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Some advice on debating theology

Posted by: David Carroll

1 Peter 1:2a (NKJV)
Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father

Paige Patterson, while preaching on this verse at Southeastern Seminary, said:

While it may be a healthy exercise to wrestle with the doctrines of election, sovereignty and free will, theological debate must not distract Christians from fulfilling the Great Commission.

If you're a more ardent advocate of Calvinism than you are of Jesus as an answer to men's souls—and the way you tell that is by what you talk about most—then you are out of step with the clear teachings of the Word of God.

Two thousand years we've been talking about this, it's the only reason you build cafeterias and coffeehouses on seminary campuses, and nobody has come up with an explanation that will satisfy anybody else. Under such conditions, is it not better to say, “God, in your greatness, you have done and thought and acted in ways too transcendent for me to embrace.”

Good advice. I need to talk less about why people get saved and start doing more of the how.

Romans 10:13-14 (NKJV)

For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?


Posted by: David Carroll

Historians David Bebbington, Mark Noll, and George Rawlyk have identified four characteristic marks of "evangelicalism":

  1. a stress on conversion,
  2. a focus on Christ's redeeming work as the core of biblical Christianity,
  3. an acknowledgment of the Bible as the supreme authority,
  4. an energetic and personal approach to social engagement and evangelism.

(from Chrisitianity Today)

God's choice or mans?

Posted by: David Carroll

Commenters on my previous post on Irresistible Grace raise a good question regarding salvation. Is man responsible or is God? Also, who is the originator of salvation, man or God? Anyway I’ll say up front that the answer in my opinion is that it is God who is both responsible from beginning to end and it is God who originates salvation. Now let’s see if I can be consistent with the idea that man has to make a choice without being compelled to do so irresistibly.

I see God as responsible for my salvation because I cannot find heaven without him. In fact I don’t even know of it’s existence without him. And now that I am aware of it and believe that he has secured it for me, I am still just along for the ride without anyway of getting myself to heaven without him.

I see God as the originator of salvation because it was his idea and not mine. He offered it first as a free gift which I could accept through faith. This was his design for such a transaction and not mine. But notice the requirement: my acceptance or rejection of that free gift. He decreed that I should glorify him by requiring my exercise of faith. My faith in him does not glorify me—I only love him because he first loved me. This is the synergism that glorifies God, not because man may choose rightly thereby completing the transaction but because the choice gives God glory, praise, honor and adoration from his creature whom He in turn makes happy in Him.

I will even say that the faith I have has come from him. How could it not? He is the creator! All I know is that God has somehow made man’s ability to make true free will choices compatible with his sovereignty. And we are called upon to make a choice to repent and have faith in God which has real consequences in both positively and negatively. That seems to me to be the emphasis of the Bible in all of its warnings (including Jesus’ pronouncement regarding blasphemy against the Holy Spirit). He wanted it that way because faith is the only thing that accords with grace and faith is what gives God glory.

Romans 4:16a (NKJV)
Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace

Romans 4:20 (NKJV)
He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God

There is a glorious mystery in all of this. One has to believe two apparently incompatible things simultaneously: 1) God is sovereign and knows everything past present and future. 2) man is created by God in His own image and thus has been given a free will with the responsibility to make a choice to trust in Him or not. This means God both knows the choice man will make and yet man must still make it freely. I cannot reconcile this and the Bible does not seem to worry one wit about helping me to do so.

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NKJV)

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts."

Irresistable Grace

Posted by: David Carroll

Irresistible grace is the fourth point of the five points of Calvinism. It means that according to God’s sovereignty, those whom he has chosen from before the foundation of the world will be subject to an irresistible call from God at some point in their lives and will exercise their faith in Him because of His working of grace in them apart from any movement of their own will. (I probably should look that up and get an exact definition but this is my understanding of it anyway.)

Let me say up front that I know and hear gladly many preachers who believe this doctrine including John Piper, John MacArthur, Al Mohler and many others. But I have a problem with irresistible grace.

First of all I find within myself the ability to resist and the ability to exercise my own free will to choose good or bad. When I came to Christ, I came under much duress within my own heart. I don’t believe I was being dragged but I certainly believe I was being wooed not out of fear but out of a desire. But it was a tremendous internal struggle of the will. So unless I am a deceived robot, then I find within myself immediate evidence to reject this doctrine. However, the Biblical support for this doctrine comes from such verses as:

John 6:37,39,44 (NKJV)

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.

This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.

I believe the Bible is verbal and plenary (word for word and sufficient) inspired word of God. There is no way I would argue with the clear words of scripture, and even less with Jesus’ very own words. But do these words confirm the doctrine of irresistible grace? Not necessarily. Firstly they show a loving God who woos and draws people to Himself but this wooing and drawing is not necessarily irresistible. Secondly, they are compatible with a sovereign God who foreknows those will choose to come to Jesus. For the Calvinist however, God’s choosing is not based on foreknowledge but rather on his sovereign decree.

But there is a more pernicious problem I have with this doctrine of irresistible grace. That problem comes from Jesus warning regarding the unpardonable sin:

Matthew 12:31-32 (NKJV)

Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.

Those are strong words and regardless of exactly what “blasphemy against the Spirit” is, the consequences are undeniable. No forgiveness means no heaven which means eternal separation from God, otherwise known as hell.

Now, lest anyone start worrying about whether they have committed the unpardonable sin or not, I am told by almost every commentary I have read on this verse that if you are worried about it then you don’t need to be worried about it. In other words, the mere fact that you express concern over it means that you have not been guilty of it. This means that blasphemy against the spirit is spiteful and willful and therefore is not concerned in the least with such action.

The problem this verse presents to the doctrine of irresistible grace is that one word unpardonable. (I know that word is not in the verse but it is a convenient term for “will not be forgiven him, either in this age or the age to come” which sounds even worse to me).

Follow me here. You must agree that the elect who will one day not be able to resist the drawing of God could not possibly commit an unpardonable sin. Why? Because they would not be elect if they did. So what does this say about those who are not elect, the ones who will certainly be able to resist God, which for the Calvinist is everybody else. If they are non-elect then they are by definition already unpardonable, regardless of what sin they will commit.  So if the elect will find God’s grace irresistible, then why is Jesus even making such a stern and dire warning not to do something that cannot be done by one group and would not matter anyway to the other? It would make Jesus into a terrorist striking fear into people unnecessarily.

No doubt the staunch Calvinist has already thought out a way to reconcile this dilemma, but I have never heard it. And if it is similar to the way they redefine the “whosoever wills” then I probably won’t understand it anyway.

I believe in election because that is a clear doctrine in the Bible. The question is what is it based upon? Foreknowledge or sovereign decree. I’ll write some more about that later. So does that make me a four point Calvinist? No, because I have a problem with the idea of Limited Atonement too but I’ll write about that one some other time as well.

Comments working now

Posted by: David Carroll

I just found out that there has been a bug in this blog’s software preventing adding new comments to entries . (Thank’s Millie!) You could reply to an existing comment but not add new comments.  But I just fixed it.