Tackling Tough Calvinist Questions

I recently came across a Calvinist polemical work by a Mr. Greg Gibson, entitled “Calvinism, Arminianism, So What?” Who Gets Credit for Your Decision for Christ: The Evangelist, You, or God? In it he presents a decent spiel on Calvinism and why he thinks it’s correct, as well as a list of 23 questions to persuade one to accept his position. We’re going to tackle those questions here, and see if the Arminian/Synergist view can stand up to them and is congruent with the passages of scripture he cites.

1. Was your will free from Satan’s control, yes or no?

Yep.

2. Was your will free from sin’s control, yes or no?

Nope.

3. Is God sovereign & in control over humans’ wills including yours, no or yes?

Yep. Though what they draw from it isn’t quite accurate:

Wow! Could God possibly make it any clearer that He controls our wills? What we’re saying is: God is in control (of ALL things, even salvation.) He is sovereign (over ALL things, even salvation.) Most Christians acknowledge He’s in control only in a general, vague sense. But, He tells us He’s in control of every minute detail of His universe, even your decisions, and the number of hairs on your head.

God is sovereign, so He retains control of everything, but this does not mean that He exercises control over every aspect of the human will. Indeed scripture plainly declares that He does not.

And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. (Jeremiah 32:35)

In the Fall, Did Adam & His Offspring Lose Their Desire and Ability to Come to Christ?

4. After Adam and Eve sinned, did they move toward God, or hide from Him?

They hid.

5. Did Adam initiate contact with God, or did God initiate contact with Adam?

God did, and still does.

6. As a fallen sinner, were you just spiritually sick, or spiritually dead?

Spiritually dead.

The spiritually dead can’t raise themselves. They must be raised by God.

I agree.

7. Could you spiritually see the gospel, or were you spiritually blind?

Blind, unless allowed to see by grace.

8. Could you spiritually hear the gospel, or were you spiritually deaf?

Deaf, unless allowed to hear by grace.

9. When you were spiritually dead, blind, & deaf, did you desire & seek God, yes or no?

Nope, except when influenced by prevenient grace.

10. Are unbelievers not sheep because they don’t believe, or do they not believe because they’re not sheep?

Because they’re not His sheep. Though what we define ‘His sheep’ as may differ. Calvinists see sheep as being those who are regenerated, Arminians/Synergists see the sheep as those taught by God (John 6:45) and therefore given by God to Christ.

11. When you were spiritually dead, deaf & blind, were you born again by your will, or God’s will?

God’s will of course. He then states,

How much of a part did you have in willing your own physical conception? None! Your parents conceived you by their own wills. As it is with physical birth, so it is with spiritual birth. You didn’t ask to be birthed. The Father birthed you.

Which has nothing to do with the conditions God has placed upon the new birth, since having faith and being born from above are separate events.

Then, the question arises, “If fallen, dead, deaf, blind sinners can’t come to Christ, then how do they come to Christ?”

Answer: Prevenient grace.

Does God give the new birth because they believed, or so that they can believe?

Because they believed and are in Christ.

In other words, is faith the cause of the new birth, or is the new birth the cause of faith?

Grace and hearing the word of God is the cause of faith, faith is the cause of being in Christ, being in Christ is the cause of the new birth.

To believe that fallen, dead, deaf, blind sinners repented and believed to be born again is like getting the cart before the horse.

Unless you factor in prevenient grace, in which case scripture makes it clear that regeneration prior to faith is completely backwards. Jesus made it clear that spiritual life doesn’t come until people hear Him,

Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. (John 5:25)

Ben also wrote an excellent post on the subject of regeneration which addresses it in more detail. Continuing,

Logically, they must have first been spiritually born again, before they could repent and believe in Christ.

Unless prevenient grace is factored in.

12. Did God predestine your adoption & inheritance according to your will, or His will?

His will.

13. Did God choose you because you would believe, or so that you would believe?

“God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thes. 2:13)

So we would believe, but note that faith comes by hearing and receiving the word of God (Romans 10:17), which still implies conditionality.

14. Whose choice made the ultimate difference, the apostles’ choice, or God’s choice?

“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (Jn. 15:16)

‘Ultimate difference’ is ill-defined here, and is worded to suggest that either man’s or God’s choice is the only true variable in producing the outcome. God making a choice does not prohibit a man from going against His will. So while it is true that we don’t choose ourselves, we do have to comply with the word of God if we are to be saved. In other words, both choices are required for a positive outcome, making ‘which one’ questions erroneous. Kind of like asking, ‘Which is more important for life: your heart or your blood?’ I touch on this logical fallacy further when he employs it again below.

15. Whose will made Paul an apostle, his own will, or God’s will?

God’s will.

16. Did God call you according to your purpose (will,) or His purpose?

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom (not “what”) He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:28-29)

Here he attempts to exclude any and all human will from the salvation process. The difference lies in the fact that it was no purpose of ours that we are saved, but God’s; receiving Christ does however involve the will. If someone makes you the offer of the century (or eternity) and you accept, does that render making such an offer your purpose somehow? Again Calvinists are forced to stretch definitions and logical concepts to ridiculous extremes to make their point. He also cites,

“who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim. 1:9)

Presumably equating receiving Christ with a ‘work’ of the law. This of course is fallacious and does nothing for the Calvinist position.

17. Who opened your heart, you or God?

God, through His grace.

18. How many of the lost does God call/draw, all or only some?

Apparently all. Though the proof texts he presents are interesting, none of which indicate that He draws only some,

“Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” (Mt. 11:27)

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn. 6:44)

“Moreover whom He predestined, these he also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”(Rom. 8:30)

Completely ignoring,

And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12:32)

Which Ben also addresses in this post.

19. How many of those whom God calls/draws respond, some or all?

Some. Let’s look at his proof texts here as well.

“And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48)

There is no indication that all who were called were appointed, for it is also written,

For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:14)

He continues,

“whom He called, these He also justified” (Rom. 8:30)

This is spoken in the category of those whom He foreknew, and does not necessarily indicate that everyone who was called was justified, but those who were both foreknown and then called. He then quotes from Romans 11,

“concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Rom. 11:28-29)

And this has nothing to do with who responded. The context of this passage makes it clear that this is speaking of the offer of salvation to Israel, to which many as of yet do not respond.

20. Who did your repentance come from, you or God?

Granted by God, embraced by man.

21. Who did your faith come from, you or God?

Same as above.

22. Who made the difference in your decision for Christ, the evangelist or God?

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” (1 Cor. 3:6-7)

Though he doesn’t define what ‘the difference’ is, I think we can safely agree that it is God.

23. Who made the difference in your decision for Christ, you or God?

Again, “the difference” is poorly defined, as the question is worded to force a dichotomy that either only you were ultimately responsible for deciding to follow Christ or only God was, effectively giving only the choices of ‘Calvinism or Pelagianism.’ God makes the difference in our decision in the fact that we could make no decision to follow Him apart from His grace; man makes the difference in that once God has bestowed grace upon him, he is free to receive or reject the gospel, which is biblically congruent and doesn’t hit the unbiblical ‘unlimited free will’ or ‘effectively no free will’ pitfalls of Pelagianism or Calvinism. He offers a few proof texts, which we’ll examine:

“that no flesh should glory in his presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus…that as is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.'” (1 Cor. 1:29-31)

How can one ‘glory’ over accepting what is freely given? Calvinists can’t really offer a reasonable explanation here.

“For who makes you differ? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Cor. 4:7)

It’s God who makes us differ — from the world. Actually, it backs up our case very well, for if all we did was receive what God offered, then there is no room for boasting.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10)

We agree. Note our emphasis on prevenient grace.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)

If you made the difference in your decision for Christ, then you’d have reason to boast, wouldn’t you?

Not in the slightest. My decision is worthy of no merit or praise, but was what was expected of me and is expected of all men. Christ’s words in Luke 17:10 put following Him in perspective,

So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.

Mr. Gibson closes with,

Many credit God for 99% of salvation, and themselves for the other 1% (their decision.) Will you give Him ALL the glory?

And here’s the straw man that constitutes the core of Calvinist indoctrination. I already do give Him all the glory, for my fallen mind could have had not have believed apart from God’s grace, and even if it could have, it would still not have saved me apart from God’s gracious will in sending Christ die for my sins, therefore there can be no reason for bragging on my part, and all credit necessarily goes to God.

The ridiculousness of trying to stretch the decision to believe in Christ into a cause for 1% glory to man goes well beyond any semblance of credibility. That’s like crediting the pardoned criminal with his own release because he agreed and walked out of the prison. There is no room for boasting there, and hence we can firmly say, “To God alone be all glory.”

Provisional Atonement Part 1: Dealing With John Owen’s Arminian Dilemma

I lifted this from Jeff Paton’s website. He gives an answer based on his commitment to the “sacrificial” view of the atonement, which allows him to bypass the force of Owen’s argument.

As I have stated before, I am not (at this time) dogmatic about views of atonement. I do, however, favor the penal satisfaction view which seems to be the view that Owen is describing as incompatible with Arminian soteriology. I reject any view that does not incorporate some form of substitution. Since I more or less hold to the view that Owen thinks incompatible with Arminianism, I thought it might be fun to take on his little “dilemma” (Owen’s argument is in blue).

“To which I may add this dilemma to our Universalists -“

Of course Arminians are not Universalists in a strict sense. I hope that Owen wasn’t trying to paint Arminians in a negative light with this comment. Jeff Paton seems to think he was.

“God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for,

1. either all the sins of all men,

2. or all the sins of some men,

3. or some sins of all men.”

I like #1 which Owen thinks incompatible with Arminianism.

“If the LAST, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God entered into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight: “If the LORD should mark iniquities, who should stand?” [Ps. cxxx.2] We might all go to cast all that we have “to the moles and to the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty.” [Isa. ii. 20, 21]

I agree. #3 is no good.

“If the SECOND, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world.”

I disagree. #2 is incompatible with numerous Scriptures which must be made to undergo tortured exegesis to comport with this position. #2, therefore, is no good. Sorry John Owen.

If the FIRST, why then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.””

That is a very good answer. Count me among those who would say that.

“But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not?”

If by “unbelief” Owen means to reject Christ, then yes, unbelief is a sin.

“If not, why should they be punished for it?”

If it is sin, like all sins, then they should be punished for it. I personally think that sinners being condemned for unbelief creates serious problems for Owen’s Calvinism, but we will get to that in Part 3. For now I will agree and walk headlong into the “dilemma”.

“If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not?”

This seems overly simplified, but I will concede that Christ suffered even for unbelief.

“If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins.”

And now Owen sticks it to me, so to speak. What am I to do? If I say that Christ died for unbelief and believe that he died for all, then I must adopt universalism (real universalism, i.e. all will be saved). If I deny universalism, then I am stuck with a limited atonement. So, Owen points out below…

“Let them choose which part they will.”

I think I will choose a third option. An option that I believe best comports with the Biblical data. I will affirm that atonement is provisional “in Christ”. In other words, Christ’s death made provision for all sin, yet only those who come to be in union with Christ partake of that provision. I believe this view is supported by numerous Scriptures. Below are a few of them (emphasis mine):

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us [believers] with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Eph. 1:3

All spiritual blessings are found in Christ. I think this must include (if not be founded on) the benefits of the atonement. We find further evidence of this in Ephesians 1:7:

In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace…”

I think this passage confirms that the benefits of the atonement are provisional “in Christ”.

Look at Colossians 1:13 and 14:

“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Again we see that the benefits of the atonement are provisional in the “beloved Son”.

So how does one come to be in union with Christ and therefore benefit from the redemption and forgiveness provided in Him?

“In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation- having believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Eph. 1:13

We come to be in union with Christ through faith.

As soon as we accept the Biblical teaching that forgiveness is provisional in Christ, Owen’s “dilemma” amounts to nothing. Unbelief is atoned for, but only “in Christ”. When we are placed in union with Christ by the Holy Spirit, through faith, our former “unbelief” is atoned for just as our other sins are atoned for. If we continue in unbelief, we cannot benefit from the forgiveness that is in Christ alone, and will therefore suffer condemnation. In other words, the moment we believe, our prior unbelief is forgiven, and not before. Since the atonement is provisional in Christ we can both affirm that He died for all and that only believers will benefit from this atonement. 1 Tim. 4:10 states this truth very well:

“For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men [provisional], especially of believers [conditional application].”

I think that this passage plainly teaches that the atonement is provided for all, while only believers will actually experience forgiveness on the condition of faith (which unites us with Christ and the benefits of His atonement).

Calvinists struggle to get around the implications of this passage. Some will suggest that the “all” has reference to the elect. That would reduce the verse to tautology as follows:

“…who is the Savior of all [elect men], especially of believers [the elect].”

Some reason that the “all” means simply “all people groups” or “all kinds of people”. There is no contextual warrant for this interpretation and it amounts to little more than the interpretation we just dealt with above:

“…who is the Savior of the elect [among all kinds of people], especially of believers [the elect].”

Still others note that “God” has reference to the Father as Savior, rather than Christ, as if this changes things. Does not the Father save through Christ?

Perhaps a last attempt should be added. Some Calvinists posit that “Savior” should be understood in a sense in which all of mankind, including the reprobates, enjoy certain divine blessings. Again, there is no contextual reason for assigning some other meaning to “Savior” other than the way Paul always uses the term in connection with God. This is truly a desperate attempt to avoid the Arminian implications of this text.

So, I think that we can safely conclude that Owen’s dilemma poses no difficulty at all for Arminians who hold to both a universal and penal satisfaction view of the atonement. All one has to do is realize that the atonement is provisional and applied only on the basis (condition) of faith union with Christ.

Owen, however, has some dilemmas of his own to account for in his #2 choice above. We will deal with those in Part 2.

Answering Greg Elmquist’s "Four Unanswerable Questions"

I came across a writing some time back by Pastor Greg Elmquist called, ‘Four Unanswerable Questions,’ which I’ve seen copied and pasted by Calvinists on forums as evidence that the doctrines espoused in Arminianism could not possibly be true. I decided to examine each of these supposed unsolvable Calvinist conundrums for myself and find out if there was a scriptural and logical answer to them. I’ll be going over his essay, which will be in italics, and my thoughts and commentary will be in normal type.

Greg starts out,

“There are four lies being told in Orlando today.”

I’ve been to Orlando, I’m pretty sure I counted more than that; but Greg is about to add a few more to the list.

“Modern, man-centered, Christ dethroning religionist would have us believe…”

At least he’s not poisoning the well….he then goes on to tell what those lies are:

“God loves everyone;”

Oh! How awful!

“it is God’s will for everyone to be saved;”

Nooooo!

“Christ died for everyone;”

The horror! The horror!

“and the Holy Spirit draws the saved and condemned alike.”

Eeeeeeek!!! Hide the children (at least the condemned ones)!

“These are well established suppositions, rarely questioned for their truthfulness.”

For rather obvious reasons.

“To call them into question is to unmask the faulty foundation of a false gospel and kindle the wrath of those desperate to protect their traditions.”

Or possibly reveal the terrible logic Elmquist employs in trying to harass other Christians with his bizarre doctrine and incite widespread laughter as it is refuted without any difficulty. He then gets to the questions:

1) “What sayeth the Scripture?” “The Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness” (Ps. 11:7). “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” (Rom. 9:13). God’s love is a holy love. He can no more love unrighteousness than He can cease to be holy. God’s love is for Christ, in Christ, and through Christ. Everything outside of Christ is under the condemnation and wrath of God. He has loved His elect with an everlasting love, having chosen them in Him before the foundation of the world.
Question #1: If God loves all men, those who receive eternal life as well as those who suffer eternal damnation, what does the love of God have to do with anyone’s salvation?

Answer: Everything, for without the love of God no one could be saved, but God’s love for men does not preclude the fact that He requires sinners to receive Jesus Christ to be saved.

Additional problems with Elmquist’s logic: God does hate unrighteousness, yet still does have love for sinners, else He could not love the elect while they were yet sinners (Romans 5:8).

2) What does the Bible say about God’s will and salvation? “Having predestined us according to the good pleasure of His Will” (Eph. 1:5). “Having made known to us the mystery of His Will according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself.” “I will have mercy upon whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion upon whomever I will have compassion. So then it is not of him who wills, or of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. Therefore, He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens” (Rom 9:15-18). “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He wills” (Jn. 5:21).
Question #2: If God wills for all men to be saved, what does the will of God have to do with anyone’s salvation?

Answer: Everything, for no one can come to Christ apart from the will of God. Yes God is willing that all be saved, yet is not willing to do so apart from Christ; and so He, foreknowing that not all would believe, did not choose everyone.

3) What do the Scriptures say about the purpose of Jesus’ death on the cross? Did He die for all men? “I am the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (Jn. 10:11). “Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people” (Titus 2:14). “who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1:4). If Christ purposed to die for all men, did He not have the power to accomplish His purpose? God forbid! Did He die to make men savable or did He die to accomplish the salvation of a chosen people?
Question #3: If Christ shed His precious blood for all men, what does the work of Christ on the cross have to do with anyone’s salvation?

Answer: Everything, for Christ’s is the only way to receive forgiveness of sins, but receiving pardon by it is conditioned on faith.

Additional problems with Elmquist’s logic: He cites scriptures that say that Christ died for the elect (which is obviously true), yet none of them say that Christ died for only the elect and none else. In his disgustingly biased proof-texting frenzy, he simultaneously ignores numerous passages that testify to the fact that Christ died for all men (1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, Romans 5:6, Hebrews 2:9). He also raises the old canard about Christ only making men savable, not factoring in foreknowledge.

Do the math: men now savable by the grace of God + foreknowledge that they will believe = accomplished salvation

4) What does God say about the work of the Holy Spirit in redemption? Are sinners dead (Eph. 2:1) in need of regeneration, or just sick in need of a little reformation? “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). “The written code kills, but the Spirit gives life” (II Cor. 3:6).
Question #4: If the Holy Spirit draws the saved and the condemned alike, what does the Holy Spirit have to do with anyone’s salvation?

Answer: *SIGH* Everything, since no one can come to God otherwise. This has no bearing on the fact that some men resist the Spirit (Acts 7:51) and refuse to believe.

Additional problems with Elmquist’s logic: He makes an indirect appeal for the need to be regenerated before one believes, which is simply absurd. Grace is needed before one believes, yes, I believe that, but spiritual life comes by faith through the name of Christ.

But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. (John 20:31)

“The Truth: Salvation is of the Lord!”

Thanks…I don’t think anyone is arguing that point.

“Don’t believe a lie, it will damn your soul.”

It can also make you into a ranting, paranoid dogmatist with awful critical thinking skills and no discernment for sound doctrine.

Elmquist’s supposed Gordian Knot is easily sliced with the sword of the Spirit. The logical fallacy that he consistently employs is assuming that if some salvific operation of God (His love, His will, the death of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit) does not irresistibly produce salvation, then it can have nothing to do with salvation at all, which is rather extreme all-or-nothing reasoning. His reasoning here is akin saying, “If suicide prevention counseling ever fails to prevent a suicide, then the counseling can have nothing to do at all with preventing suicides.” Such painfully oversimplified logic and excessively dichomatic thinking is the hallmark of cults everywhere, said mentality showing itself further in pastor Elmquist’s other teachings, such as that if you believe that you were saved as an Arminian (even if you’re a Calvinist now), then you aren’t really saved at all (What is the Gospel?, para. 4).

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