The Calvinist Non-Answer Highlighted: What if my Children are Not Elect?

(See Updated material at bottom)

Someone named Tim Kimberley wrote a post at Credo House asking, “What if my Children are not Elect?”   The post is a response to an inquirer who is struggling with the horrific implications of Calvinist determinism with regards to the predetermined destiny of his or her children.  Kimberley offers an answer, but it evades the heart of the problem.  In the comments we see the same thing: Calvinist after Calvinist evading the heart of the problem and side stepping numerous straightforward questions being asked by those who are not convinced by the claims of Calvinism.  Just reading the comments and the responses by Calvinists is really instructive and highlights what an impossible problem this creates for them in counseling parents who are struggling with such questions.  The following comment  highlights this problem well:

An honest question deserves a straightforward answer.

First, Kimberly’s “step back” is not only irrelevant but also deflects from the real issue, which the question evokes, and is misleading.

Although it is true that both Calvinist and Arminians agree that “each individual must come to Jesus on their own”, Kimberly fails to mention the Calvinist view portrays the individual as responding due solely to the divine predetermination regarding how this or that particular person will respond to the Gospel; that is, in reality, no response – positive or negative – is ultimately an act of one’s own free will but God’s predetermined act to effect the desired response from each individual based on nothing but God’s unrevealed will. This view is in stark contrast to Arminian soteriology and renders the similarity as Kimberly suggests as merely superficial.

Second, when “getting back to the issue at hand”, there remains an (unconscious? conscious?) attempt to evade the real answer which the inquirer seeks.

The question is not, “What if my kids do not love Jesus?” but “What if my kids aren’t elect?” There is a big difference between the two questions and, as such, his answer does not at all deal directly to the query.

The more accurate answer, logically following Calvinist teaching, is simply: if your child is not elect, there is nothing at all you can do about it. The only comfort that one may afford is that at present you do not know whether or not your child is elect. Praying will not change God’s mind if your child is not elect. As a Calvinist, all that seems left to do is cross your fingers and hope for the best; and, yes, the idea that one’s child is not of the elect should cause a parent to be sick and have “a hard time” – a very hard time – seeing it as conducive to God’s glory.

For more on this thorny problem for Calvinism, see my post: Does Erwin Lutzer Offer False Hope to Calvinist Parents? 

Update: 

I got into a little back and forth with some Calvinists in the comments thread of Kimberley’s post. I posted as “arminianperspectives” rather than “kangaroodort”. Unfortunately, it looks like they decided to shut down comments before I could respond further to these Calvinists or answer their questions. So I will leave my responses here (click on the comments section of this post to see my responses). If you want to follow that discussion, it starts here: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2013/10/what-if-my-children-are-not-elect/#comment-107855

It isn’t directly related to the content of the post, but my responses were for the purpose of clearing up confusion and misrepresentations of what Arminians believe (though I did try to get clarification on an “answer” that one of them gave here: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2013/10/what-if-my-children-are-not-elect/#comment-107860). It progressed from there.

However, the writer of the comment I highlighted here responded further, keeping the focus on the topic at hand.  He wrote:

I’m disappointed that this conversation continues wide of the mark of the specific point that the question addresses. Here’s a blog that addresses the specific issue with, from my perspective, greater relevancy than either Kimerly’s reponse or everyone’s comments thus far. I would ask the Calvinist to please take time (it is not long at all) to read it:

http://classicalarminian.blogspot.com/2013/10/what-if-my-children-are-not-elect-love.html

Unfortunately, his comment was essentially met with snide remarks from these two Calvinists and another disturbing non-answer at the bottom of  the thread,

Truth isn’t always comforting and, in this case, it definitely is not. Again unbelievers are without hope, without God. Parents can only surrender their children to the sovereignty of God and accept that whatever He has chosen to do with those children is right and glorifies Him – to do anything less is idolatry because it is putting those children ahead of God. (http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2013/10/what-if-my-children-are-not-elect/#comment-108016)

Finally “Submitting” to Calvinism

I highly recommend this  article by Chris Chapman.  It seems especially relevant in light of my recent responses to C Michael Patton on his “The Irrationality of Calvinism” post.  While portions of Chapman’s post may seem offensive to some, it still illustrates a compelling narrative for why many end up turning to Calvinism.  I have often gotten the same vibe from just having discussions with Calvinists, especially based on their personal descriptions of coming to Calvinism.  I wonder if there are  any former Calvinists out there who can attest to this narrative as rather accurately reflecting their own process in coming to Calvinism?

How Can God’s Glory be “Diminished” in Calvinism?

Calvinist John Mac Arthur in his article, Why Every Calvinist Should be a PreMillennialist, writes: 

It is impossible to fully understand biblical teaching about the end times apart from understanding the future of Israel, the future of ethnic Jews in God’s plan. And if you don’t get Israel right, then your eschatology is confused and you cannot be blessed and you cannot give God appropriate glory and you cannot have a full hope for what lies ahead so that His glory is diminished, your joy and blessing are diminished as well (Bold emphasis mine).

I was under the impression that in Calvinism everything brings God glory.  He irresistibly controls all things in accordance with His secret eternal decree for the ultimate purpose of maximizing His own glory.  Even His decree to reprobate most of humanity is for the sake of bringing Himself maximum glory.  The sins He causes people to commit in accordance with His secret eternal decree are for His glory.  Everything is caused by Him in order to bring Him ultimate glory.  How then can someone diminish His glory if the presuppositions of Calvinism are true?  And how would MacArthur explain the fact that the one who supposedly diminishes God’s glory did so because God caused him or her to do so in accordance with an irresistible and unchangeable secret eternal decree?

So God causes some people to diminish His glory and this all for the sake of bringing Himself more glory?  Maybe it is something like how God irresistibly creates the pots for the purpose of talking back to the Potter and causes the “pots” to talk back to the Potter in Rom. 9:19, 20, and then rebukes them for talking back to the Potter.  But if diminishing God’s glory actually brings Him more glory, then why is MacArthur concerned that people will diminish God’s glory?  Wouldn’t he then be diminishing God’s glory by getting those who are diminishing God’s glory for the ultimate glory of God to stop diminishing God’s glory for the ultimate glory of God?  But then MacArthur’s act of diminishing God’s glory by stopping people from diminishing God’s glory for the ultimate glory of God would also bring ultimate glory to God anyway.  This stuff is really confusing.  Perhaps I have just misunderstood Calvinism.  Feel free to set me straight in the comments section if that is the case.

I actually agree with MacArthur that we can diminish God’s glory.  I think the Bible is clear on that point.  I just don’t see how one can hold to such a truth in light of the greater underlying presuppositions of Calvinism.  It is for this reason that I find Calvinism to be an impossible system to live out practically or even describe in normal language.  I am constantly reading statements like this by Calvinists that simply do not seem intelligible in light of Calvinist presuppositions.  Yet Calvinists continue to speak as they do because they actually live in a world that cannot comport with Calvinistic philosophy.  Maybe I am wrong or misunderstanding, but that is how I see it.  And if Calvinism is right and I am wrong then all of this (including my ignorance and misunderstanding of Calvinism) is just for the glory of God anyway in perfect accordance with an irresistible secret eternal decree.  With that in mind, I will try not to sweat it too much.

Sanctification by Works?

I have mentioned this in posts and comment threads in the past, but thought I would bring it up in its own post and get some thoughts on it. 

Many Calvinists insist that if there is a synergsitic element in man’s initial salvation (i.e. conversion) then it amounts to salvation by “works”.  Synergism in coversion apparently equals conversion by works.  But what about sanctification?  Many Calvinists say sanctification is synergistic.  Well, doesn’t that mean that sanctification is by works?  Why is synergistic conversion “by works” but synergistic sanctification is not?   I have yet to hear a solid Calvinist response to this question.  Maybe today will be my lucky day.

Does the Gospel According to Calvinism Offer Salvation to Anyone At All?

Dr. Picirilli thinks not.  After making the point that Calvinists believe that those reprobates who hear the gospel cannot truly respond to the offer of salvation, he further observes that,

Furthermore, in the Calvinistic system, the gospel is not really offering salvation to any, since neither the elect nor the non-elect can accept the offer or meet its conditions.  In fact, the “conditions” are not really conditions in the Calvinist system.  They are part of the “package” of salvation benefits given to the elect by virtue of the death of Christ for them.

Without realizing it, the Calvinist is finally saying that repentance and faith (as the gift of God in the salvation “package”) are being offered to all who will repent and believe, when in fact none can do so.  This reduces to pure tautology and is no offer at all. (Grace, Faith, Free Will, pp. 117, 118, emphasis his)

What do you think?  Is this a valid point?  If faith and repentance are not conditions met for the receiving of salvation, but rather issue irresistibly from a primary aspect of salvation (regeneration), then it would seem to follow that the gospel offer of salvation is not a genuine offer for anyone.  Does that make sense?  Picirilli continues,

If not all who hear can respond to the gospel, as the Calvinist insists, then only those given repentance and faith can do so.  In consequence, no person who hears the gospel can do so with any confidence that he can respond.  Conversely, all who hear and are not given the gift may conclude that the offer is not intended for them and therefore not rejected by them.  What a person cannot receive, he cannot really reject.  Nor can he be rightly blamed for rejection (although he might well be blamed for being in the condition that brought on his inability). (ibid. 118 emphasis his)

Addressing Dominic’s Response to the Purpose of Regeneration in Calvinism

Below is an answer offered by “Dominic” to my post on the purpose of regeneration in the Calvinist scheme, with my response to his answer interspersed.  He also touches on my post concerning the Arminian ordo.  I was originally going to leave my response in his combox, but since it became very long, and since it deals with a primary Calvinist proof text for the priority of regeneration, I decided to make a post out of it instead.  You can read his response at his site here.  His post is blocked in yellow quotes and my response appears in between.

Ben at Arminian Perspectives has recently posted a brief article asking, ‘What Purpose Does Regeneration Serve in Calvinism?’ Briefly put, since “God can (and does) turn the will wherever he wants […] why must God regenerate a sinner in order to create faith in him? Why can’t God just control the will from unbelief to belief without regard to regeneration?” I think that’s a fair, reasonable question on the surface of it, Ben, so let me respond as a Calvinist.

The answer to your question isn’t so difficult if you consider what faith is. Faith is not merely an abstract awareness of some or other facts about God and Christ. It is an intimate knowledge about these things, communicated directly by the Spirit. That is Paul’s main point in 1 Corinthians 2, where he ends with that remarkable statement, “But we have the mind of Christ” (v 16b).

Faith, as pertains to receiving the truth of the gospel and the gift of salvation, is simple trust in the work of Christ, and does not require intimate knowledge of all of the “things of God” (Rom. 4:4, 5)

What does that mean? Why is it that we have-that we need-the mind of Christ? Because “who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?” (v 11) And what is it that we know? “A secret and hidden wisdom of God” (v 7) which “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined” (v 9). If the heart of man has not imagined these things, then how can we know about them? Because “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (v 10). We have knowledge of them precisely because we have “the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.”

Note “that we might understand…”  See below for more on that.

This is the mind of Christ; and this is why the natural person, the person who has not received the Spirit of God, “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God”-why they are “folly” to him, and why “he is not able to understand them”: because “they are spiritually discerned” (v 14). If one does not have the Spirit, one cannot understand the things of God, because these things require direct communication by the Spirit to the believer. They are things of God’s own mind, which (whether by his decree or by their very nature) cannot be grasped by anyone not availed of that mind. Thus we must be indwelled by the Spirit, having “the mind of Christ”, in order to understand the spiritual truths which comprise Christianity. Without the mind of Christ, according to Paul, faith is impossible.

I will address Dominic’s understanding of 1 Cor. 2 below.

Now, certainly God may incline a spiritually dead person to believe certain Christian propositions for a time-but since faith entails a knowledge which can only be communicated by the indwelling Spirit, and can only be understood by someone with that Spirit, it remains that if a person believes Christian propositions like “Christ died for the sins of the world”, yet does not have the Spirit of Christ, then he does not have faith.

I believe this is false as explained below and according to the simple definition of faith as it pertains to receiving the gospel cited above in Rom. 4.  Paul makes this clear again in 1 Cor. 2:1-5, where he reminds them that the message he preached was the simple message of “Jesus Christ, and him crucified”.  He moves from this simple declaration received by faith (vs. 4) to speaking of “a message of wisdom among the mature”.  More on that below.  So Dominic admits that God could turn the will to believe “certain Christian propositions for a time” but does not include the simple gospel message in those “propositions”.

Since faith, by definition, requires the indwelling of the Spirit, not even God can direct a man to faith without first giving him that Spirit. He can incline an unregenerate heart to believe the propositions which are also believed in faith, certainly-but that belief does not constitute faith.

I admit to being confused by this and I certainly disagree with his “definition” of faith (i.e. the simple faith that receives Christ) as requiring the indwelling Spirit.  It seems that he is saying that God can turn the will to belief but that belief doesn’t constitute faith.  And I am still left to wonder what these “propositions” entail.

It’s merely an imitation of faith, having no real substance; no real apprehension.

Oh!  So God can turn the heart to a false faith but not a real faith.

It cannot be any more than what that unregenerate heart can muster from its own depths-and there is nothing good, nothing like the intimate knowledge of God required for salvation, down there.

If the unregenerate can muster it on their own, then why the need for God to turn the will towards this false faith?  How is false faith any different than unbelief?  And is he suggesting that one needs to be “good” before he can believe?  So the message of salvation is not for sinners but for those that God has made good enough to receive it by faith?  Only the good can receive Christ by faith?

It really goes without saying that this renders Arminianism untenable. In your previous post, ‘The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study’, you listed prevenient grace as the only item prior to faith. In your view, prevenient grace is required for totally depraved man to be able to libertarianly choose to have faith-but onlyprevenient grace. Then, following logically on from that faith, you would say that the person is then joined with Christ, justified, and only then regenerated. But according to 1 Corinthians 2, prevenient grace would have to entail nothing less than the full indwelling of the Spirit of God in order to make faith possible. Nothing less than that suffices to convince the “natural man” of spiritual truths. Nothing less than the mind of Christ is needed for a person to understand Christianity so as to have faith at all.

This is simply false based on a misunderstanding of 1 Cor. 2 (which seems to be the source of all of Dominic’s confusion on the issue).  Paul is not speaking of understanding the gospel and accepting it (since they are infants in Christ), but the deeper revelations of the Spirit that can be received only by the mature (vss. 6, 7; cf. “solid food” of 3:2).  Paul is addressing the Corinthians as immature Christians who cannot receive the deep things of God because they are still infants in Christ.  They are not without the Spirit in that they do not have the Spirit dwelling in them.  Rather, they are not yielding to the Spirit.  They are letting their carnal passions get the best of them so that they cannot move forward to spiritual maturity.

He is comparing the world’s lack of understanding with their own lack of spiritual discernment (vs. 14) since they are acting “worldly”.  Basically, he is telling them that they are acting like those who do not have the Spirit since they refuse to yield to the Spirit in  moving on to maturity and a stronger knowledge of God, though they do in fact have the Spirit, being infants in Christ.  It is a “message of wisdom among the mature” that they cannot receive due to their spiritual immaturity.  Paul is not saying that those without the indwelling Spirit cannot receive the truth of the gospel (see my comments above concerning 1 Cor. 2:1-5).  If the truth of the gospel were the subject then Paul would be saying that only mature Christians could receive the truth of the gospel (vs. 6), which is plainly absurd.

Their jealousy and quarreling proves that they are not mature enough to receive “the message of wisdom among the mature” (2:6, cf. 3:3, 4).  It proves that they are not ready for solid food (“the message of wisdom” that Paul wants to share with them) since they are still “worldly”.  But Paul still acknowledges that they are babes in Christ, though worldly, which makes Dominic’s interpretation impossible.  It is the difference between spiritual (mature) Christians and unspiritual (immature) Christians (2:14, 15).  It is the difference between those with spiritual discernment (mature) and those without it (immature).

The spiritual man (in this context) is the believer who does not allow his fleshly passions to prevent him from maturing in Christ and gaining wisdom that is “spiritually discerned”.  The unspiritual man is the believer who has received the gospel but has allowed his fleshy passions (e.g. jealousy and quarreling) to prevent him from gaining wisdom that is “spiritually discerned”.  While he has the Spirit, he is not allowing the Spirit to control his mind that he “might understand the things freely given us by God.”

Compare what Paul says in 1 Cor. 2 with Eph. 1: 15-17,

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  I keep asking that the God of the Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (emphasis mine)

So Paul envisions believers who can be without the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation.”  Does this mean that they do not have the Spirit dwelling within them?  Of course not.  Paul is speaking of a deeper level of spiritual wisdom.  This deeper level is what the Corinthians could not attain due to their yielding to worldly passions (see also Phil. 1:9-10; Col. 1:9).  Rather, they had allowed their favoritism, jealousy, and quarreling to render them “ineffective” and “unproductive” in the “knowledge of …Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8)

The interpretation Dominic suggests also runs contrary to what Paul says in Galatians 3:3, 5,

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard? (emphasis mine)

Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?“(emphasis mine)

Paul is plainly telling the Galatians that the Holy Spirit is received by faith (also see Gal. 3:14).  So it is really the Calvinist that must explain how one can be regenerated prior to receiving the Holy Spirit, and Dominic’s statement that, “Since faith, by definition, requires the indwelling of the Spirit, not even God can direct a man to faith without first givinghim that Spirit” is seen to be at odds with Paul, who says that the Spirit is received by faith.  And regarding the supposed need for the indwelling mind of Christ to believe, I wonder what Dominic makes of the fact that Paul tells the Ephesians that Christ dwells in their hearts “through faith”? (Eph. 3:16, 17)

As John puts it, a man must be reborn of the Spirit before he can “see” the kingdom of God (John 3:3,8).

But this being the case, it is evident that once a man has the mind of Christ, he will be convinced of and understand the truths of Christianity (not in a flash, of course; not all at once-but inevitably). Once a man is reborn of the Spirit, he willsee the kingdom of God. So if the Arminian wishes to go so far as to say that prevenient grace does indeed entail the indwelling of the Spirit in some sense, then he goes too far because either prevenient grace is not given to everyone (in which case, it’s hard to see the distinction between Arminianism and Calvinism here); or everyone is a Christian and is saved (which is plainly false on both scriptural and merely empirical grounds).

For a treatment of John 3:3 and why I find that it actually supports the Arminian contention that faith precedes regeneration, see here.

Furthermore, the question remains: what, in your ordo salutus, is regeneration, if prevenient grace is a sufficient condition of saving faith?

Regeneration is the beginning of new life in Christ.  It is the commencement of eternal life.  It is the moment one becomes a child of God (born of God).

The only theological system which accommodates Paul’s teachings regarding the nature and requirements of spiritual belief is Calvinism. Those teachings are accurately reflected in the monogerstic view which Calvinism takes of regeneration, wherein God must sovereingly work by giving his Spirit to those whom he has elected to salvation. He knows who will believe because he knows to whom he will give his Spirit. By contrast, the Arminian scheme renders 1 Corinthians 2 incoherent, since God’s knowledge of whom he will save is based on those people’s own choosing-yet they cannot choose without God first having given them his Spirit.

Actually, the Arminian view understands 1 Cor. 2 in its proper context, dealing with spiritual discernment and maturity in believers, rather than the subject of receiving the gospel in simple faith.  And it needs to be noted again that Dominic’s view of 1 Cor. 2 would render Galatians 3:3, 5, and 14  incoherent.

While I disagree with Dominic, I appreciate his criticism of the Arminian ordo from his own perspective and the gracious tone by which he leveled that criticism.  I would be interested to hear his take on what I described in my post as theologically absurd features of the Calvinist ordo with regards to the priority of regeneration.

Go to the follow-up post: “Responding to Dominic’s Second Rebuttal on Regeneration Preceding Faith”

What Purpose Does Regeneration Serve in Calvinism?

Calvinists make a big deal out of the need for regeneration before one can believe.  For them this is the primary function of regeneration.  Regeneration irresistibly causes a faith response, and without this regeneration, faith would be impossible.  I have explained in numerous posts why I disagree with this Calvinist ordo salutis, but I am wondering why, if God controls the will, that regeneration would even be needed before one could turn to God in faith?

Calvinists like to cite Prov. 21:1,  “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will”, as a proof text for God’s exhaustive control over the human will.  God can (and does) turn the will wherever he wants, according to the Calvinist use of this passage.  So why must God regenerate a sinner in order to create faith in him?  Why can’t God just control the will from unbelief to belief without regard to regeneration?  And isn’t God controlling the will to unbelief prior to regeneration?  If not, does this mean that God is not “sovereign” over unbelief according to the Calvinist accounting of sovereignty?

I am not suggesting that I have found a fatal flaw in Calvinism.  I am just expressing confusion.  I welcome any Calvinists to explain this to me.