Open Letter on Why I Am Not A Calvinist

You wanted to know where I stand relative to the so-called “five points of Calvinism,” or “TULIP.”

Here’s a small attempt at answering your question, although you must understand that some of these issues have not played a large part in my thinking, and there may be room for revision in my own mind about them. I do believe that Calvinists can be extremely dogmatic, having debated with some of them. I am not so dogmatic myself about most of the issues, but, being a logical thinker, I feel that most of the Calvinist positions, if carried to their consistent and common sense conclusions lead to extreme doctrinal positions. Those Calvinists who are not extreme seem not to have fully thought out the Calvinist doctrines to see where a consistent and logical approach must inevitably lead, positions which ultimately become untenable, contradictory, or unbiblical.

Some of the positions taken by Calvinists depend upon the presumption that human beings have no free will. This belief, I think, is derived from the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. If an event or all events are predestined, then there can be no escape from the sure foreordained outcome, and consequently we cannot make free choices to change these outcomes. But I believe that, since God lives outside of time and space, He knows all past, present and future events. Knowing does not mean that He forces the outcome.

Here’s why it is important theologically to believe that mankind has free will.

Following is my response to each of the commonly-held positions typical of those who claim to be Calvinists. If taken in order, the first letter of each one forms the acronym, “TULIP.”

Total Depravity (or total inability): This doctrine does not mean that a person has no positive qualities. Rather, it means that he can do nothing at all on his own to assist in obtaining the redemption purchased by Christ’s sacrifice. By nature, he is completely at God’s mercy and would never even call out to God for mercy unless God first moved in his heart to effect this.

I do not believe that we can do anything to merit God’s favor. We cannot take credit for salvation in any way. It is pure grace; an unmerited gift. Yet salvation ultimately results in praise from God (“Well done, good and faithful servant.”), while condemnation results in blame (“I never knew you. Depart from me you worker of iniquity.”) The Bible teaches that there is no excuse for faithlessness, for the evidence of God’s power, love, and grace surrounds us. If we reject Christ, we are held responsible. Total inability, if it were true, would remove all responsibility for what we do with the gospel message, all protestations by Calvinists to the contrary. God has given us evidence of His power and love. It is possible for sinners to respond and seek after God. God’s grace is offered to all who will receive it.

Unconditional Election: This doctrine means that God, from the very foundation of the world, has decided in advance who will be saved and who will be condemned (unable to receive His grace or come to know Him). Yet Jesus did not teach this. He taught, “Whosoever will may come.” He called all to “Come and follow Me.” He loved the whole world enough to die for the people of the world (John 3:16-17) that the world through Him might be saved. (They “might” be saved, but many will not be because they will reject Him.) He did not minister to or teach only those whom He knew would be faithful, but rather taught all who would listen. When some followers strayed away, He asked His disciples, “Will you also leave?” He left that up to them. Why so, if their election was already decided, and that by Christ Himself?

Limited Atonement: You can now see that these doctrines are interdependent. If you believe one, you have to believe the next one, etc. For they are really one doctrine with different expressions of the same thing. If the first two are true, then it logically follows that this doctrine must be true. If Christ chose who would be saved from the creation, then He could only have died for those whom He elected, for the rest could not be saved anyway. Thus, this doctrine teaches that grace is not offered to anyone at all (who could receive it?), but rather is sovereignly bestowed by God upon the elect. If this is true, human response to the gospel is meaningless. Such response only confirms one’s election, and a failure to respond confirms one’s condemnation. But there is no free will, for the elect will be saved no matter what and the rest will be condemned no matter what. So this results in nothing but “mind games” when one discusses evangelism and a person’s response to it. The person becomes an automaton; a pawn in God’s hands, whose faithfulness to God is without merit. So why would he ever receive a reward? But the Bible teaches that God DOES reward the faithful.

Irresistible Grace: This doctrine also extends from the previous ones. If a person is elected without his participation before birth, then he can in no way resist or refuse the grace that God grants by virtue of that election. The person WILL receive the Holy Spirit and WILL come to know God because this is predestined. Therefore, no one can ever lose his salvation (the next doctrine). So the circle is complete. All the doctrines fit together. I believe the flaw in this entire construction is revealed in John 3:16-17. Two doctrines are taught there. Christ’s sacrifice was for all the people of the world and anyone can respond and receive eternal life. If this is true, then none of the above are true. It’s that simple. Also, if mankind can make free choices, these doctrines are untrue. If they are true, then no person, whether saved or not, can make any free choices. All choices are made by the sovereign God. Did Adam and Eve freely choose to eat the forbidden fruit? Or did God choose for them? If they did not freely choose, why were they penalized?

Perseverance of the Saints: This doctrine means that the elect cannot lose his or her salvation. It follows directly from the above four doctrines, but is not dependent upon them. In other words, you can believe this doctrine (“once saved, always saved”) without accepting the first four. This doctrine is controversial and I’m not sure whether a true believer who has been redeemed and who has received the Holy Spirit could lose his salvation. I do not believe it can be proven definitively from the Scriptures one way or the other. But Calvinists must believe it because the other four doctrines force them to do so.

Jim


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