Point #4: I accepted the fact that a gift doesn’t have to be irresistibly applied in order for the giver to get full credit for giving it.
According to Calvinism, God does not merely enable people to believe (as the scriptures say), but He has to actually change their very nature so as to certainly make them believe. As a Calvinist I remember shaming other Christians for “stealing God’s glory” by suggesting they played any role in their salvation. I insisted they would be “boasting” to believe that they chose to come to Christ unless they first admitted that God irresistibly changed their nature to make them want to come. I recall a wise elder from my home church challenging me on this point by asking, “Why do you believe God’s choice of you for no apparent reason is less boast worthy than his choice of me for being a weak beggar?” I honestly did not know what he meant at the time, but I do now.
At the time of that encounter I had not reached the pigsty of my life. I was young and arrogant. I had never really been broken by my sin and brought face to face with my depravity. I thought I understood forgiveness and grace but truthfully it was not until much later in my life that I would be brought to the end of my self. I used to think the idea that God chose to save me before I was born and done anything good or bad was humbling, but it is not near as humbling as the reality that God would chose to save me in the middle of my worse sin, my brokenness, my humiliation and my shame. Like the prodigal who returned home from the pigsty of his life, broken and humiliated, seeking to beg for handouts, deserving nothing but punishment, receives instead the gracious love of a father, I too felt the choice of a Father to forgive me right then and there in the middle of my filth. It was not some theological concept of God picking me for no apparent reason out of the mass of humanity at some distant inexplicable time before time was. It was my Daddy choosing to love me in the middle of my deepest sin and pride crushing shame. No one…no Arminian, no Calvinist or any one in between…I mean NO ONE boasts about being forgiven like that. If they do, or they think others would, I cannot imagine they have ever been there.
“But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jer. 9:24)
Why can’t we give God all the glory for enabling mankind to respond to His gracious truth? Why must he irresistibly cause our acceptance of that truth in order for Him to get full glory for giving it?
It in no way robs God of glory by suggesting He does not irresistibly determine men’s choice to accept or reject the gospel appeal. In fact, it seems to lesson His glory by making Him appear disingenuous in that appeal sent to all people. Should not God get the glory even for the provision of those who reject Him?
“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” – C.S. Lewis
Point #5: I came to understand that sovereignty is not an eternal attribute of God that would be compromised by the existence of free moral creatures.
“God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.” – A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God
Some seem to believe that for God to be considered “sovereign” then men cannot have a free or autonomous will. Should sovereignty be interpreted and understood as the necessity of God to “play both sides of the chess board” in order to ensure His victory? Or should it be understood as God’s infinite and mysterious ways of accomplishing His purposes and ensuring His victory in, through, and despite the free choices of creation?
I’m not pretending that we can really understand His infinite ways or the means by which He accomplishes all things in conjunction with man’s will. We cannot even understand our own ways, much less His. But, I’m saying that the revelation of God’s holiness, His unwillingness to even tempt men to sin (James 1:13), His absolute perfect nature and separateness from sin (Is. 48:17), certainly appears to suggest that our finite, linear, logical constructs should not be used to contain Him (Is. 55:9).
One point that really helped me to understand the apparent contradiction of this debate was realizing the divine attribute of sovereignty is not an eternal attribute of God. Calvinists always argue that God cannot deny Himself or His eternal nature, which is true. God cannot stop being God. Based on this Calvinists conclude that because God is eternally sovereign that He cannot deny that sovereignty, an attribute of His very nature, by allowing for others to have any measure of control or authority.
What the Calvinist fails to see is that sovereignty means “complete rule or dominion over creation.” For God to be in control over creation there has to be something created in which to control. He cannot display His power over creatures unless the creatures exist. Therefore, before creation the concept of sovereignty was not an attribute that could be used to describe God. An eternal attribute is something God possesses that is not contingent upon something else.
The eternal attribute of God is His omnipotence, which refers to His eternally limitless power. Sovereignty is a temporal characteristic, not an eternal one, thus we can say God is all powerful, not because He is sovereign, but He is sovereign because He is all powerful, or at least He is as sovereign as He so chooses to be in relation to this temporal world.
If our all-powerful God chose to refrain from meticulously ruling over every aspect of that which He creates, that in no way denies His eternal attribute of omnipotence, but indeed affirms it. It is the Calvinist who denies the eternal attribute of omnipotence by presuming the all-powerful God cannot refrain from meticulous deterministic rule over His creation (i.e. sovereignty). In short, the Calvinist denies God’s eternal attribute of omnipotence in his effort to protect the temporal attribute of sovereignty. Additionally, an argument could be made that the eternal attributes of God’s love and His holiness are likewise compromised by the well meaning efforts of our Calvinistic brethren to protect their theory of deterministic sovereignty over the temporal world.
Please understand, sovereignty is most certainly an attribute of God, but it is a temporal attribute. The Omnipotent God has not yet taken full sovereign control over everything on earth as it is in heaven. Is not that His prerogative? Passages throughout the bible teach that there are “authorities” and “powers” which are yet to be destroyed, and that have been given dominion over God’s creation.
A time is coming when the Lord will punish the powers above and the rulers of the earth.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the evil powers of this world.
1 Corinthians 15:24
Then the end will come; Christ will overcome all spiritual rulers, authorities, and powers, and will hand over the Kingdom to God the Father.
Don’t misunderstand my point. I affirm that God is greater than these powers and authorities. He created them after all.
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
And one day God will strip them of that authority:
God stripped the spiritual rulers and powers of their authority. With the cross, he won the victory and showed the world that they were powerless.
Much more could be said, but in short we must refrain from bringing unbiblical conclusions based upon our finite perceptions of God’s nature. We must accept the revelation of scripture. He is Holy (Is. 6:3). He does not take pleasure in sin (Ps. 5:4). Some moral evil does not even enter His Holy mind (Jer. 7:31). He genuinely desires every individual to come to Him and be saved (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4). No man will stand before the Father and be able to give the excuse, “I was born unloved by my Creator. I was born unchosen and without the hope of salvation. I was born unable to see, hear or understand God’s revelation of Himself.” No! They will stand without excuse (Rm. 1:20). God loves all people (Jn. 3:16), calls them to salvation (2 Cor. 5:20), reveals Himself to them (Titus 2:11) and provides the means by which their sins would be forgiven (1 Jn. 2:2).
Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.