The Lamb’s Book of Life:
Who’s In and Who’s Out?
By Ronnie Rogers – Part 1 of 4
**The title below dons chapter 16 in Pastor Ronnie Rogers’ book, “Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist.” Obviously, the subject matter is election. The author has permitted SBCToday to post the entirety of the chapter. At apx. 4,000 words, the chapter will appear in four installments. Here is the first.**
The Lamb’s Book of Life: Who’s In and Who’s Out?
I affirm that the “Lamb’s book of life” contains all the names of those who have or ever will be saved. I also affirm that the names have been written in the book since eternity past (Revelation 13:8). I further affirm those in the book are there because of exercising grace-enabled faith unto salvation and could have done otherwise, and those not in the book could have been there by exercising grace-enabled faith.
The means of this grace enablement include but are not limited to: conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11), working of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 6:1-6), good soil (Matthew 13:1-23), and the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16). Further, I affirm that man, because of these gracious provisions and workings of God, can choose to seek God, such as the Bereans, where it says because they studied the Scripture, “therefore many of them believed” (Acts 17:12). Moreover, no one can come to God without God drawing (John 6:44), and that God is drawing all men (John 12:32). The same Greek word for draw, helku?, is used in both verses. “About 115 passages condition salvation on believing alone, and about 35 simply on faith.”[i] Other grace enablements may include providential workings in other people, situations, and timing or circumstances that are a part of grace to provide the most optimal moment for an individual to choose to follow Christ.
I disaffirm that the book contains the names of those whom God elected to save through monergistic regeneration and those who are not in the book are the ones that He elected to voluntarily pass by—damn. I disaffirm that “the book of life is synonymous with the list of those who are elect and predestined for eternal life.”[ii] I also disaffirm that exercising grace-enabled faith is in any sense meritorious. I further disaffirm that faith is works and is not required prior to regeneration and justification (Romans 3:27-28, 4:5). 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 that faith is works. Therefore, being in accord with grace, it is in no way meritorious or works.
Everyone agrees that the “book of life” contains the names of the redeemed; the disagreement concerns what determines whether one’s name is recorded in the book. The following is to clarify what Calvinists mean when they refer to the book, and what I, along with many other non-Calvinists, mean. I am going to interact with two Calvinists by looking at Revelation 13:8 under the following areas: What does the text say? What do Calvinists say? What does the text not say? Why the double-talk? What about straw men?
What does the text say? Speaking of the tribulation period and those who will worship the beast (antichrist) John says, “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Revelation 13:8). This book is referred to specifically six times in Revelation. It is called “the book of life” (3:5, 17:8, 20:12 and 15), “the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27) and in this pass passage it is called “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.”[iii] None of the occurrences explicate what determines whether one is excluded or included in the book.
What do Calvinists say? Calvinists view the book as the record of names of those whom God unconditionally selected to save through monergistic regeneration. John MacArthur says, “The book of life belonging to the Lamb, the Lord Jesus, is the registry in which God inscribed the names of those chosen for salvation before the foundation of the world”[iv] (italics added). Now it is important to notice that the elect are not those who received God’s gift of salvation by faith, but those “chosen for salvation.”
John Piper avers “the ‘book of life’ is a list of all the elect whom God has chosen before the foundation of the world. To be written there is to be secure in God’s sovereign, electing love….I argued from Revelation 17:8 that names are written in the book of life ‘before the foundation of the world’ and that this represents God’s free and unconditional election before we are ever born or have done anything to merit God’s blessing.” [v] In the same article he says, “In the New Testament the book of life is synonymous with the list of those who are elect and predestined for eternal life.”[vi]
Both have concluded that the book contains the names of those whom God “unconditionally” elected to salvation apart from faith. Although Calvinism teaches that faith is required to complete the salvation process, it is emphatically not the condition for receiving salvation or being written in the book of life. Actually, Calvinists believe that God wrote the names of the elect in the book, and then Christ died for their sins. The gospel efficaciously calls them to salvation, a call that they could not answer unless God monergistically regenerates them; only then are they made so they can freely exercise faith in Christ, which they will do because they cannot disbelieve. To wit, the book records God’s elect, although quite apart from believing, choice, etc.
[i] Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. VII, 273-274.
[iii] Something similar is referred to in the Old Testament (Exodus 32:32ff; Psalms 69:28) and in the New Testament (Luke 10:20).
[iv]John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22, 50 (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 2000).