John MacArthur says that the book contains the names of all “those chosen for salvation.” As a Calvinist, this means that God unconditionally elected them to salvation, and they will receive the internal efficacious call, irresistible grace, resulting in regeneration followed by an inevitable free choice to believe. Immediately following these words he says, “Unbelievers, those whose names are not recorded in the book of life, will ‘perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved’ (2 Thessalonians 2:10). Scripture also teaches that the faithless will be judged because they ‘did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness’ (2 Thessalonians 2:12). While the eternally elect are saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 5:24; Acts 13:39; 16:31; Romans 3:22–30; 4:5; 10:9–10; Galatians 3:22-26; Ephesians 2:8–9), the nonelect are lost because they refuse to believe the gospel (John 3:36; Romans 1:18-32; 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:8–9; 1 Peter 2:8; 4:17). Unbelief and rejection always indicate those persons whose names were not written … in the book of life.”[i]
As a disenchanted Calvinist, I would say the same thing about these Scriptures as MacArthur did, but the truth of Calvinism transmogrifies these statements and what they imply. The truth of Calvinism is those not in the book cannot “receive the love of the truth so as to be saved”; the faithless did not believe because they cannot believe. What’s more, the eternally elect do not receive salvation through faith—faith as the first part of salvation or condition of salvation—because they actually receive salvation through unconditional election that is executed by forced regeneration and is followed by an inescapable free act of faith. Finally the non-elect are not lost because they merely refuse to believe the gospel—clearly implying that they could have believed—but rather they refuse the gospel because God did not choose to elect them but rather leave them to do what they could only do, and that is to refuse. This is a disquieting reality.
Calvinism is not devoid of passion for seeing the lost come to Christ. Nevertheless, if logic prevails, it is only a vertical passion. That is to say, it is a passion to carry out the mandate of God, to be used by God to gather His elect. It cannot be a Holy Spirit led horizontal passion, which is a burden, love and hurt for all of the lost of the world, or even each particular individual, to come to know Christ. For the God of Calvinism does not even have such passion. A consistent Calvinist’s passion is not actually toward the individual but always toward God, which some Calvinists would revel in as vindicating Calvinism. However, that is only true if the Scripture supports such, and I do not think it does. Further, if Calvinism is true, unless the Calvinist knows that God has truly drawn him to one of His elect—which seems impossible to objectively know—the Calvinist needs to refuse to give in to horizontal passion because it can only be mere human sentiment or satanic influence, both of which would actually be contrary to God’s passion.
Calvinism’s passion cannot logically, being consistent with Calvinism, be toward the lost in the same way as the simple reading of the Scripture conveys God’s, Christ’s, Paul’s or others’ passion toward all, each person, the lost of the world. If a Calvinist is so disposed, it is an inconsistency with Calvinism rather than a corollary of Calvinism. This is a disquieting reality. As a Calvinist, I would have denied—double-talked my way out of—the truthfulness of this conclusion, but as a disenchanted Calvinist, its undeniableness is indubitable.
What about straw men? Piper says, “this represents God’s free and unconditional election before we are ever born or have done anything to merit God’s blessing.”[ii] Although, I am not sure whether Piper is including the exercise of faith as meritorious, it is common for Calvinists to accuse anyone who believes God conditioned the reception of salvation upon faith as adding works. This caricature by Calvinists is actually a straw man and unbiblical. The Scripture is clear that the offer of salvation is unconditional, but the condition for receiving it is grace-enabled faith (John 3:16, 8:24).
Furthermore, the believer gets no credit for faith because there is absolutely no merit in faith, because faith is the antithesis of works (Romans 4:2-5). Faith is the means for receiving not the reason for receiving. Faith is giving up on oneself and placing all hope in another. Faith is the total abandonment of any and every hope of offering anything on our own to prompt divine favor or establish ourselves before God. Further, faith is God’s condition for receiving salvation, but not the condition for the offer of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). Moreover, the reason for a person being able to receive is God’s grace. Faith is a gift of God, but not in the sense that God only gave the gift to some. Faith is a gift from God because it affords man the capacity to believe, the possibility of believing, the content of belief, the persuasion of truth, and the enabling of the individual to believe.[iii]
Paul says, “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16. See also Romans 10:3-5). Thus, Paul’s declaration that faith is “in accordance with grace” is in stark contrast to the pronouncements of many Calvinists. Therefore, being in accord with grace, it is in no way meritorious or works. John Walvoord notes, “Responding in faith to God’s promise is not meritorious, because the promise springs from His grace, His disposition of favor toward those who deserve His wrath. The human exercise of faith is simply the prerequisite response of trust in God and His promise. Since faith and grace go together, and since the promise is by grace, the promise can be received only by faith, not by the Law.”[iv]
[i]John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22, 49 (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 2000).
[iii] Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will – Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism, (Nashville: Randall House, 2002), 167.
[iv]John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985), 2:454. Walvoord is a four-point Calvinist. Consequently, he may place regeneration prior to faith, but I am not sure so I take his statement at face value.