A Biblical Critique of Calvinism
Part 10: The Repentance Aspect of the Gospel Invitation
This is the thirteenth of a series of articles by Dr. Cox, with a Biblical critique of Calvinism drawn in part from his book Not One Little Child. All Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.
Strict emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit and minimization of the response of man disarm the importance of the biblical teaching of repentance.1 The word metanoia means a change of mind, heart, and direction on behalf of the individual in response to God. Who would deny that Jesus came to call sinners to repent? The Bible teaches that He came to save what was lost, this means the unrepentant (Matt. 18:11). Jesus said to His listeners that they too would perish, unless they repent (Luke 13:3). He came calling sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). All have sinned (Rom. 3:23). Therefore, Jesus calls all to repentance.
Newport smartly notes that, by definition, sin is a free and responsible act of disobedience and is man’s fault, not his fate.2 He argues that the New Testament description of God’s judgment on sin clearly teaches that each human is accountable to God for the use of his or her freedom.3 God’s justice makes all of us accountable for our choices. God does not force His will upon anyone. He invites people to respond. Each person has an option.
Calvinism does not seem to factor in Scripture which teaches that it is not God’s will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. And the Bible is replete with evidence regarding this.
Through Ezekiel, God said that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but wants us to turn (repent) and live (Ezek. 18:23). In the same chapter, God urged all to repent and live (Ezek. 18:32).
Daniel exhorted Nebuchadnezzar to repent in hopes of avoiding God’s “beastly” sentence upon the king’s pride (Dan. 4:27).
Jesus said that it is not God’s will that any little ones perish (Matt. 18:14). We all begin as little ones. Therefore it is not God’s will that any perish.
Paul declared that all people everywhere should repent (Acts 17:30) and that God wants to show mercy to all (Rom. 11:32).
Peter said that God does not wish that any perish, but that all come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). In 2 Pet. 3:9 God’s promise of Christ’s return in judgment is balanced with His desire that none perish, but that all come to repentance. Here, Peter warned that mankind develops a mistaken sense of security, like a thief that has yet to be caught. God’s longsuffering is due to His love for the lost, not due to any tardiness. His delay in the second coming is due to His mercy. God quite literally wants all people to repent and believe (1 Tim. 2:4). One of the strongest contrasting conjunctions, alla, is employed to stress God’s desire that all repent instead of perish. Indeed, some will perish, as is seen in 2 Pet. 3:7, but this is not God’s desire. Nevertheless, only the repentant and acceptant are saved (John 3:16). God’s provision of grace is available to all who repent and believe: repentance is seen here as indispensable, and perhaps even synonymous with, faith. The unrepentant, which is synonymous for unbeliever, will perish. This does not mean cease to exist, but to be banished to eternal torment where worms do not die and fire is not quenched (Mark 9:44-48), where judgment is eternal (Heb. 6:2), where the punishment of fire is unending (Jude 7), where torment in the Lake of Fire is forever and ever (Rev. 20:10-15). Moreover, Wuest says that God is always willing to save man, but man is not always willing to be saved by God.4 Some do perish. So whose will causes the perishing? Newport rightly argues that it is not God’s will but man’s which results in one perishing.5 Newport wisely declares that Christians need to explain to others that the basic tension in the biblical worldview is not between God’s love and justice, but between God’s will and man’s will. He argues that man has chosen to assert his will against God’s will, and, in so doing, man has alienated himself from God, from his own welfare, and from salvation. Newport further contends that God allows for man’s autonomy to result in eternal separation from Him, but that God does not wish that anyone be eternally sequestered from Him; the choice is left up to each individual.6 Thus, man is not so totally depraved that he cannot respond to God’s grace. Election is not unconditional. Man has a will. The atoning work of Christ is not limited only to the elect. God’s grace is resistible. Some opt to receive Christ and some, tragically, do not.
By not allowing for a freewill (truly free) and by asserting that regeneration precedes faith, Calvinism wrongly bypasses the biblical teaching of repentance as part of, or preparatory to (remember the ministry of John the Baptist), conversion to Jesus Christ. This repentance (metanoiaical) weakness is embarrassing.
The next article in this series will explore the response weakness of Calvinism.
1This is reflected somewhat in the controversy between the “free grace” and “Lordship theology” schools of thought regarding soteriology. See Millard J. Erickson, “Lordship Theology: The Current Controversy,” Southwestern Journal of Theology (Spring 1991): 5-15.
2 John P. Newport, What Is Christian Doctrine? (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1984), 99.
4Kenneth S. Wuest, 2 Peter, in Wuest’s Word Studies, vol. 2, Philippians - Hebrews, The Pastoral Epistles, First Peter - Jude (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954; reprint, 1973), 71.
5 John P. Newport, The New Age Movement and the Biblical Worldview: Conflict and Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 600.