about when this comes up: Does it bother you that for thousands of years God chose Israel to be his people, to the exclusion of all other tribes? He even called them his Chosen People. And now, because of Jesus, he has chosen a people for himself from every race, tribe and tongue, giving continuity to history and spreading his grace across the world.

3/07/2006  
Blogger Seth Ward said...

"First, are people predestined to Hell, or are we just all Hell-bound unless God mercifully chooses to save some of us? I see predestination more as God rescuing many from the fire, rather than choosing teams on the playground."

I see what your are saying but this sort of paints God in a picture as a fireman running into a burning building grabbing the few that he can before the building collapses. "sorry guys I just couldn't get to the rest" Calvinism even goes a bit futher than that. It says that the fireman created the building, set the fire, caused the people to be in the building doing what they were doing - a set of particular actions that would not allow for their rescue. In short there was nothing for any of the burning people in the fire to do, and finally that God made them to burn.

This sets up a poor idea of fairness in itself. Fairness is not bad. God created it. I am not trying to say that I do not deserve the fire like anyone else. It is a condition that I was born into, brought forth from a fatal decision in the Garden by Adam. But along with Adam, we still inherited an ability. An ability to choose again God over self, and ultimately, Beatific Vision to a lordship of pride and hell. This only because it was set in motion immediately by God in the Garden, when he went looking for Adam, calling his name and then finally with his statement to the serpent "...he will crush your head..."

While some of this analogy of the fireman seems kind of cruel, I do not disagre with it all. where i disagree with the Calvinist is that I believe that Lucifer gave the match and man took it and set the fire. God created them knowing that they would, not meaning, that he caused them to. The Calvinist would also say that in the burning building the man wanted the fire. Wanted to burn and God saved the few by only causing a few to see him, then snatched them up.

A concept not yet explained but not incomprehensible is that God went to every room, every man saw him and had an opportunity to come with him, even though He knew the outcome, who would choose and who would not. Was this extraneous? No. This demonstrates his love and compassion for ALL mankind, not contradiciting his Justice and mercy. "For God so loved the World..." Here again we enter the realm of Mystery. We prefer a cool explained version of the plan, even if God comes off a bit as a Cosmic Puppetier, to a version that leaves us with "but how and why..."

My natural tendecy is more along the lines of "man was i lucky" rather than "thats not fair" for those Muslims raging to their death into the towers.

When scripture says "we work out our salvation with fear and trembling" i wanna reach for that preseleciton to say "whew, im okay here, im okay." And i should because i am, but then again if i ever chose to someday, say: "No longer God but Me. There is no God," i wouldn't care whether i am okay or not, i would have made my choice and one might at that point fear and pray for the eternal outcome of my soul.

I think that the Calvinist gets the Will mixed up with the Flesh. The flesh desires evil and was destined for death, dragging the will with it, but the Will though nearly ruined, because of God's grace, can still choose God because God did not abandon us. And God becomes more irresistable because i seek him more, choosing to do so.

This may sound weird but i think that even pagan mythology is a testament in a way to man's awarness of a God. God reaching out to man. Man not able to comprehend, man reaching out and getting it wrong, horribly wrong most times. And a few centuries before Christ (outside the Jews) we find near monotheism in Persia and with the Greeks (near the end) Then finally, through the Jews God makes Himself known. And then in Christ fully known.


It is true that God foresees sin, but He does not will it because He must in his Holiness hate it. Because God knows sin will happen does not mean that he wished it to happen. There is no reconciliation here. Is calling a square a triangle in my opinion. It goes beyond mystery into nonsense.

Calvin tried to fix the problem with the first versions of predestination where God created the murderer to murder, therfore causing the murder, and created the judge that would sentence him to death. He tried to reconcile this by this interpretation of this verse with "vessels of mercy" and "vessels of wrath"
In a nutshell Calvin interprets it by saying that, "it is because God Loves that he Hates." "It is because he wanted us to go heaven that He wanted others to go to Hell, thus creating some for heaven and some for hell." God's Love and Hatred are interchanged here as if they are both desirable. By this rational we could re-write John 3:16 "for God so Loved and Hated the world, that He gave his only Begotton Son, so that some will be saved and some will die." The balence is skewed. An attempt at error correction has cause error.

To me saying that God denies some of us irresistible Grace leads to a denial of the universality of Gods desire for all to know him and for all to be saved, and of the Redemption, and contradicts the justice and Holiness of God as well as the freedom of man ... okay, im done for now, head spineth, needeth advileth.


Seth

3/07/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Matthew, I agree with the fairness point you're making. I run into the same friction when I talk about Christian non-violence. It's not fair, essentially is what some people argue, to lose my life or my kids' life in order to follow the example of Jesus in regard sot non-violence. God is who He is and teaches what He teaches regardless of whether I like it or not. He is what He is and not what I choose or prefer Him to be. Point taken

btw, I'VE not stated outright or, I think, even implied that predestination is unfair. My biggest question at this point is why sovereignty (God's freedom and ability to do as he pleases at all times in every way) is negated by a salvation in which both and God and man seemingly do so some choosing. If God set up such a system, He would still be sovereign.

Let me stew in the rest of what you said for a while.

Thanks for taking the time to teach me.

SG

3/07/2006  
Blogger Matthew Smith said...

To clarify, I don't think God's sovereignty would be negated by that kind of system, but I don't see enough evidence that the Bible teaches that's the system in place. He seems to operate by a covenantal system where he makes and keeps his promises to his people, despite what his people might do or think.

3/07/2006  
Blogger Stephen said...

In my reading and studying of the scriptures, I repeatedly come back to the fact that the most important thing to God is God (like you said, Shaun). Not us, but Himself. It's hard to understand many old testament stories without this starting point.

Does that fact come into play here?

3/07/2006  
Blogger NerdMom said...

I agree that "predestined" (pre- Calvinism) was that God foreknew us. God does not desire empty actions. If our choices mean nothing, when we chose God it is meaningless. I also jumped the gun in the last discussion, I don't believe God created a group of people with out any options but suffering. Matthew says part of the problem is our inherant feeling of worth. I disagree. I am saved, I know it beyond a show of doubt. What I don't know about is my kids. If I believed in election I don't that I could have kids. I believe in hell but I believe that it is based on a choice. Now I am not deluding myself, if my children don't chose God things will not go well for them. I have to say, that was something I was afraid of but... The Bible says a lot about raising children to know Him(not that I can save my kids but get them seeking God). Is that all for naught? I am not trying to be arguemenatative but it is an emotional subject.I am open to learning more.

3/08/2006  
Blogger Kathryn said...

wow, you know i don't even know what to say about this subject except that I'm sure that God loves everyone. Calvinism doesn't seem to take this into account.

I don't even know. I can't even go there in my mind. I fear it would just agitate me and make me doubt God's goodness and compassion. blah. . . Not to mention that I don't feel adequate to scope out the Almighty's thoughts. . not adequate at all.

3/09/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Matthew, you said "he makes and keeps his promises to his people, despite what his people might do or think."

Do you want to restate that at all before I respond? Is that precisely what you meant?

Here's where I'm going. I think if I made the time I could produce a seriously long and convincing list of times God in fact DID care what his "people" thought and did - He cared so much, in fact, that a "new covenant" was made between God and all of humanity: Jews and Gentiles. What his people did and thought created the need for a new way, a sacrifice to end all sacrifices yes, but also a way to be inhabited by God and therefore empowered to know and do what pleases God - the ability to think and do what matters to Him. I'd start in Ezekiel 36 (again).

In this new covenant the Church is the new "people" made up of individuals asking Jesus "What must I do to be born again?" and "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus doesn't give them a collective community answer. He addresses them as individuals who get reborn into a covenant community called Church. Eternal life doesn't come from being in the community but the community is made up of those who have inherited eternal life.

That's my understanding.

3/10/2006  
Anonymous jonelswick said...

Shaun,

Thanks for the thought provoking discussion. Here are some of my thoughts:

What does the word "predestined" mean in the original Greek?

The Greek word used in Romans 8:29-30 is transliterated proorizo. According to the Dictionary of Biblical Languages it means: decide beforehand, predestine.

Although Calvinism may have given that further shades of meaning, at the least it means that God “decided beforehand” about the future of some (or all).

Wen Paul says God predestined those he foreknew was he not saying God predestined everyone since God foreknew everyone (Psalm 139)?

Certainly God “knows” everyone in the sense that in His omniscience He knows everything about everyone that ever lived and that ever will live. But I wonder if this is what is in view when Paul uses the term “foreknowledge” in Romans 8:29-30. Of course if Paul merely means that God knew everyone that was to be, it would follow that God indeed predestined everyone who was to be. But this doesn’t seem to be what Paul has in mind in this passage.

Let me illustrate:
Romans 8:29-30 (ESV)
29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

In verse 30 Paul is describing a series of events. He explains what happens to those who have been predestined. If foreknowledge/predestination applies to everyone, then verse 30 would read like this:
“And God predestined everyone, called everyone, justified everyone, and glorified everyone.”

We may disagree whether or not everyone has been predestined, but I doubt that we disagree that everyone has been justified, and will be glorified. The point of Romans 8:30 is (as I see it) that salvation is of God’s initiative. There were some that God foreknew in a distinct way. He also then predestined this group, justified this group, and will glorify this group. Paul is making a distinction between those that God “foreknew & predestined” and the rest of the world. If all are predestined, then this verse would be saying that all will be glorified, and that would be inconsistent with the rest of Scripture.

Thoughts?

~jde

3/10/2006  

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