Friday, September 16, 2011

Limited Understanding

We move from one of the most biblically substantiated points of Calvinism to the least.

Limited atonement is the idea that salvation is not for all people, but only for those whom God has chosen.  This makes sense with the logic of Cavinism.  If all salvation is based on God's sovereignty,  and it is effected by God's choice, then it is only logical that not all have the opportunity of salvation, but only those who are chosen originally.

But this idea is opposed by the biblical text.  The second most quoted Bible passage in the world (the Lord' Prayer is first) clearly teach this: "For God so loved THE WORLD that He gave his only begotten Son that WHOSOEVER believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16, in case you didn't know).

Titus 2:11 says that God's grace and salvation is for all humanity.

Romans 5:18 says that all men are condemned, but that all men could be justified.

There are many passages like these, which confirm that while all humanity will not be saved, yet all humanity at least has the opportunity for salvation.  Jesus didn't die for a few select people, but for all humanity.  This is how Jesus is a new Adam, creating a doorway for all humanity to participate in a new life.

So how could formal Calvinism get something so wrong?  Especially because Calvin was so biblically oriented?  Because the logic of theology is so easy to be misled.

God is famously quoted as saying, "My ways are not your ways, nor are my thoughts your thoughts."  This doesn't mean that God's plans for humanity can't be tracked or considered by human beings.  Rather, it means that we have to rely carefully on God in order to understand God's thoughts.  The problem with theology comes when we are considering our own thoughts about God instead of God's thoughts about His plans.

Frankly, we know nothing about God.  We don't know God's plans.  We don't know how God works.  God's work is logical and it makes sense, but we have to allow God to tell us how He works and stop trying to figure it out ourselves.

Sure, it's fun to try to understand God's thoughts.  Cool speculation is fine.  But the reality of God is only to be supported by the word of God only.  The rest of it is in the realm of fiction.  The Real of reality is based only on what God says, not on our speculations.

God save us from normalizing our speculations.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Best Democracy: Unconditional Election

When I was in Bible school there was a fellow student of mine who was a serious Calvinist, a five-point dogmatician.  One day he went out to pass out some tracts, got into a conversation with an unbeliever who rejected his ideas of Christianity, and possibly his attitude.  He came back, dismissing the whole argument by saying, "It doesn't matter.  He simply wasn't chosen."  I neglected to point out my friend's arrogance, putting his attempt of evangelism in the place of God's choice.

Of the five points of Calvinism, I think that this is the one that is most "secure" biblically.  This is the basic idea that every individual who is "saved" is chosen from before the foundations of the world, and this by the sovereign choice of God, without any act of a person being taken into account in that choosing.

Here are some passages about God's choice:

We should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. (2Thessalonians 2:13)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen  according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood.
 (1Peter 1:1-2)

He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. (Ephesians 1:4)

There are a number besides, but we get the idea.

Then there are a couple passages about how God's choice doesn't have anything to do with our actions:

 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
 (Ephesians 2:8-10)

There was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, "The older will serve the younger." Just as it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."  What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.  For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth."  So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
 (Romans 9:10-18)

So there are a number of passages that speak of God choosing his people.  And we have a couple Pauline passages that seem to indicate that God chooses according to His own standard, and no one can gainsay Him for his choice.

When we add this Calvinist foundation to Total Depravity (spoken of in the previous post), it logically adds to the idea that God's plan of salvation is pretty arbitrary.  Everyone is equally evil and God just picks some folks, by who-knows-what standard.  This doesn't of course mean that God's standard IS arbitrary, but simply that we don't know it.  Strict Calvinists, then, spend their time determining what the indication is that one is saved, rather than spending an overt amount of effort in getting people saved.

However, I have a couple caveats to the Calvinist interpretation of these passages:

First of all, these passages probably do not speak of individuals, but of nations or peoples.  Jesus didn't come to die for me or for you.  He came to die to create the nation of the Kingdom of God.  And it is the plan of salvation, the love of Jesus, and the acceptance of Jesus' people that is determined before the foundation of the world.  We have no indication in Scripture that God spent time before the foundation of the world saying, "Hmmm, Mary will be born in 1999, she's history.  Josh will be born on the same day, yeah, he's in."  Instead, before the foundation of the world God established a plan, which included Jesus and the kingdom of God, but not necessarily specifically each individual who gets in that kingdom.  Look at these passages:

The King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (Matthew 25:34)

Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)

Here we know that the kingdom was prepared for the inheritors of the kingdom from before the foundation of the world.  Also we have indication that the Father loved Jesus before the foundation of the world, but it sounds as if Jesus is asking a favor to allow certain people in.  If they were already chosen, it seems pointless to ask.

When Paul brings up the point of Jacob and Esau, he is not speaking of individuals, but of nations.  This makes sense within Paul's general arguments about the nation of Israel and the nation of Jesus.  Paul is not saying that God is arbitrary, but that God's mercy extends to all and excludes none.  It may look like God is rejecting Israel for not (his point in chapter 9), but it is only to show mercy on them in the long run (his point in chapter 11).

The main problem I have with the use of Calvinism is that it is often used to speak of God's judgment, not God's mercy.  We all want to know who God is excluding.  But that's not really up to us to know, is it?  If God wants to save some Muslims and Buddhists and agnostics and even some Mennonites, that's up to Him.  Jesus makes that same point in the parable of the day-workers (Matthew 20:1-16).  If God wants to be generous and allow in the kingdom some people that we think don't deserve to go in, that's none of our business is it?

If we take the idea of unconditional election to recognize that there will be many people who will be pleasantly surprised to be included (Matt. 25:37ff), then all is good, isn't it?  God's choice truly is a surprise-- but it will more frequently be a surprise at His mercy instead of his judgment.