Challenging God’s Sovereignty II

The fact that God is sovereign need not be established, as I previously wrote here. The sovereignty of God is an essential aspect of who He is and it is not contingent on any other thing. We shall leave that as an established fact.

To proceed in light of the already established fact of non-contingency, we can state that God’s sovereignty in no way depends on either the fact or mode of election. Shank states this best when he says “God is sovereign, regardless of whether He elects, or does not elect…whether he elects some, or all…whether election is conditional, or unconditional.” Does the establishment of this sovereignty then demand, as Calvin and his framework do, the corollary doctrine of unconditional election?

Calvin says “God’s grace is illustrated by the fact that he does not give away salvation indiscriminately, but gives to some what he denies to others. Ignorance of this great truth detracts from God’s glory and prevents true humility.” (Institutes 3:21:1) He continues, pointing to Romans 11:5-6 for his evidence, “Paul maintains that the principle can be understood only if works are set on one side and God is seen to elect those whom he has predestined.” (ibid) [Romans 11:5-6: So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.] Calvin’s contingent will also take us to Romans 9 as proof of (the already established) sovereignty, most often to 9:6-29.

As we search the scriptures for further word on God’s sovereign love and choices, we also find it in evidence here:

For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. (Rom 11:32)

and here

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. (Titus 2:11)

and here

This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:3-4)

There are numerous other texts that propose a different election, one that is corporate and universal and conditional. Does this election challenge the sovereign God? In no way! The method or basis of election has no bearing on the truth of His sovereignty. Given the scriptural voices that emphasize the universal nature of grace, should the doctrine that establishes a conditional election rooted in an assumed decree continue to stand? Is God who clearly biblically offers an election in Christ universally to all men, challenged in His sovereign choices by this very offer?

Eternal Security: The Calvinist View

The five-point Calvinist view of eternal security is enumerated in the last letter of the TULIP acronym, P standing for the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints. In line with the totality of Calvinist theology and its focus on God’s sovereign actions, this would perhaps be better entitled Perseverance of the Lord since it is He who keeps the believer until their moment of glory. These believers may backslide and sin but this view states that the believer cannot fall away completely from grace and they will persevere until the end and be saved.

Eternal security in Calvin’s theology must be understood in the context of the entire framework, as all of the points are logically connected. The elect (the only humans who God chooses to redeem) will be the recipients of the persevering power introduced by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. These believers will be kept in the power of the Spirit and are eternally secure. Calvin words it this way:

God, who is rich in mercy, from his immutable purpose of election, does not wholly take away his Holy Spirit from his own, even in lamentable falls; nor does he so permit them to glide down that they should fall from the grace of adoption and the state of justification; or commit the “sin unto death,” or against the Holy Spirit; that, being deserted by him, they should cast themselves headlong into eternal destruction. So that not by their own merits or strength, but by the gratuitous mercy of God, they obtain it, that they neither totally fall from faith and grace, nor finally continue in their paths and perish.

Scripture references are easy to locate in support of this idea of perseverance. The unbroken chain of salvation found in Romans 8:29-39, so glorious that it leads Paul to doxological joy, is often put forth as the only passage necessary in support of this doctrine. Jesus gives the promise voice in John 10:27-29 where He recites the covenant using a shepherd metaphor; His sheep know Him and they have been given eternal life by Him. They face no danger of perishing nor can any force or event challenge that status (cf: Rom 8:38-39). Divine purpose is described in the introductory lines of Ephesians (Eph 1:3-14) where the unbroken chain of salvation is again rehearsed. The Elect were chosen by God before creation for redemption therefore that status cannot be broken; it must come to pass that they will be saved. Further texts [1 Pet 1:3-5, Phil 1:6, Heb 7:25, et. al.] cited by the Calvinist would cement the same point: since God has elected certain of humanity from among the fallen to be the recipients of eternal life and these individuals are promised that life, it necessarily follows that this salvation is permanent. If they could somehow lose this salvation, God’s promise would not be effectual.

Calvinist theologians also infer the doctrine of perseverance from the study of other doctrines. For example, believers enjoy a union with Christ. In John 15:1-11, the Elect are shown to be united with Christ and living through the life force that flows from Him. No force can divide this union, thus removing a believer from the Body so the promise inevitably follows. The doctrine of being born again anew also points to the promise. In 1 John 3:9 John writes:

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.

If salvation could be lost, regeneration would have to be undone and the believer visited by spiritual death once again. This idea would challenge the power of the Holy Spirit who, indwelling the believer, would have been unable to keep the individual. Perseverance can also be implied by the doctrine that the believer can have assurance of his or her salvation (Heb 6:11, 10:22, 2 Pet 1:10). John once again offers a text that follows his list of evidences that God has given eternal life followed by these words, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)

There is a critique commonly spoken against this position that is rooted in the sovereign choice, maintenance, and glorification of the Elect by God, wholly apart from the will or actions of man. Given such assurance apart from their own will or choice, humankind is tempted to live a morally lax life assured that regardless of their sinfulness or even devotion to Christ, their ultimate salvation is guaranteed in the promise of God. As Demarest writes (The Cross and Salvation, pg 444) “The popular saying, “Once saved, always saved” is misleading, for it may suggest that believers will be saved irrespective of how they live. The Calvinist response is to initially agree that regenerated and justified believers may indeed lapse in their faith, resist God, and fall into sin for a period but their unbelief and resistance is fleeting, rather than incorrigible and final. God deals graciously and patiently with genuine Christians who lapse in their faith. Spurgeon commented that there is a kind of faith that appears lively but never personally commits to Christ and obeys the gospel. It is these ‘supposed’ or ‘outward appearing’ Christians that are at risk of finally falling away. He writes of the assurance implicit in the promise, regardless of temporary lapse:

We believe that God has an elect people whom He has chosen unto eternal life, and that truth necessarily involves the perseverance in grace. We believe in special redemption, and this secures the salvation and consequent perseverance of the redeemed. We believe in effectual calling, which is bound up with justification, a justification which ensures glorification. The doctrines of grace are like a chain– if you believe in one of them you must believe the next, for each one involves the rest; therefore I say that you who accept any of the doctrines of grace must receive this also, as involved in them.

Summary

The classical Calvinist position is perhaps the easiest to examine as it simply rests on the promise of the Lord. Eternal security rests in the sovereign will of God; He chose some for eternal life and because of this fact, nothing can interfere with that promise coming to fruition. Jesus explains it simply:

For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. (John 6:38-39)

CampOnIntellectual Dishonesty in the Debate

Everyone can recognize a caricature when they see one. Here is how our President is portrayed and the President himself. The caricature grossly exaggerates some feature or characteristic of a person in order to visually portray that person in a certain light. Here we are to believe that President Bush not only possesses these huge fly-out ears and little beady eyes but a level of intellectual shortcoming as well. Caricature is used of ideas and concepts as well, usually of an idea with which you disagree. The caricature contains some element of the original idea, just enough to make it identifiable. It is then lampooned and distorted in a way intended to either belittle or dismiss the thought without actually engaging the idea. It is often intellectually dishonest.

So, what role should caricature play in the discussion of theology? Is God’s word and its interpretation and application the domain of comedy and not-so-subtle deception? Certainly, Elijah was not kind to the prophets of Baal as he questioned why their god was indisposed, perhaps in the rest room but by and large, the Bible presents the unvarnished truth without resorting to deprecation rooted in falsehoods. Because we engage in discussion that has eternal implications, those who write and speak on topics relating to God and His truth should consider carefully how we present our ideas.

Steve Camp has once again done his best to caricature the Calvinist-Arminian theological debate by portraying Arminian theology incorrectly. In a post entitled “The Five Points of Free Will” he writes this;

The previous post represented a condensed version of the five points of Arminianism that sparked the development of the five points of Calvinism at the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619 as a theological and biblical corrective to the heretical views of Jacob Arminius.

The previous post is where the real caricature appears as he presented this little cutesy test by which one could engage in a witch trial of your own to determine if, according the theologian Camp, you held to the correct framework. Here are the questions which he claims to be representative of the Arminian framework:

1. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man’s freedom. Each sinner possesses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man’s freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters. T or F?

2. God selected only those whom He knew would of themselves freely believe the gospel. It was left entirely up to man as to who would believe and therefore as to who would be elected unto salvation. God chose those whom He knew would, of their own free will, choose Christ. T or F?

3. Christ’s redeeming work made it possible for everyone to be saved but did not actually secure the salvation of anyone. Although Christ died for all men and for every man, only those who believe on Him are saved. His death enabled God to pardon sinners on the condition that they believe. T or F?

4. The Spirit calls inwardly all those who are called outwardly by the gospel invitation; He does all that He can to bring every sinner to salvation. Man’s free will limits the Spirit in the application of Christ’s saving work. The Holy Spirit can only draw to Christ those who allow Him to have His way with them. Until the sinner responds, the Spirit cannot give life. T or F?

5. Salvation is accomplished through the combined efforts of God (who takes the initiative) and man (who must respond) – man’s response being the determining factor. God has provided salvation for everyone, but His provision becomes effective only for those who, of their own free will, “choose” to cooperate with Him and accept His offer of grace. T or F?

Reading the comments attached to this quiz is typical of the CalBloggers as they high-five one another for scoring so high on the exam without once pointing out that this does not accurately reflect the theological points made by the Remonstrants. (BTW, according to Mr. Camp, the answer to all of these should be False, something that an Arminian would agree with.)

Okay, everyone had a bit of fun and in a few days the post will scroll off into blog oblivion but when do we begin to consider the long term effects of this kind of discourse? Mr. Camp’s blog is quite popular and many (most?) accept whatever he writes without challenge or correction. Because he inaccurately portrays a theology that he does not support, he is either a) disingenuous or b) ill informed on the topic on which he writes. Which I dare not speculate but leave that up to you to decide. Although, Steve, it seems to me that there is something in the Bible about bearing false testimony…