My view is one which is hard to present, and I think that oftentimes what I’m trying to say is misinterpreted. For example, I do not believe that God forces anybody to make any decision. I also don’t believe that it is only physically possible for a small group of people to achieve salvation.
Let me proceed in an orderly fashion. I’ll give a little bit of history, then take the 5 points of Calvinism one by one, and conclude with other miscellaneous thoughts.
First I’ll go way back, to the fifth century, and the conflict between Augustine of Hippo and Pelagius, a monk from Britain. Pelagius developed the doctrine of Pelagianism, which Augustine strongly disagreed with. He went so far as to say it was ‘destructive of the Gospel’. Pelagius taught that Adam was created out of sin, which by itself is very true. However, he also taught that Adam was not created in good, that he was neutral. He also believed that Adam was mortal, even before the fall, and that when Adam did sin, it did not affect the rest of humanity; we are all born in the same neutral state as Adam was, just that we are born into a world dominated by sin and surrounded by temptation, whereas Adam was not. Pelagius believed that it was possible for man not to sin, and that there were men who had lived perfect lives, and never sinned.
The doctrine of Calvinism, although not called that at the time, was first clearly explained in Augustine’s defence against Pelagius’ teachings. Augustine taught that man was created in fellowship with God, and if something is not evil it must be good, so therefore Adam could not have been neutral. In sinning, Adam broke the fellowship he had with God, and also brought physical death into the world. Additionally, he brought about the fall of the entire human race. (Adam and Eve were the entire human race at that time, so logically, in their sin all of humanity fell. However, it’s also true that each and every human being partook in that first sin, in and through Adam, just as we can all be reconciled from our sinful nature by being put to death with Christ on his cross.) Since we are fallen, our wills are corrupted and we will desire for sin, and will not turn to Christ on our own. Augustine taught that before man can turn from his sinful ways, God must change his heart and his nature to desire after what is right.
I’ll end this part of my ‘history lesson’ with a quote from an unknown author. He sums it up quite well, in my opinion:
“The notions so prevalent today about man's free-will are also in error. Augustine was right in his conviction that man's will was not free, but bound in sin. Martin Luther, whom the Lord used greatly to proclaim the doctrine of justification by faith, also defended the belief that man's will was not free, but rather bound in sin, in his work "The Bondage of the Will." No dear reader, God does not save anybody because he sees that they have worked up faith within themselves. God is not motivated to save sinners based on anything he sees in them, including faith! As we have seen, it is God who has given faith to those who are saved [it is not a principle by which he saves, but rather a gift he gives]. What then has the Christian of to glory of within himself? As Paul said, nothing but the cross of Christ. We see therefore, that salvation begins and ends with God. It does not begin nor end nor anything in between with man, it is all of God.”
I am actually going to skip over John Calvin entirely as a protest to claiming the name of a single person. (1 Cor. 1:12-15, 1 Cor. 3:4-9) This situation is similar to the one Paul deals with there. Calvin merely planted; it isn’t him we follow, but Christ. So I am skipping over him to November 13, 1618; the Synod of Dort.
The Synod was convened to settle some disagreement in the Dutch reformed church, to deal with the dispute which came about as a result of the doctrine of Arminianism.
“The Synod gave a very close examination to the ‘five points’ which had been advanced by the Remonstrants, and compared the teaching in them with the testimony of Scripture. Failing to reconcile that teaching with the Word of God, . . . they unanimously rejected them. They felt however, that a mere rejection was not sufficient. It remained for them to set forth the true Calvinistic teaching in relationship to those matters which had been called into question. This they proceeded to do, embodying the Calvinistic position in five chapters which have ever since been known as the five points of Calvinism." (Steel and Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism)The five points outlined by the Synod are well known by the acronym TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. Here is where I will leave the area of church history, and continue to take each of the points above one by one and reconcile them next to scripture, as the Synod of Dort did.
The first point is Total Depravity. What is total depravity? It is best described as the belief that men are dead in sin, and that left as we are, we will always essay to do what is wrong. Read Ephesians 2:1-10. We were ‘dead in our trespasses’ (v.5), but it is only because of Christ, not us, that we are saved: ‘this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,’ (v.8) David says in Psalm 51 that he ‘was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me’. So it is from birth, because we sinned in Adam, that we have this sinful nature.
In both passages mentioned we see that it is only God who can remove our sinful nature from us so we can choose what is right. This brings us to the next point, Unconditional Election. We’ve already seen that we won’t reach a decision to follow Christ on our own, but by what criteria does God choose who he will bring to himself? The answer is, he chooses whomever he will. Romans 9:15 says that he ‘will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion’. It isn’t because of anything in us that he chooses us, but rather that he created us to be chosen. God made two kinds of people: those who will glorify him by showing that an unconfessed rejection of him is unforgivable, and those who will glorify him by singing his praises, and showing that it is only by HIS mercy that any hope exists: it is God who saves us, not us who decide to be saved. I’d encourage you to read Ephesians 1 and 2. These chapters about reconciliation, and I think it shows very well that the one who wronged is in no place to bring himself out of his guilt; that is the place of the one who is wronged.
Limited Atonement. We are not all chosen. Matthew 25, beginning in verse 31, speaks of the final judgement, and the distinction between those who have been saved, the sheep, and those who were not saved, the goats. Speaking of the sheep in verse 34 Jesus says the King will say, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ The sheep are the sheep because they are blessed by the Father. He knew since the foundation of the world that they were the ones who would inherit the kingdom. He was thinking of them when he prepared it; he says prepared for you. It’s no mere chance that the sheep are the sheep and the goats are the goats. The sheep were blessed by God himself, and the goats were cursed. It isn’t a result of anything they’ve done. This is also seen in Romans 11:5-6. Again, just a little further down in verse 8, it is because God has hardened their hearts that they don’t turn to him. Why would God choose some and not others? Again in Romans 11, further down, in verses 11-12 we are given the reason. It is only next to hideousness that beauty truly means something.
When it is offered to us, the grace of God is so great that we will not refuse it. That is Irresistible Grace. Our God is great, and whenever he acts there is nothing that one of us, a mortal man, may do to stand in the way of that which he would accomplish, including grace when it is offered to us. That, and the thing which he offers us is so great that when he invokes in our hearts a more true understanding of what it really is, even a complete fool wouldn’t pass it up. John 6:37 says ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out’. If the father has chosen somebody, he will go to Jesus. Then again in verse 45, Jesus says that ‘everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me’.
Last, but not least, is Perseverance of the Saints. Once saved, always saved. This point is often misinterpreted. I take it to mean that once truly saved, ‘no one will snatch them out of my hand’ (John 10:28)
The five points outlined by TULIP do not accurately portray the entire doctrine of Calvinism. They were merely a response to the points in contention at the Synod of Dort. In addition to what is explained above, I believe that it is indeed physically possible for anyone, elect or not, to come to Jesus. ‘that whosoever believeth in me shall not perish’ (John 3:16) But as a result of the fallen human nature, we only will turn to Christ if he does something in us.
Earthly trials and the promise of this world cloud the world’s vision. Who would choose the trials over what their flesh desires most? Likewise, when Christ takes his elect to a place where they can truly see what the final outcome is, despite what’s on the surface, who would choose eternal suffering over paradise with Christ? In both situations it is physically possible for someone to choose either fate, but it is morally impossible. God moves in the heart of those he has chosen to do so, so that they see things in a different way which will lead them to make different choices.
Many people take offense at this. It isn’t fair! Why would God choose to move in the hearts of some this way and not in the hearts of others? And I agree. It doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem right; if God is love, why does he judge people unequally? The answer is, he doesn’t have to save anybody. If anything isn’t fair, it’s that anybody doesn’t get what they deserve and are allowed into heaven rather than hell. And God doesn’t judge people unequally, it’s just that with some he decides to see through Jesus’ sacrifice, and others not.
Well, reading back, I think I make this about as clear as mud. But may God use the weak to lead the strong.
To conclude I’d like to say that this is merely what I believe. If you disagree with me, so be it! I think you’d be in error, but that shouldn’t get in the way of a healthy Christian relationship. If you disagree, I’ll persist as long as you are open. The moment you say ‘enough’, that’s enough. Moreover, I do accept that I am human, and if you disagree, you could be right. In my current walk it would take some doing (and moving of the Holy Spirit), but I am opened to persuasion. Importantly though, I'd like to restate how important it is that this shouldn't get in the way of relationships. This isn't something that should pull apart, but rather draw together.
You can post a comment that tears this post apart. Tell me all the problems you have with it. But please do so respectfully, in a way that you, me, and any other viewers can benefit from. If you do this kindly, I’ll do my best to respond, and we can have a healthy debate. But if your tone is one of hostility, well, let’s just pray I won’t have to go there.