First of all, this may come off as an attack on Calvinism. I don’t want to be offensive. But I find serious problems in the beliefs put forth through the mnemonic TULIP.
So please, don’t be too upset. But try to think through the ideas I’m presenting. They are different, but I will do my best to make sure they are Biblically sound (rather than only philosophically) and well presented. Call me out if they are not.
As I’m sure you will.
We’ll start at the beginning.
According to Wikipedia, this means:
people in their natural, unregenerate state do not have the ability to turn to God. Rather it is the grace and will of God through the Holy Spirit that causes men who are dead in sin to be reborn through the Word of God. This concept is summarized by the aphorism “regeneration precedes faith,” since in the Calvinist view, apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, no person would ever exercise faith.
Is the best way to start off an argument to admit a concession? I think so. In any case, I don’t have much of a problem with this idea. If nothing else, Calvin gets this part right. Maybe my agreeing has to do with where this overlaps with the official views of the Lutheran Church:
We furthermore teach that sin came into the world by the fall of the first man. By this Fall not only he himself, but also his natural offspring have lost the original knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, and thus all men are sinners already by birth, dead in sins, inclined to all evil, and subject to the wrath of God. We teach also that men are unable, through any efforts of their own or by the aid of “culture and science,” to reconcile themselves to God and thus conquer death and damnation…We reject as apostasy from the Christian religion…also the doctrine of the synergists, who indeed use the terminology of the Christian Church and say that man is justified “by faith,” “by faith alone,” but again mix human works into the article of justification by ascribing to man a co-operation with God in the kindling of faith and thus stray into papistic territory. (taken from LCMS doctrine here and here)
So there are no giant red flags that shoot up for me at the summary of total depravity. It’s true, man is depraved. To be honest, however, there has always been something a little off to me about the idea of man having no doing in realizing his own uselessness – is that really a holy act to be done only by the Spirit? If it is, I’m totally for it. But I’m not convinced that realizing you’re helpless is a righteous act. Either way, I’m not in a position today to take a confident stand any which way about it. I’ll leave total depravity alone.
Okay, this will be fun. According to the same Wikipedia page:
Election means “choice.” God’s choice from eternity, of whom he will bring to himself, is not based on foreseen virtue, merit or faith in the persons he chooses but rather is unconditionally grounded in his own sovereign decision. This does not mean that final salvation itself is unconditional; rather, it means that, in the Calvinist view, the condition upon which salvation hinges (faith) is given to those whom God has unconditionally chosen to receive it.
First of all the second statement above makes no sense to me. Instead of being a positive statement in any way, it’s saying something to the extent of: God chooses everyone, but not according to this thing we know, this other thing, or this thing, but according to things we don’t know. I believe it’s phrased “his own sovereign decision.” So what does that mean? Well, it does not mean that “salvation itself is unconditional; rather, it means that…the condition upon which salvation hinges (faith) is given to those whom god has unconditionally chosen to receive it.”
Wait a minute. God chooses certain people. They receive faith. They now have a chance for salvation. Without God making this choice they would not have been saved. So salvation is unconditional? Let’s look at this logically, shall we?
- Only those who have faith may have any chance of salvation. (This is assumed by the above passage.)
- God gives some people – whom He alone chooses, or elects – this faith.
Wouldn’t it only make sense, then, that whomever God doesn’t give faith definitely will not receive salvation? Does this strike anyone else as odd?
I’ve never been able to understand what is desirable to believers about unconditional election. See, when I believe someone is choosing a belief that has little to no grounds or evidence for believing it, I figure it either has to be because they have been misled or they willingly disregard evidence for the sake of their emotional well being. They must like it. Election of any kind has never attracted me – it seems to me a way for a weak form of predestination to be slipped into a belief system.
Rather than God willfully letting some people have the option to possibly enter into fellowship with Him (it sounds awkward, doesn’t it?) and thus leaving some without any possibility of salvation, what if it was more open? What if God “elected” everyone? What if it were possible that the God of the universe actually wanted all people to be welcomed into His company? What if (gasp!) Christ died for all? Now, am I saying that it’s impossible to damn yourself? Absolutely not. But I find it blasphemous to think that God wants only some to sit at His table – it just doesn’t match up with the Biblical picture of God.
This relates very closely to the idea of unconditional election. The idea is (Wikipedia again):
Christ’s death actually takes away the penalty of sins committed by those upon whom God has chosen to have mercy (as opposed to Christ’s death making redemption merely a possibility that people can perform). It is “limited” then, to taking away the sins of the elect. This view, unlike unlimited atonement, has a guarantee that the blood of Christ would not be poured out in vain but would actually purchase the salvation of some.
Limited atonement creates an illusionary “safe zone” wherein Christ’s death can’t possibly be in vain and instead is only actually effective to those who take advantage of the gift of salvation. In this way, there can never really be any sadness over those lost to sin and eternal separation from God, since Christ didn’t really die for them in the first place…see where this thinking gets dangerous?
It puts the redeeming power of Christ in a box. Sure, it’s only a theory concerning the reality of actuated sin, but it poses a real threat to the thinking of Christians who consider themselves to be “one of the elite” for whom Christ really died for. I also feel that this view may be trying to downplay the severity of Christ’s death a bit – if no part of His suffering was ever wasted, or ever neglected, wouldn’t it be a lot less wretched? Not that that’s a bad thing, but the idea that that may be where it comes from makes me wonder if it isn’t more of an emotional appeal than anything else.
After reading about the last two ideas, adding this one makes it very scary to me:
The saving grace of God is not resistible. Those who obtain salvation do so because of the relentlessness of God’s mercy. Individuals yield to grace, not finally because God found their consciences more tender or their faith more tenacious than other people. Rather, willingness, and any ability to do God’s will, are evidence of God’s faithfulness to save people from the power and the penalty of sin.
One Biblical event I’ve heard as support for this particular idea is the one that tells of Paul and his experience with Christ on the road to Damascus. I’ve been told the reason for Paul’s repentance and turn-around is due to the irresistible grace of God. But, if that’s the case, then why wouldn’t God’s grace have been irresistible to, I don’t know, Pharaoh? Or the Pharisees? Or the thousands who reject God even today?
I say these things not only in response to the notion of irresistible grace (though the argument could very easily be made with this alone) but with limited atonement and unconditional election in mind. To review, we now have a God who:
- Chooses those who may have the chance of receiving God’s salvation.
- Is irresistible and, therefore, brings to Himself all of those whom He chooses to be graceful towards.
- Sent his son to die only for those which are, in the end, saved.
See how these ideas all work together? Now God chooses those whom He wishes (logically not choosing everyone else) and they are irresistibly drawn toward Him. No one else has a chance – in fact, Christ’s death doesn’t even extend to anyone God doesn’t choose.
Perseverance of the Saints
Also called the “Preservation of the Saints.” According to this doctrine, those whom God has called into communion with himself through Christ, will continue in faith and will increase in faith and other gifts, until the end. Those who apparently fall away, either never had true faith to begin with or else will return. ((This is slightly different from the “once saved, always saved” view prevalent in some evangelical churches: in that doctrine, despite apostasy or unrepentant and habitual sin, the individual is truly saved if they had truly accepted Christ in the past; in traditional Calvinist teaching, apostasy by such a person may be proving that they are not saved at all, and never were.))
If limited atonement was a safety net for Christ then perseverance of the saints is a safety net for the worried Christian. Just to put the above into a simple 1-2 list (I’m really into lists today), there are two possibilities concerning Christians who “fall away”:
- They never had faith.
- They will return to the faith.
Oddly enough, I don’t know that I have as much of a problem with the above summary as I may have first thought I did. It occured to me this way when I tried to think of a better alternative to viewing those who fall away. While I don’t enjoy the cut and dry, simplistic view of faith presented in 1 and 2 I can’t think of a better way to go right now.
Well there it is. I know it’s not a perfect projection of all of my thoughts, but it’s something, and it’s now. I don’t really feel like tearing apart my own writing right now, so I’ll leave it at that. I’m sure there are those out there who would have more fun tearing apart my stuff that I would – and I invite it. Please, enjoy.