Thursday, March 6, 2008

Why I Am Not a Calvinist (Part 3)

I really disprove of the title of this post. It offends its author. In my mind saying I am not a Calvinist is almost like saying I do not believe in the biblical gospel. Lest I be misunderstood, I am not saying that Calvinism=the gospel. It does not. But soteriologically speaking I am a Calvinist through and through, therefore to me the issue is very near to the gospel. It pains me to think that many people read the title of this and I get lumped in with those I disagree with theologically. But I deserve the association. I am exploring in this series the truth that even though in my soteriology I may be Reformed, in my practice I am not certain I deserve such a title. Today we will discuss the second petal of the TULIP: Unconditional Election.

In the Westminster Confession (Chapter 3, Sections 3-7) it states:
By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.

These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it can not be either increased or diminished.

Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.

As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.

In other words before the foundation of the world God has chosen, for His good pleasure, those whom He would redeem and those He would not. It is an unchangeable decree. It is not based on His foreknowledge. It is not conditional. It's basis is in the free sovereign pleasure of the Almighty.

This is a very difficult doctrine to swallow. No doubt some of my readers will balk at such arbitrary choosing on the part of God. Yet, I must repeat that I will not discuss the merit or demerit of such a position. I do affirm what is stated here. My concern in this post is not to discuss whether this is true or not. My concern is to determine whether or not the fruits of believing this doctrine are evident in my life. Honestly some are. I am probably exaggerating my faults in some areas and diminishing my faults in others. The truth is, I am the biggest sinner I know. Growth in these areas will only come by the grace of God.

Those that believe in unconditional election ought to be marked by certain fruits. As J.I. Packer helps us see in his Concise Theology that this doctrine is primarily pastoral. As he says, "in Scripture it is a pastoral doctrine, brought in to help Christians see how great is the grace that saves them, and to move them to humility, confidence, joy, praise, faithfulness, and holiness in response". (149-150) If the biblical doctrine of unconditional election has really penetrated my soul, and if Packer is correct, then I ought to be marked by humility, confidence, joy, praise, faithfulness, and holiness. I ought to be consistently astonished by the grace of God in my life. Am I? Do I REALLY believe this doctrine?
  • This doctrine should also have a bearing on the way that I deal with believers that disagree with this doctrine. If I really believe that God dispenses salvation freely. Is it really right for me to believe that I am a Calvinist because I'm "smart and believe the Bible"? Is it possible that my interaction with Arminians (and those that are somewhere in-between) ought to be marked by humility instead of spiritual elitism? Far too often, I'm right and they are wrong. I can be way too militant in my Calvinism. Therefore, I probably ought to shut my mouth and quit debasing such a doctrine with actions unfitting to its assertions.
  • Do I believe this doctrine when I preach? Do I have a joy in my heart and a confidence that God WILL draw out His elect? Do I believe that one of those "means thereunto" that God has chosen to draw people is the preaching of His glorious Word? If this doctrine is true and it is the "due season" which the Spirit will draw then they WILL come. Ought I not to have confidence in prayer and preaching? Yet sometimes my heart is in such a melancholy state that I must not truly believe this doctrine.
  • A person that believes this doctrine ought to live a life that reflects continual astonishment at the grace of God. I ought to be overwhelmed that He chose me, for no reason other than His good pleasure. I ought to remember that He could have just as easily passed me over, and been fully justice. Yet, I secretly live my life as if I deserve mercy and as if God made a really good choice. Oh, what disgusting pride. A believer in this doctrine ought to never have pride but only a trembling joy. I have pride.
  • If I really understood this doctrine then sin would not look good. I would be so enamored by the grace of God that picked me out of hell that I would not desire to "present my members again to unrighteousness". Yet, how often do I forget the amazing grace of God?
  • One that is a recipient of such grace, and one that truly believes and understands such grace, ought to be gracious himself. I am not so certain that I am. If I really understand that grace is undeserved then I would stop giving "grace" only to those that "deserve" it. I would be seeking out sinners instead of avoiding them. I do not truly understand grace.

Here is my simple assertion. Calvinists ought to be the most humble, gracious, irenic, confident, joyous, and holy people. Calvinists ought to have speech that is seasoned with the salt of grace and praise should consistently be pouring forth from our lips. Yet what are Calvinists most known by? Our pride, our passion for truth at the expense of people, and our lack of all those graces just mentioned. I am no exception. So, until I begin to more consistently model those graces, maybe I ought not to call myself a Calvinist.

Dear God make me in attitude what I claim to be in doctrine!


  1. hey Mikey! I pray that God continues to do amazing things through your ministry and that He is glorified through your zealous passion to make Him known! You could swallow me whole on a discussion about this particular topic, your extensive knowledge base and manner in which you learn and teach blow me away, I wish I had a fraction of your retention! All that to say, this is probably, for me, one of the biggest pieces of Calvanism to swallow, so as I pray for you and Nikki and Isaiah, pray for me that His truth in these matters be made clear in such a way that a baby might grasp and understand it. Love ya buddy!!!

  2. Thanks for the kind words Brian. They are humbling and encouraging. As far as this being the biggest piece to swallow...I think I'd have to agree. In my journey of embracing the doctrines of grace this was the beginning of the big fat piece of steak. I found once I peppered my steak with some total depravity..and really understood that...then this became not as hard to swallow--in fact it became quite precious. But it still can sometimes go down the wrong pipe. For me Irresitible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints was not hard to swallow...but after I began choking down the piece of steak I realized that there are some pretty tough pieces of fat surrounding Limited Atonement. For me that was the hardest to swallow. Even though the initial shock of Unconditional Election was pretty horrific...I have now found that Limited Atonement is the most difficult. (Probably because it is the least easy to defend biblically--in my opinion). Anywho...I'm doing rambling...thanks for the prayers and for the prayer request. I will pray that the Lord might expand not only our ability to grasp knowledge but also our ability to enjoy that which we do grasp. May He be glorified.

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  4. Something to "chew on" Mike, The whole TULIP falls to pieces if you remove a single letter. As you meditate on each, how they hold together becomes clearer, and they become one whole blessed truth, as opposed to a mere "five points".



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