The Two Pillars of Calvinism Examined | Conclusion

March 2, 2015

Dr. Malcolm Hester | Pastor and Adjunct Professor
Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Pineville, KY

For Part One click HERE.
For Part Two click HERE.


Fallen Man’s Ability to Obey God.
The Bible teaches that fallen man is capable of responding to God’s call and is held accountable for failure to do so. We will examine this thesis in several parts. First will be an examination of the conversation between God and Cain in Genesis 4. Second, several passages throughout scripture that teach the opportunity and responsibility of sinners to respond to God’s call will be examined. Finally, the call of Jesus to “Repent” will be studied.

The Lord Speaks with Cain—Genesis 4:1-7. This is a very important passage in refuting the Calvinist position that man lost his ability to respond to God at the fall because it is recorded in the very next chapter after the record of the fall. The story is well known. The two first brothers brought their offerings and Abel’s offering was accepted while Cain’s offering was not. The event affirms that Cain has not lost the ability to decide his spiritual situation. Verse 7 says that if Cain does well he will be accepted; but if he does not, then the sin will be his responsibility. There is no hint here that Cain’s ability to decide his spiritual fate has been lost. Cain has not lost the human freedom to decide his own destiny. There is no hint here of any prior decision or manipulation on God’s part in the drama. It is a straight-forward account of human freedom and responsibility.

Individual Human Responsibility. A major weakness in the Calvinist scheme is found here. It is a basic teaching of scripture that individuals are held accountable for their sin. This is the basis for judgment in both human law courts and the divine court. This section will make the argument that man’s ability to choose good or evil is a fundamental doctrine of the scripture.

I have to ask with Abraham, “Will not the judge of the universe do right?” (Genesis 18:25) I know the Calvinist will be turning to Romans 9:20 to condemn me so I will answer the criticism now. Who do I think I am? I am a man created in the image of God with a God-given sense of justice. I believe God is just and will do right and what is right is to judge each sinner for the sin they have committed. I even have scripture to back up my position. Ezekiel said, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:20) The rest of that verse strikes down another false idea taught by the Roman Catholics and accepted by many Calvinists. That is the doctrine of “inherited guilt.” The next part of verse 20 says, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son…” The acceptance of this false doctrine led to the practice of infant baptism which our Baptist forefathers had to stand against.

In teaching us about judgment, Romans 14:12 makes it very clear that individuals are held accountable for their actions. That verse says, “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” Individual responsibility is at the heart of the message of the Bible.

The Bible makes it just as clear that every person chooses to sin. Many scriptures clearly state that, “…all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and “If we say that we have not sinner, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). I am certainly not advocating any kind of Armenian perfectionism. As the Baptist Faith and Message states, “…By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race…whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.” Every person sins and is held accountable for that sin when they reach the age of accountability.

The call to repent. Is a response expected? Everyone seems to agree that a response is expected. Non-Calvinist Southern Baptists believe that the sinner has the responsibility to freely respond and therefore emphasize the “decision” and the invitation. Calvinists believe in regeneration before the repentance and as a result, the emphasis is missing on a public invitation. In other words, the person is saved first and repents afterward. The Calvinist camp is fond of reminding us that James P. Boyce was a Calvinist so I will quote him on this issue. Boyce writes, “Regeneration (as in infants) may exist without faith and repentance, but the latter cannot exist without the former. Therefore, regeneration precedes.”[1]  In the Calvinist way of thinking, the regeneration enables the repentance.

Acts 2:38 indicates a different order in the process. There we read, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The order is even clearer in Acts 16:31 as Paul replies to the question of the jailer concerning salvation. There we read, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” Notice the future tense in “will be saved.” The jailer will be saved after his belief.

The Bible teaches the need for the individual to respond to the call to choose or the call to repent of sin. Joshua 24:15 places the choice directly before the person when Joshua says, “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” It certainly does not sound like they are just to engage in self-examination to attempt to discover what God has already chosen for them. The conclusive text for me is the command of Jesus found in Mark 1:15 where we read, “The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the food news!” Both the words “repent” and “believe” are in the imperative. The speaker (Jesus) expected a response by the hearers (sinners). It is a distortion of the Word of God to read this as “Repent and believe if you have already been saved by the irresistible grace of God.” By the way, this verse settles the question of public invitations. Jesus did it and we should do it.

God is sovereign and man is responsible because he is free to accept or deny God’s will. It is not an attack on God’s sovereignty for God to grant limited freedom to mankind. Parents do it every day in their relationships with their children and God as the creator has the same privilege as a human parent. Out task is not to tell God how he must govern his creation, but to seek to discover the way he has already decided to govern. My understanding of the Bible is that God established limited freedom for mankind in matters of salvation. The result of this is human responsibility for individual sin.

 

[1] Boyce, James P. Abstract of Systematic Theology (Cape Coral: Founders Press, 2006 reprint), 381.

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available

rhutchin

Dr. Hester writes, “God established limited freedom for mankind in matters of salvation.”

Calvinists agree with this. The issue is timing – When does God establish limited freedom for people? Calvinists say that God does this when He regenerates a person. Regeneration restores the freedom lost at the fall, enables the “hearing of the gospel,” and leads to people believing the gospel.

With limited freedom, even Dr. Hester admits that a person cannot be saved without the conviction of the Holy Spirit. So, “limited freedom” is still dependent on help from God to be used effectively. We can, therefore, explain why some people accept Christ while others refuse by appealing to God’s discrimination between them in convicting them of their sin.

What do we mean by “freedom in matters of salvation”? It refers to the ability of a person to choose among options- generally “freedom of will.” Here, three aspects are required to make the will free. They are: (1) the person is aware of the choice before him – eternal life and eternal death; (2) the person has a sense of the benefits of eternal life and the costs of eternal death; and (3) the person is able to make a rational decision that accurately reflects (1) and (2). The person who is regenerated by God and has a free will always choose salvation – it is a no-brainer. We find Southern Baptists referring to this as “true” or “genuine” free will. People who reject salvation show their wills to be enslaved to sin, and they lack “true” or “genuine” free will in matters of salvation.

Those who oppose Calvinism, like Dr. Hester, end up agreeing with key points Calvinists make – the need for the Holy Spirit to convict of sin; the need for God to establish “true” or “genuine” free will in matters of salvation. They end up agreeing on major points and disagreeing on minor points.

Andrew Barker

rhutchin: “Those who oppose Calvinism, like Dr. Hester, end up agreeing with key points Calvinists make – the need for the Holy Spirit to convict of sin; the need for God to establish “true” or “genuine” free will in matters of salvation. They end up agreeing on major points and disagreeing on minor points.”

Yes, rhutchin. The majority of non-Calvinists disagree on minor points such as :-
1. unconditional election
2. total depravity
3. limited atonement
4. irresistible grace

I’m glad you see these as ‘minor’ points of disagreement.

    rhutchin

    Andrew Barker writes, “Yes, rhutchin. The majority of non-Calvinists disagree on minor points such as :-
    1. unconditional election
    2. total depravity
    3. limited atonement
    4. irresistible grace”

    I disagree. Both Cals and non-Cals believe in election because the Bible teaches it. Who disagrees with Paul when he says, “We give thanks to God always for you all,…Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.” So, we agree that believers are the elect of God or God’s elect. We agree that the sins of God’s elect were imputed to Christ who then died for those sins on the cross and then Christ was resurrected in order to have His righteousness imputed to God’s elect. This required no condition on the believer. So, what condition do the non-Cals impose on God’s elect: they must exercise faith and believe the gospel. Yet even Cals say that this happens. The debate is over technical aspects of the term, “unconditional” – a distinction between that which God does – which is unconditional – and man’s response to God and whether and how this is a conditional requirement on a person.

    Total Depravity was until recently agreed to by both Cals and Arminians. There have always been those of a Pelagian persuasion who deny TD but until recent times, they were not that influential. Today, it seems that Pelagian philosophy is enjoying a resurgence.

    As to Limited Atonement, few take the Universalist position. Most believe that some will be saved and some lost. Here, the arguments are technical and relate to God’s intent and here the definition of terms like “all” and “world” are debated but even these are technical arguments over the Scriptures that each side uses to prove its position.

    As to irresistible grace, the issue comes down to the meaning of “free will.” Both Cals and non-Cals believe that God’s elect make a “free will” decision to accept Christ. What about the reprobate? Do they make a “free will” decision or was their freedom compromised by Adam’s sin. Again we get into technical arguments.

    Basically, there is largely agreement on major issues and disagreement on technical details about these issues.

      Andrew Barker

      rhutchin; “I disagree. Both Cals and non-Cals believe in election because the Bible teaches it”.

      This typifies the problem. Of course Calvinists and non-Calvinists believe in election because it is Biblical. But Calvinists don’t hold to a Biblical viewpoint on election. They actually believe in ‘unconditional election’ which, non-Calvinists would say, is not supported in scripture. This is one of the key points of differentiation between Calvinists and non-Calvinists and you are trying to pass it off as a ‘minor’ point of disagreement! You’re talking complete nonsense. If you take away the concept of unconditional election the whole Calvinist Reformed theology collapses. Which is why of course it is so vigorously defended, on both sides!

      The concept of limited atonement is totally bound up with unconditional election since the idea that God might select a few is the only possible reason why he might then limit the scope of the atonement. Again, if you think this is a minor point, dream on.

      The idea of irresistible grace (another theological term which is not found in scripture) is also totally bound up with unconditional election. After all, it’s only required by those who think God has already selected his chosen few. I don’t think the idea of God forcing his ‘grace’ on anybody is a minor issue, elect or otherwise! It throws a shadow over the character of God for starters.

      As for total depravity, guess what. It’s another one of those terms which is not found in scripture! So it is necessary to define what you mean by it. Blanket statements asserting that Calvinists and … Arminians (where did they suddenly pop up in the discussion?) agreed on this until recently is simply nonsense. Neither will you get far trying to suggest that everyone who doesn’t hold to total depravity is a closet Pelagian.

      If you think all these points are ‘minor’ issues, then you must either have your head in the sand or you simply don’t comprehend what’s involved.

        volfan007

        Andrew,

        Amen to all that you just said to rhutchin.

        Also, I would like to add this….we can believe in the depravity of the human heart without believing that it makes humans unable to respond to God’s calling for salvation. And, rhutchin, that does NOT make us Pelagian, Semi Pelagian, Arminian, or anything else, except Bible believing Christians, who hold to what the Scriptures truly teach….without trying to force a system of philosophy on the Bible.

        Also, rhutchin, if you believe in the TULIP theory, do you accept the logical end of your philosophy? That some are chosen for salvation, and the rest were predestined and chosen for Hell?

        David

          rhutchin

          volfan007 writes, “…do you accept the logical end of your philosophy? That some are chosen for salvation, and the rest were predestined and chosen for Hell?”

          Predestination refers to God’s active intervention in the lives of His elect to accomplish His purposes. God does not intervene to send a person to hell; a person chooses to sin and his sin leads to judgment and hell.

          God elects whom He will save; God then predestines those whom He elects to be conformed to the image of his Son, to adoption by Jesus Christ to himself, and to give an inheritance. As each person sins and thereby incurs the penalty of hell for that sin, their judgment is certain unless God intervenes to save them. God elects some to salvation while passing over others. The Westminster Confession brings out this distinction.

            volfan007

            rhutchin,

            So, with Calvinists, it’s like a salvation lottery. The lucky ones get picked, and the unlucky ones just go to Hell. And really, there’s nothing that either one can do about it. So, the only thing people can hope for is to win the election lottery.

            David

              lydia

              “So, with Calvinists, it’s like a salvation lottery. ”

              One wag likened it to God playing duck, duck, goose with His created beings.

              rhutchin

              volfanoo7 writes, “So, with Calvinists, it’s like a salvation lottery…”

              That’s one way to look at it. Here is another way. Salvation is available to each and every person, The non-Calvinist says that some accept and some reject salvation. Let’s accept that. The Calvinist now says that God chooses from among those who rejected salvation those that He will personally intervene to save. So, we have those who accepted salvation without God’s help and those who first rejected salvation and then accepted salvation with God’s help entering heaven.

              The Calvinist then adds that there was actually no one who originally accepted salvation as the non-Cal claimed; all people actually rejected salvation, so in the end, only those God chose to save entered heaven.

              Robert

              David you shared a very good analogy for what happens in Calvinism where the elect and non-elect are chosen for their destinies before they ever live:

              “So, with Calvinists, it’s like a salvation lottery. The lucky ones get picked, and the unlucky ones just go to Hell. And really, there’s nothing that either one can do about it. So, the only thing people can hope for is to win the election lottery.”

              This is an accurate portrayal of Calvinism. The elect really are lucky because nothing they do leads to their election: No, God just decides beforehand they will be elect.

              What most Calvinists are not so forthright about though is that this same thing works for the reprobates/the lost, just in reverse: The reprobates/the lost are lost because nothing they do leads to their un-election: No, God just decided beforehand that they would not be elect. Or as some Calvinists like to try to minimize it: “God just passed over them”. The problem with this minimizing attempt is that if God “decrees whatsoever comes to pass” as the Westminster confession states it: then God decrees EVERYTHING and that includes who will get lucky and be saved and who will get very unlucky and be lost.

              And David as you correctly note: “And really, there’s nothing that either one can do about it.” Right, because the choices of who will be lucky and get to be elect and who will be unlucky and get to be lost are all made in eternity before the world is created before anyone has done anything.

              A friend of mine was talking to an inmate who took advantage of this Calvinistic scheme to try to excuse himself of all responsibility by saying in regards to his character and actions: “Hey I am just doing what God predestined me to do, I can’t help who I am or what I have done, He preplanned it all and I am just his puppet.” This guy really understands the system quite well. And you cannot argue with him, if everything is predestined (our actions our thoughts our eternal destinies, every detail) then he is doing what God predestined him to do and he can’t help doing what God predestined him to do. He is right if God preplanned every detail of history then this guy is just God’s puppet. Unfortunately the rest of us are also God’s puppets as well.

              And David your last line is especially chilling if Calvinism is true: “So, the only thing people can hope for is to win the election lottery.” Yes we can only hope that we are the lucky ones and not the unlucky ones. This is chilling because Calvin taught that some non-elect folks would experience things convincing them they were saved and yet they were not and would only find this out at the final judgment! Wow, this means that under this deterministic scheme you hope you are lucky but you really won’t know until the final judgment.

              Contrast this with what the Bible teaches which is that if you freely choose to trust Christ for salvation you will be saved. And you need not fear that you will be lost because you cannot lose your salvation as God promises. And He will give you assurance through the Holy Spirit that you belong to him. And the apostle John in 1 John gives us tests to see whether we are born again (including that we love the brethren, love to do and do practice righteousness, hate the world system, and affirm that Jesus was not just a good person or good teacher but was God in the flesh). So as believers we don’t have to hope we are winners of some kind of divine lottery that supposedly happened in eternity, we just need to trust God at His Word. Believe his promises and live in light of them.

              Robert

            Les Prouty

            No such thing as luck. There is predestination though.

        rhutchin

        Andrew barker writes, “The concept of limited atonement is totally bound up with unconditional election since the idea that God might select a few is the only possible reason why he might then limit the scope of the atonement. Again, if you think this is a minor point, dream on.”

        The concept of limited atonement is bound up in both conditional and unconditional election. A Calvinist might say, “The atonement is sufficient for all and efficient for some (God’s elect).” This is also true for those who hold to conditional election. The atonement is sufficient for all but efficient for some (those who meet the conditions for salvation who then can be identified as God’s elect). The concept of limited atonement does not differ between Calvinists and those who believe in conditional election as far as I can see. Neither side limits the scope of the atonement; each limits the application of the atonement.

        The most contentious issue then seems to be election. However, don’t we agree that God is the prime mover in election by virtue of sending the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin. Is it coincidence that the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in convicting the world of sin is that only God’s elect actually come to salvation. Of course not. The issue here is what the Holy Spirit is really doing and the effect this has on people. The effect is that some believe but both Calvinists and non-Calvinists agree on this. The conditional vs unconditional argument is a technical argument over minor issues once we start defining what “conditional” and “unconditional” mean.

          Andrew Barker

          rhutchin: “A Calvinist might say, “The atonement is sufficient for all and efficient for some (God’s elect).” This is also true for those who hold to conditional election. ”

          I’m sorry but I have no time for interactions of this kind. This is yet another statement of the blindingly obvious which does not answer the point raised. Of course some Calvinists say the atonement is sufficient for all and efficient for some. This is because ‘some’ Calvinists do not hold to limited atonement!! The point was that the concept of limited atonement is only required if a person wishes to defend the concept unconditional election.

          Quite why or how some Calvinists do not see the need for limited atonement is for them to answer, not me.

          Your comment on election assumes too much. “However, don’t we agree that God is the prime mover in election by virtue of sending the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin.” No, I do not agree with this statement as it does not reflect what most Calvinists say. The Calvinist/Reformed position as I understand it is that God chooses of His own free will and for His good pleasure who is ‘elect’. That is the prime element in election and is said to occur before the foundation of the world. This is long before the Holy Spirit is involved in convicting the world of sin. Indeed, election is said to occur before there was any world or any sin in the world.

          So no, whether election is seen as conditional or unconditional is no minor issue. The number of books written about the subject should make it clear to you, even if my answer doesn’t.

            rhutchin

            Andrew Barker writes, “This is because ‘some’ Calvinists do not hold to limited atonement!!”
            As a technical note – All Calvinists hold to Limited Atonement. It’s part of the definition of a Calvinist. Any person agreeable to TULIP excepting the “L” should say that he agrees mostly with the Calvinists but departs with them on Limited Atonement.

            rhutchin

            Andrew barker writes, ‘The Calvinist/Reformed position as I understand it is that God chooses of His own free will and for His good pleasure who is ‘elect’. That is the prime element in election and is said to occur before the foundation of the world. This is long before the Holy Spirit is involved in convicting the world of sin. Indeed, election is said to occur before there was any world or any sin in the world.”

            I agree. Let me emend what I said: “However, don’t we agree that God is the prime mover in bringing His elect to salvation by virtue of sending the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin.”

Lydia

“Total Depravity was until recently agreed to by both Cals and Arminians. There have always been those of a Pelagian persuasion who deny TD but until recent times, they were not that influential. Today, it seems that Pelagian philosophy is enjoying a resurgence.”

I am curious what you know about concerning Pelagius. Most of his words did not survive so what we know about him is what his detractors like Augustine wrote about him as a heretic. The same Augustine who wanted to wipe out the Donatists because they refused to take communion from corrupt priests and who had some other bizarre pagan beliefs that became tradition and part of Reformed ST. Seems Pelagius was especially dangerous because people just might think they have responsibility and accountability for their behavior/beliefs. The emperors of the church/state could not allow such independent thinking.

How much of what you believe as “biblical truth” is really political tradition from the princes of historical Christianity read into scripture? Have you ever really given any thought to that?

    rhutchin

    Because none of the writings of Pelagius survive, we refer to “Pelagian” philosophy rather than to the writings of Pelagius. Pelagian philosophy seems pretty much agreed upon – it incorporates the denial if TD and the belief that people have free will to be righteous without grace. Did Augustine get this wrong? Don’t know but everyone seems to hold to this description of Pelagianism.

      lydia

      So Pelagian “philosophy” is a tradition since it cannot be analyzed against his writing?

      Everyone, meaning the princes of church history, holds to what they were told by the preceding church princes was Pelagius’ heretical philosophy. However this position cannot br analyzed in depth by his own writings.

      How do you know what Pelagius wrote about TD? Personally, I think Augustine got a lot wrong.

Lydia

Here is about all I could find supposedly written by Pelagius that survived. I have not read it. Have you? It has a hefty price tag!

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0198269803/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_dp_ss_3/186-3942798-7799221?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_r=0FKBM538P46WVR2BWT14&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_p=1535523722&pf_rd_i=0851157149

volfan007

Listen to this! lol Even if you don’t want to listen to all of the message, at least listen to the first minute, or so. The song at the front is great! lol

http://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/id/3403204?error=access_denied&error_code=200&error_description=Permissions+error&error_reason=user_denied#_=_

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available