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Posts Tagged ‘Calvinism’

John Calvin (1509 – 1564) is a giant in church history. He published his first edition of a systematic theology, Institutes of the Christian Religion, when he was twenty-seven. He even wrote more commentaries than John MacArthur! I think. His name probably stands at the top of the list of the magisterial reformers, including Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli. He certainly didn’t get everything right (e.g. he baptized babies!); some will even accuse Calvin of murdering the heretic Michael Servetus and say that is why we should be concerned about the resurgence of Calvinism in America today. (They really may be right on Servetus. I suppose if the whole thing played out today, instead of 16th century Europe, the case would fly.)

As Timothy George would say, there needs to be a middle ground between the extremes of “Calvinphobia” and “Calvinolatry.” I will deal mostly with the things I admire about Calvin in this post, but keep in mind that I do not worship the man. Anyway, the big idea in this introduction to Calvin and the famous “-ism” that bears his name is: you should get to know the guy. So in this post on John Calvin, theologian, reformer and pastor, I hope to pique new interest in one of the men God greatly used to reform his church, a man who was just a man who loved God in “a long line of godly men.” I will focus primarily on his life and preaching, but I will also mention a few things about his writings and the Reformation he led in Geneva.

Steve Lawson wrote a terrific profile of John Calvin titled The Expository Genius of John Calvin. In it he wrote, “John Calvin—his French name was Jean Cauvin—was born to Gerard and Jeanne Cauvin on July 10, 1509, in the farm country of Noyon, France, sixty miles northeast of Paris” (6). Calvin’s father was a cathedral notary and registrar for the Catholic bishop of Noyon. So Calvin was basically destined to become a priest, and his parents encouraged him that way. Calvin attended the University of Paris at the age of twelve, studying in the same college that Erasmus studied in, and he graduated in 1528. “Upon Calvin’s graduation from the University of Paris,” Lawson continues, “his father attempted to gain two more appointments for him in the Catholic Church. But a conflict with the bishop of Noyon prompted Gerard to redirect his brilliant son to study law at the University of Orleans” and later at the University of Bourges, where Calvin “learned Greek, the powers of analytical thinking, and persuasive argument, skills later to be used in his Genevan pulpit” (6-7). He learned Hebrew too.

As Lawson will say, “It was while he was studying at Bourges that Calvin came in direct contact with the biblical truths of the Reformation” (7). Calvin, renouncing his benefice in 1534, joined the Protestant cause. He no longer wanted to be involved with the Catholic Church at all. In that same year, Calvin describes his “sudden conversion.” In his commentary on the Psalms, Calvin writes:

“God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life. Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that although I did not altogether leave off other studies, I yet pursued them with less ardour” (xl-xli).

Calvin would soon join the ranks of Luther and Zwingli as a leader in the Reformation. The Reformation, which began in haste in 1517, by now was a raging war (both political and religious) in many places in Europe. In fact, Calvin’s road to Geneva was originally a detour. He really wanted to join the reformers in Strasbourg, but he could not continue passed Paris because of the fighting. Once in Geneva, Calvin’s friend, William Farel, persuaded him to stay in Geneva as Lecturer of Holy Scripture at St. Peter’s Cathedral beginning in 1536. He stayed there, apart from a brief, three-year exile to Strasbourg (where he was a pastor 1538 – 41), for the rest of his life. While in Geneva, Calvin preached, wrote, and he reorganized all of Geneva. His Ecclesiastical Ordinances, which gained acceptance by the town council in 1541, created Calvin’s Geneva as we know of it. Of Calvin’s death, Lawson writes, “Calvin died at age 54 on May 27, 1564, in the arms of Theodore Beza, his successor” (17).

During his exile, Calvin married a woman named Idelette de Bure, who was the (Anabaptist!) widow of his friend John Storder. They had three children, all who died in infancy, before Idellette died in April 1549. Calvin was driven, dedicated to his work in Geneva, but he loved her:

‘I do what I can’, he writes, ‘that I may not be altogether consumed with grief. I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life; she was the faithful helper of my ministry. My friends leave nothing undone to lighten, in some degree, the sorrow of my soul.’ (from a website).

Calvin was definitely both a pastor and theologian. His brilliance and study of law sharpened his precision and language. He could talk intelligently with the town council of Geneva, and he had a remarkable writing style that makes his writings a tremendous read even 400 years later. If one reads Calvin’s commentaries, I believe one can easily observe why Calvin was so influential (and in some cases, why he was/is so hated!).

Calvin is a tremendous example in history of the pastor theologian. He was driven, he knew the original languages of the Bible, he was passionate about the things of God, and he carefully exposited the Word when he preached. Calvin was committed to the great doctrines of the Reformation, which are terrifically summed up in the Five Solas. He tried valiantly to restrict communion from any one who is not in the faith, and his church practiced graciousness in church discipline. He certainly was no perfect man, but today’s pastor could learn much from this careful preacher, genius writer, and diligent Protestant reformer.

“Upon his return [from exile],” says Lawson, “Calvin hit the town preaching. Reassuming his pulpit ministry precisely where he had left off three years earlier—in the very next verse of his earlier exposition—Calvin became a mainstay, preaching multiple times on Sunday and, during some weeks, each weekday” (13). His preaching was relentless exposition! In fact, Lawson’s entire book is dedicated to the preaching of Calvin, so there is certainly much to say. Lawson quotes the fervor of Calvin in this quote: “God will have His church trained up by the pure preaching of His own Word, not by the contrivances of men [which are wood, hay and stubble]” (30).

The priority of the Word in Calvin’s ministry is the obvious and right result of the Reformation. The Catholic Church elevated tradition over the Word. Calvin would never do that. He believed the Bible has “flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men” (George, 194). As a pastor and theologian, he also frequently wrote letters to “Protestants who had been imprisoned for their faith” (212). Most of all, Calvin had a big view of God and sovereignty and his Word. John Piper quotes Calvin, saying of preaching the Word, “We owe to the Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God, because it has nothing of man mixed with it” (Legacy, 137).

In a chapter on Calvin’s preaching, Lawson records Calvin’s sermons as he preached through entire books. Some of the numbers are amazing: 107 sermons in 1 Samuel, 48 in Ephesians, and 189 in Acts (Parsons, 73-74). He preached every paragraph with careful precision, as Lawson says, in a “lively fashion” while “excavating the biblical text” (75-76). Apparently he would even do this regardless of his health; of course that’s not wise, but I guarantee it is better than the pastor today, who steals a sermon from the web and tacks on a tear-jerking illustration. We need more preachers who love the Word and the big God who wrote it and all of the doctrines therein. I can’t say more in this short space, but I think this alone shows there is much today’s pastor, Reformed or not, can learn from a man who preached the Word like Calvin.

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First things first, if you struggle with the idea that God is good and yet we live in world plagued by both natural and moral evils, you are NOT a dummy.  I was just having fun with the title here–you have seen those books right?  Personal Finance for Dummies or Building a Website for Dummies and many other such helpful topics.  The idea behind the dummy books is that they break down a difficult topic in a very simple way.  They cut out all the jargon and write in such a way that just about anyone can understand.  The problem of evil is a problem for many, but not for God–He has it figured out, but that doesn’t mean that many Christians don’t struggle with it and that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to think Biblically about it. So this post is dedicated to breaking the problem of evil down to simple terms without the typical theological jargon that so often keeps people from understanding the real issues behind it.

There are three basic options for Christians in answering the question, “How can God be good and yet there is evil in the world?” I will give you the three options and point out the inherent problem with each.  These three options are as follows:

1.  God is just as surprised about evil and sin in the world as we are.  Why is that?  Because in this position, God does not know the future.  God has given man such profound freedom that man can and often does thwart God’s purposes.  In this view God created the world good but man decided of his own freewill not to follow after God and so sin came into the world and God had to respond to it just like we do–he did not know before hand that man would choose to sin.  So God responds to sin in real-time just like we do.

There are two big problems with this view. First is that it denies God’s holiness.  God has no special knowledge, He is perhaps a little bigger than us, but if He didn’t know evil was coming, can we really trust Him?  Is such a limited God worth serving?  How can we trust that He will keep any of His promises if He does not know the future?   The second big problem with this view is that it makes little sense of Scripture.  Think of all the thousands of prophecies in Scripture that have been fulfilled–how could this be possible if God doesn’t know the future and we are so free as to be able to thwart God’s purposes?

Ephesians 1:11 says that God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” and Romans 8:28 says God “works all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”  How could those two verses be true if God doesn’t know the future?  Futhermore, Psalm 139 tells us that “before a word is on my tongue, behold O LORD, you know it altogether.”  So in short this view makes little sense of Scripture and gives us no reason to trust that God will keep His promises.

2.  Position #2:  God knew that evil would come into the world but He did not will for it to happen.  Because God knew beforehand that evil was going to enter into the world, He planned to fight it and overcome it through the cross of Christ.  This view is convenient because it gets God off the hook–He didn’t will evil in any way and praise Him, He has determined to overcome it!  Well let’s think this position out a little more.  If God knows that something is going to happen and has the ability to stop it and doesn’t, how is He not in some sense willing that thing to happen?  Those who hold this position, if they will be consistent, must admit that there is some defect in God’s power at some level.  Position #1 is actually more consistent, because God cannot know that something is going to happen and have the power to stop it and be said NOT to have willed the thing to happen.  So position #1 is more consistent because they just say God doesn’t have the power to stop it because He doesn’t know the future and has given us such potent freewill.

The two big problems with position #2 are similar to position #1’s problems.  First, this position fails to uphold God’s perfect holiness.  As I have said position #2 must admit some defect in God’s power or else how could we say God did not will something that He could stop but didn’t (and He knew it was coming beforehand)?  Secondly, this position doesn’t compute with Scripture, which testifies that God is all powerful–“if one wished to contend with [God], one could not answer Him once in a thousand times” (Job 9:3; c.f. Romans 9:19-21 and Job 38:1-5).  Simply put there are many evil things that happen in the Bible which God speaks to having in some sense willed.  Take Job for example.  God gave Satan permission to test Job with all sorts of nasty afflictions and set boundaries around what Satan could and couldn’t do (Satan could not take Job’s life).  So who is ultimately in control of what is going on with Job?  God or Satan?  I think the answer is obvious.

3.  Position #3: God knew that evil would infiltrate our world and yet He is good and not the author of it, but is sovereignly in control of it.  God sovereignly permits sin to occur though He is not the author of it.  He could have prevented it, therefore God in some sense wills that sin occur.  The common objection to this view is that God is made out to be in some round about way, responsible for evil.  But why are we willing to sacrfice God’s holiness (i.e. His perfect knowledge and power) for the sake of letting God off the hook for evil?  Simply put, God is bigger than you and I, He is holy, meaning He is set apart from us.  He operates on a completely different level than we do.  Things that are evil for us are perfectly legitimate for God.  Like the taking of a life–God created all things, including us and has rights over us.  If God wants to take one of His creatures lives, He can, He is God.  In addition we are all rebels against Him in our sin (Romans 3:23, 5:10; 6:23) and our just punishment is spiritual and physical death.

We must come to grips with this simple fact, that God is holy.  There is mystery in God–how is it that He is good (Psalm 119:68; James 1:17; Luke 18:19) and yet, over and over in Scripture we see Him soveriegnly controlling evil events for His good purposes?  We can’t fully answer that question because we are not God.  We are limited in our perspective where God is not.

Bottom line is that God soveriegnly controls evil. We have already discussed Job, but what about Joseph?  His brothers did a wicked thing and cast him into a pit then sold him into slavery (they wanted to kill them but Reuben convinced them otherwise).  Joseph went through many trials but eventually ended up basically running the country for Pharoah and through his wisdom, ended up saving the nation from starvation.  When Joseph’s brothers show up begging for food, Joseph says to them, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

God can and does work good out of evil, He even has purposes for it.  In short He controls it–think about the cross.  Was the cross not an evil event?  The cross was the greatest sin ever committed because the sinless one was crucified at the hands of sinful men!

Acts 4:27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

Acts 2:23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

1 Samuel 2:6 The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.

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So if you didn’t know, a few months ago I began a series of posts on the doctrine of election.  My goal was to write simple and straightforward posts on election that most any Christian could read and understand.  I hope in these posts, I have shown that unconditional election is constantly taught throughout the Bible.  I focused mainly on the New Testament, but I think I made clear that this doctrine’s foundation is clearly laid out in the Old Testament.  I also wrote a post discussing some common verses brought up in opposition to unconditional election.

Bottom line in these posts, I hope I have made clear that unconditional election is taught in the Bible and therefore it is a doctrine that ought to move us to worship the LORD more fervently and spread the good news of Christ more faithfully.  Thus, I also labored to make clear the connection between evangelism and election because I believe firmly that a firm grasp of the unconditional nature of election encourages evangelism.  I wrote a TON of posts about election, so I decided it would be a good idea to lump all those posts together to make them easier to find.  I hope you find these helpful and most of all I hope that they encourage you worship our great God and spread the good news of His greatness to the ends of the earth!

I have tried to list these in the order I originally wrote them:

Why the Doctrines of Grace (Calvinism . . . *gasp*) are Worth Talking About

Matthew, Moses, and Malachi on Election

Jesus and John on Election

Election and Evangelism in Luke’s Writing

Paul’s Teaching on Election Part 1

Paul’s Teaching on Election Part 2: Election and Foreknowledge in Romans

Paul’s Teaching on Election Part 3

Peter and James on Election

Do These Verses Contradict Election?

Why We Cannot Be Afraid of the Doctrines of Grace

How Unconditional Election Encourages Evangelism

How Unconditional Election Encourages Evangelism Part 2: The Implications of Romans 1-3 on Evangelism

Richard Land on Election: More Insight from the John 316 Conference (I debated in my mind whether or not I should link to this article, but reading about the John 316 Conference was part of what encouraged me to post some good resources on unconditional election, so this article perhaps reveals why I think its important to be discussing unconditional election given what some are saying).

If you would like to listen to some excellent mp3s on the doctrines of grace, I highly recommend these lectures by Dr. Thom Schreiner (the lectures on the DoGs are from the 2006 C. H. Spurgeon Conference) as well as these addresses by Dr. John Piper (particularly the seminars on TULIP).  Both of these aided me in writing these posts.

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Click here to read David Van Biema’s Time article.

Here is an introductory excerpt:

Calvinism is back, and not just musically. John Calvin’s 16th century reply to medieval Catholicism’s buy-your-way-out-of-purgatory excesses is Evangelicalism’s latest success story, complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination’s logical consequence, predestination: the belief that before time’s dawn, God decided whom he would save (or not), unaffected by any subsequent human action or decision.

Calvinism, cousin to the Reformation’s other pillar, Lutheranism, is a bit less dour than its critics claim: it offers a rock-steady deity who orchestrates absolutely everything, including illness (or home foreclosure!), by a logic we may not understand but don’t have to second-guess. Our satisfaction — and our purpose — is fulfilled simply by “glorifying” him.

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2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Ezekiel 18:32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”

1 Timothy 2:4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Do these texts contradict other texts on election?  Isn’t it possible that there are two wills in God?  Even Arminians must admit that there are two wills in God:  God desires all to be saved and yet God chooses that only those who believe will be saved.  Even for an Armininian only those who believe will be saved and thus they must admit that there are two wills in God.  So the first will could be summarized by these texts above–that God desires no one to perish in unrepentance and the second will could simply be summarized by saying that God only wills that those who believe will be saved.

It is true that God, in a narrow sense, doesn’t find pleasure in the death of the wicked but when you look at the wider scope of things in Scripture, God clearly hasn’t willed that everyone will be saved.  In a cosmic sense, we know from Scripture that God has not willed that everyone will be saved.

It is very clear that God chooses only some to be saved but it is also true that God, looking at someone individually does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, but in the wider scope of things God has not willed that all will be saved.  Why is this the case?  I am not exactly sure–God is massive and complex and I don’t know why he does things the way he does things.  When God looks at the whole of what he has ordained, he does take pleasure in it.  Though God doesn’t take pleasure in the death of wicked individuals, he does look on the whole of what he has determined and find pleasure or glory in it.  Here are some examples:

Deuteronomy 28:63 And as the LORD took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the LORD will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

The best way I can square Deuteronomy 28:63 with 2 Peter 3:9 is to say that God clearly doesn’t take pleasure in the damnation of individuals but when he sees the wider/larger picture of everything He has done, He does take pleasure in having always done what is right and good and just.  What is best in God’s big-picture-view of things is not that all would be saved (Matthew 7:13-15).  I don’t know why this is–it is a mystery.

Acts 2:23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

This text is difficult because we know that God else where (Ex. 20, 1 Peter 2:1-2, Col. 3:5, Rom. 8:13, Psalm 24, Leviticus 11:45) commands us to be holy and do what is right and yet God both foreknew and planned that his Son would be crucified and killed at the hands of wicked men.  There are endless possibilities of things that could have happened at the time of Jesus’ death, but none of them happened because it was God’s definite plan that His Son be crucified at the hands of lawless men.  Furthermore it should be noted that foreknowledge is linked with God’s definite plan which seems to again indicate that foreknowledge means more than just awareness of future events–God was sovereign in seeing this come to pass.  We need to recognize here that  Judas and Pilate both could have made right decisions and not betrayed and crucified Jesus.  If this were the case, Jesus would not have been crucified and if Jesus is not crucified our sin would not be paid for.  Jesus had to die and God saw that to completion.

The right thing for Pilate to do would have been to release Jesus because he was innocent.   The right thing for Judas to do would have been to stay in the upper room and refrain from the temptation to betray Jesus.  Neither or them do so.  Both Judas and Pilate defy God’s desire for them-God did not desire for either of them to act sinfully the way they did.  God does not desire any man to sin, sin is always against His prescriptive will.  They should have done God’s desirative will and yet God’s definite plan involved these men disobeying Him and crucifiying the Lord Jesus Christ.  And yet, God rightly and justly holds them accountable for disobeying God’s commanded will.  I can’t answer why God did this, but it is clear that he did and it is clear that God ordains for evil events to occur and yet holds those who do those evil things accountable.  Let me be clear–God is not responsible for these evil events, these men chose to act wickedly and crucify Jesus–God does not sin and tempts no one (1 John 1:5; James 1:13), but it is also clear that He soveriegnly allows these evil events to come to pass and even works good out of them.  It is the people who chose to do these things-God is not an evil puppet master. James 1:17 clearly tells us that God is not and never will be guilty of wrong doing.  There is great mystery in God.  God is sovereign over everything (Eph. 1:13) and yet He is good and works all things together for good for those who love him (Rom. 8:28).

One more example:

Acts 4:27-28 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

Christ’s crucifixion was not an afterthought of God.  God didn’t think up redemption on the cross after failing to get Pilate and the Jews to release Jesus from prison–this was God’s definite plan and all these men (Herod, Pilate, the Jews) acted in accordance with what God has planned and predestined to take place.  Again–God sees the big picture of things that we do not see.  God’s sees His marvelously good purposes coming to pass even in the midst of the most horrific evils being allowed to come to pass.  Let’s be honest–the cross from our human perspective was the most evil event in history–the only truly innocent man who was God in human flesh was brutally killed at the hands of evil men.  And yet somehow God was soveriegnly working even in the midst of this event to manifest His glory and shower His grace on undeserving sinners.  The cross is mysterious, but praise God for the wonderful mystery of the cross!

These truths are the basis for our prayer and evangelism–in my next post on election, I will explain this further.  If you really understand radical depravity, the only hope is for God to save people.  When we pray we all become reformed-“God save my friend.”  We believe God hears our prayers and in His perfect wisdom answers them according to His will.  God has ordained prayer and evangelism as the means by which the nations will be saved.  We devalue God’s holy name when we neglect to engage in those means!

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ESV Galatians 1:11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone

God “set [Paul] apart before” his birth and called him “by his grace.”  God revealed his Son to Paul because it pleased Him to do so (v. 16).  The language here is very similar to Matthew 11:27 where Jesus says, “no one knows the Father except the son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (c.f. Luke 10:22; John 17:1-2). The Lord did this in Paul’s life so that he might carry the message that transformed him, namely the gospel of Jesus Christ, to the Gentiles.

The most common argument leveled against the fact that Paul was set apart before he was born is that Paul is a special case because he was an apostle and therefore his conversion was predestined whereas others’ are not.  The major problem with such an interpretation is that the Bible never makes such a distinction between the election of the common man and the apostle.  Paul speaks of the entire church at Ephesus as having been “chosen in [Christ] before the foundations of the world” and “predestined [them] for adoption as sons” (Eph. 1:4-5).  Paul also sees Timothy as having been chosen in Christ “before the ages began” and Timothy was not an Apostle (2 Tim. 1:9).  In fact Paul doesn’t mention his Apostlehood here in Galatians 1:15-he simply says that he was set apart before birth and called by God’s grace and that the Son was revealed to him by the Father–is that not the gospel of Jesus Christ?  I fear that if we give into the idea that God elected only the apostles, there is nothing to keep us from thinking of evangelism as a task given to only to a special group of people in the church-i.e. certain church leaders similar to Apostles.  However, if we see God electing all men in the same way, then it is clear that all who are elect are given this same charge to take the gospel to the nations.

2 Timothy 1:8-10 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel

God saved us because of his grace and purpose which He gave us before the ages began.  These verses clearly refer to those who have faith in Jesus Christ and therefore cannot be referring merely to the corporate election of the nation of Israel.  God saved and called us to a holy calling–not because of works but because of His own purpose and grace.  Therefore if you are a Christian and you are reading this–the grace you have received in Christ was purposed for you before the ages began!  Salvation lies in the hands and purpose of the God of the universe–God the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ!

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Romans 8:28-30 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This chain of foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification cannot be broken.  Each of these are done by the Lord.  Some interpreters have tried to get around unconditional election here by saying that foreknowledge merely refers to foreseen faith such that God merely knows who will believe but he does not choose them.  Such an answer does not make sense of the chain which includes predestination which literally means “predetermination.”  Further God’s foreknowledge refers to more than only his foreseeing things.  When the Bible speaks of those whom the Father knows it refers to those upon whom God has set his covenant affection.  It refers to those whom God loves and has begun a relationship with.  For example Amos 3:2:

Amos 3:2 “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.

This text cannot be merely about those who God literally knows otherwise it would say that God doesn’t know any of the other nations of the earth.  Thus this knowledge refers to God’s covenant love that he has chose to set upon Israel.  Thus in Romans 8:28-29, foreknowledge is applied in a similar way to those who love God.

Further, all those whom God foreknew, he foreknew them to be predestined to be conformed to the image of his son. In other words those who God has foreknown he also ensures that they will be sanctified.  Salvation without sanctification is never taught in Scripture.

Romans 9:11-24 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad- in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call- 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory- 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

These verses are pretty straight-forward (for more info on the Old Testament passages that Paul is quoting, see my previous post, Matthew, Moses, and Malachi on Election.  They are difficult for us to accept but pretty clear.  I simply want to point out that this text is clearly not just about Israel as those who are called are not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles (v. 23).  Clearly election is not conditioned on anything in man.

This doesn’t always sit well with me, I don’t understand why God choose some before the foundations of the world for salvation and not others.  I don’t know why God set his covenant love upon Jacob and not Esau.  Paul essentially expects such a response to God’s election of some to eternal life in v. 19, “You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”  Paul answers his own question with stunning bluntness-” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?”  This is tough stuff!  As to the exact reason why God chose some and not others, all I can say is that apparently God doing so brings Him glory (v23).

Romans 11:2-8 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. 7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”

Romans 11:2 indicates that those whom God foreknows he does not reject.  What else could these verses mean other than there are Gentiles who were foreknown and elected?  Where Israel failed, the Gentiles succeeded, but not because of anything in them–not by works otherwise grace would no longer be grace!  In fact 11:7-8 tells us that God is even sovereign over hardening and the rejection of the gospel.  This is very similar to what you see in Romans 1 (see the Side Note in my previous post on election).

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I have been blogging for over a year now and I really haven’t said much about the Doctrines of Grace.  What are the doctrines of grace you ask?  Some call them the 5 points of Calvinism, the Cannons of Dort, TULIP or ROSES.  I like the term Doctrines of Grace (or DoG) because I do think that each point highlights God’s all sufficient grace as the only adequate remedy for sin.  I know I got all fired up around the time of the John 3:16 conference, but other than that, I haven’t really blogged much on these doctrines for a number of reasons.  First I don’t feel that these doctrines are primarily what define me as disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, therefore I have never felt the need to write every other post on Calvinism.  Secondly, the doctrines of grace are controversial amongst evangelical Christians.  There are many people who disagree with me on these doctrines who I would call beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ.

So why am I taking up these doctrines on my blog?  Firstly, though the Doctrines of Grace do not define me as a disciple of Jesus Christ, they do challenge and encourage me as a follower of Jesus.  They move me to worship, praise, and adore Christ my savior.  They move me to evangelize because I know that my God’s Word will not return void and that God will draw people to himself from every tribe tongue and nation–the results of God’s powerful Word being preached to the nations are not in doubt!  The primary reason I am now blogging about the DoGs ( on a side note, “Where my DoGs at?” or “Who let the DoGs out?” would make excellent titles for Reformed Christian rap songs) is because the DoGs are found all over the place in Scripture.  I firmly believe that these all-to-often neglected doctrines are found in the Scriptures–if that is the case, then we as believers ought to address them, come to grips with them, and apply them to our lives.

I believe that all Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21) and all of it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”  Therefore, if the Bible teaches the DoGs, then they must be profitable for training us in righteousness and equipping us for every good work including taking the gospel to the nations.  Therefore, the doctrines of grace do matter.  They are not to be feared, though they are difficult, a right understanding and appropriation of them will result in the bearing of much fruit for God’s kingdom! If we abide in Christ and His Word abides in us–we will bear much fruit (John 15:5)–this includes the portions of His Word which deal with controversial doctrines!

I won’t pretend that the DoGs are not controversial, especially in Southern Baptist life (in which I find myself as an SBC pastor), but I also won’t pretend that these doctrines are not addressed extensively in Scripture.  Just because something is controversial doesn’t mean it is not true, nor does it mean that it is not worth fighting for.  Even if there were just one clear Scripture on election, I would still seek to submit myself to its truth and apply it to my life as a Christian.  For instance, there are only a handful of Scriptures that speak directly to the immorality of homosexuality–does that make it any less true?  No of course not!  I do think that certain truths are addressed at great length in the Bible because of their importance for us as believers and because of what they communicate about almighty God and the human condition.  I think this is the case with most, but not all the doctrines of grace.  For instance–election and total depravity are addressed quite extensively, limited atonement, however is less frequently discussed doctrine in the Bible.

For the record, I am a 5 point Calvinist most days of the week–sometimes I find myself drifting away from limited atonement (I hate the title “limited” atonement” by the way).  I just want to be clear that the Bible calls all Christians to be fervent evangelists and that the gospel is to be preached to all people and everyone who believes the gospel of Jesus Christ WILL be saved!

Here is the skinny:  you might be surprised to find that the doctrine of election is a central doctrine in the Bible, so in a series of short posts, I intend to show that the Bible’s references to election are many and are found in many more places than Romans 9 and Ephesians 1–they are all over the place!  So I intend to post on what Moses, Matthew, Mark, John, Peter, Paul, Luke, and James have to say about election–probably each of these biblical authors will receive their own post.  Once we have established the Bible’s thorough teaching on election, then I will likely write a few short posts on some of the most controversial passages of Scripture that are often pitted against the DoGs. With the help of some of my friends here at Elect Exiles, I hope to address other important DoGs such as irresistable grace (I prefer effectual calling) and total depravity (or better yet, radical corruption).

Finally, I am also taking up the doctrine of election because others are talking about this doctrine in ways that I do not feel represent what I believe fairly and honestly–so instead of twiddling my thumbs while I and others who value the doctrine of election are misrepresented, I will just tell you what I believe and show you from Scripture!  I hope these posts prove to be helpful resources to you and above all, I hope they point you to Christ!

If you completely disagree with my take on these verses, by all means, please leave a comment in the comment meta explaining why.  I simply want to submit to and benefit from the teaching of Scripture, even if you think I am completely wrong, the passages of Scripture I will cite must be addressed–so at the very least, I hope these posts will help us all to be better Bible readers and theologians and I hope that they result in more faithful kingdom living until our Lord returns or calls us home!

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Pulpit Magazine is back for 2009 and Phil Johnson is talking Calvinism. Click here and here to read parts one and two.

Should be more to follow soon!

Update: Click here, here, and here for parts 3, 4, and 5.

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Wade Burleson has posted a thorough review of Richard Land’s presentation on congruent election at the John 3:16 Conference. If you have been following the conference, you have probably already read Andrew Lindsey’s summaries of the sessions and John Mark’s posts on the conference, Burleson’s posts have been helpful–its interesting to get another perspective on the conference from another 3:16 attendee and SBC pastor.

Dr. Land basically said that Romans 9-11 are not about the individual election of believers unto eternal life but about corporate election of Israel. I would like to hear him defend that view exegetically but since I was not at the conference and won’t be able to hear Land’s presentation (unless I drop $50 on the CDs–the sessions will not be streamed online), I thought I would offer just a couple of insights along with an some insight from pastor Burleson.

First, even Romans 9-11 were about corporate election, that doesn’t change the fact that Romans 8:28-32 clearly is about individual election–I have never heard the case made that Romans 8 is about corporate election and in fact I don’t think the case could be made. Secondly, Paul is not at all the only NT writer who speaks of individual election and Paul clearly discusses individual election at numerous other points in his epistles. Examples include: Ephesians 1:1-10, Matthew 11:25-27, John 5:21-23, John 10:25-30, John 15:16, John 17, Acts 13:48, Acts 18:9-11, Romans 8:28-30, 2 Timothy 1:8-12, James 1:18, James 2:5, 1 Peter 1:1-2, 1 Peter 2:9-10, Revelation 13:8. 1 Peter 1 and Ephesians 1 are both addressed to a primarily Gentile audience and thus cannot be explained away as references to the corporate election of Israel. I have never heard Acts 13:48 dealt with by any of the non-Calvinists crowd–this stunning statement also refers to primarily a primarily Gentile audience–“And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”

Here is Burleson’s summary of Land’s arguement:

But, according to Dr. Land, this is where God’s “foreknowledge” comes in to play. God knows all things that happen in time – now. There is no “future” to God. Everything is now to Him. God treats sinners as either “elect” or “non-elect” because He knows what the sinner will choose from eternity. Time is irrelevant to God. Again, the future is the now to God. Therefore, He desires all to be saved, He gives His Son for the atonement of all sins without exception, and all that is lacking is the sinner’s reception of what God has provided, and God will treat sinners based upon His knowledge of how they will choose.

Dr. Land then made clear what is required for God to “elect” a sinner. “As the sinner attempts to respond to the saving work of God, then God gives to that sinner saving faith.” In other words, God gives the faith, and treats the sinner as His elect, His child, etc . . . when God sees “an attempt to respond.” He does not turn a deaf ear to the sinner who calls upon the name of the Lord.

Burleson goes on to ask this timely question–if God knows that some will not believe and will face eternal punishment–why create them? If God could intervene, why wouldn’t he? If God knows their fate but does nothing to change it, how is he any less responsible than in the Calvinistic view of election? Land’s view at face value seems only a few short steps away from open theism–in which the future is a mystery to God altogether.

Its not difficult to see where this kind of thinking falls short of presenting all of Scripture’s teaching on election and salvation as a whole. Burleson rightly notes:

Man is responsible – to obey God perfectly. God holds man responsible for this perfect obedience. Yet, no man seeks God. No man obeys God. No man listens to God. We are all rebels. We are all sinners. The fact that a great number of us will one day repent of our sins and fall in love with Jesus Christ is because He first loved us. Our salvation is due to God’s unconditional choice to redeem us and shower us with His favor, which includes the softening of our hard hearts and the vivifying (regeneration) of our spiritually dead hearts. I agree wholeheartedly that if a sinner desires God to save Him, God will. But for a hardened rebel like me to even begin to desire Christ’s Lordship, and for me to even come to the point that I hate my rebellion to God, then God must first change my heart. We love our rebellion way too much, and just as it is impossible for the Ethiopian to change the color of his skin or the leopard his spots, so it is impossible for those of us accustomed to doing evil to change our ways.

I wonder how many Southern Baptists share Land’s eternal now perspective. My guess is that very few do. It seems to me that it provides more questions than answers and fails to address the breadth of biblical teaching on election and perhaps most troubling serves to diminish the fact that Salvation is God’s gracious doing. When people start saying things like, “As the sinner attempts to respond to the saving work of God, then God gives to that sinner saving faith,” I start to wonder where that idea is taught in Scripture and I start to worry that we are beginning to give man reason to boast of his salvation when Paul clearly taught that all boasting of our salvation is excluded (Ephesians 2:8-9). How is this idea not a step closer to Trent? I am not accusing, just asking a simple question.

Read Burleson’s post and feel free to share your thoughts with me in the comment meta.

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