Once I was an Arminian that could not ignore the strong predestination portions of Scripture. Then I was a Calvinist that could not ignore those portions where the reality of human choice is self-evident. Now I want to say “yes” we are pre-destined and “yes” we must accept or deny the gospel; “yes” God initiates salvation and salvation is a work of God alone and “yes” humans are not forced to worship God or love God but to freely reject God. I like both-and scenarios better than either-or when discussing this subject.
There are many Arminians who see their doctrinal system in the mirror of Scripture; there are many Calvinist who do the same. Everyone wants to claim that Jesus was on their side or that the Apostle Paul taught what they teach. As W.W. Birch recently wrote criticizing Calvinist who think the great Apostle was one of their own so I echo: “The apostle Paul was no more a Calvinist than he was an Arminian or a Lutheran or an Episcopalian or a Methodist or a Pentecostal. He did not establish our systems; we establish our systems on his and other New Testament authors’ writings out of God’s inerrant word.” (see here)
I don’t want to be a Calvinist or an Arminian! I don’t see one side as providing a better explanation than the other. In fact, I am tempted to say that if one asked the Apostle Paul “Did God elect his beloved before the beginning of time?” he would say “yes”. If this was followed with the question, “Did God make salvation available for all people everywhere through Christ and do people have the right to accept or deny the truth of the gospel according to their own free will?” I think would again say “yes”.
When I think about the saving work of God I think it goes something like this:
(A) God foreknows what all people, in all places, at all times would choose in all possible circumstances if faced with the truth of the gospel.
(B) God has provided salvation through the work of his Son by the power of the Spirit that was sufficient for all people, in all places, at all times.
(C) God determines to place those people who will accept the gospel (or prior to Calvary the “gospel” of Israel) in a time and place where they will have the opportunity to hear and accept the gospel.
(D) Since humans are corrupted by sin the Spirit works in the lives of those who will hear the gospel prior to the event in preparation for the event in order to move them toward faith (some see this as God’s work of predestination; some speak of this as prevenient grace).
(E) That being said, the Spirit works on those who will accept the gospel based on foreknowledge. While God is sovereign God is not arbitrary. This is why I can’t accept “strong” Calvinism. I don’t think God plays “duck, duck, goose” with the eternal destiny of humans.
(F) Some of those who God knew would deny the gospel are put in times and places where the gospel would not reach them. Why is this? In part God does not force himself on those who do not want him. In part it may be that their judgment is “less” because they didn’t deny the gospel (I know this brings up another long list of questions). We may even speculate that God will save some based on their willingness to accept the truth they knew and for whatever reasoned deemed it unnecessary for the gospel to reach them (though I don’t think this is plausible).
(G) Some who will not hear the gospel are blessed/cursed with the “opportunity” to hear and reject the gospel. It may be that God let’s them hear the gospel in order to provide a greater indictment upon those whom God knew deserved such an indictment for reasons beyond our knowledge or because God knew that these people would do things like blaspheme the gospel, or preach a corrupted gospel, or mock the gospel in such a way that the true gospel still spreads via their disobedience in order to reach those God knew would accept it if they heard it.
This is how I have rationalized it. It seems to me that this model would preserve both the sovereign, electing, predestinating work of God while not deny the will and choice of humans. Both seem evidence in Scripture to me and I don’t want to move too far in favor of either view. I don’t know if this makes me some form of Calvinist, some form of Arminian, or some form of adherent to “Middle Knowledge”.
This seems to be some mix of Arminianism and Middle Knowledge, or essentially a modification of Arminianism. You have appeared to have modified Arminianism by saying that God knows all choices that people would make given every set of circumstances (this is a slight mod of Arminian understanding of God’s foreknowledge with a lean to Middle Knowledge I think) and that God predestines or elects a set of people that He knows will respond (clearly Arminian). However, you mod Arminianism, I think, by restricting prevenient grace to those who are predestined (by God’s foreknowledge of those who will believe). Other than that, I think this is rather clearcut Arminianism. I don’t think a Calvinist would accept this in any way as Calvinism because you are placing the ultimate decision of who is elect in human hands rather than the sheer electing grace of God.
Personally I lean heavy toward the Reformed side of this debate, but don’t like all that goes with Calvinism. I have two thoughts in critical response here:
First, I don’t know how one can fit Paul’s own conversion into your point ‘F’. In other words, Paul’s conversion seems very “Calvinistic” if you will and it seems hard to imagine that there are other unbelievers in the world who would not become believers if God literally put a smackdown on them in the middle of the road! I would think it hard for even some of the “new atheists” to resist such hard evidence of Christ’s existence.
Second, it seems really, really hard to get God off the hook of being, to some extent, “arbitrary,” in our eyes. Even given your position, God is actualizing some particular set of circumstances which allow some to believe and others not to believe, and it seems hard to imagine that those who are not actualized to believe would not come to faith given some other set of circumstances (such a personal confrontation with Jesus like that of Paul’s). Furthermore, it seems highly implausible that God has left entire people groups without a Gospel witness in world history because He knew that not one of them would have come to Christ with the preaching of the Gospel.
Anywhoo, enjoyed the post. Will be thinking about it.
Grace and Peace,
These are valuable points. I see where this has Arminian leanings. I am waiting for an Arminian to come back and say it is too Calvinistic!
As regards Paul we could say that he was already a “believer” though misguided. He was passionate about YHWH but didn’t understand how Christ and his church fit into the picture. The Spirit would have done a work through his Judaism, hence point “E”.
I was going to say it sounds Lutheran ;).
Ha! I think you are just trying to lure me into Lutheranism. 🙂
You spoke my mind, but in a more, “I went to Seminary” sort of way. 🙂 This stuff drives me nuts, especially since I was raised in a “we’re right and everyone else is wrong” sort of environment. Good thoughts.
Still seems like an awful lot of inconsistency must be swallowed. If God saw how the whole thing would play out for all eternity and he still got the ball rolling, then all that other talk is meaningless (no matter how He saw it). Nothing ever had the possibility of ever being any different. Choice is effectively removed. Do you chock that up to the ‘mystery of God’ or am I missing something?
Many of the conclusions and applications that open theists come to on this subject are unknowable or even unbiblical (depending on where they go with it), but do you reject outright the epistemological critiques that this system has to offer to both Arminianism and Calvinism? I don’t see this being weighed in your thoughts at all.
I am not endorsing any particulars of open theism. Just curious…
Didn’t Paul say that he wasn’t disobedient to to the heavenly vision (Acts 26:19)? If disobedience were not possible in that scenario (i.e., if Paul couldn’t reject the call of God on the road to Damascus) then what sense does his statement to Agrippa make?
Humberto: I’m glad I could say what you are thinking. I hope I didn’t let too much seminary jargon impede my message.
Crystal: Honestly, I’ve never seen Open Theism or Process theology as a viable option. I know that God’s relationship to time and the nature of time are complicated matters, and I don’t deny that complexity, but the biblical language leads me to think that God has everything in control in a way that I am not sure Open Theism allows. Also, I don’t think God’s foreknowing equates to determinism. Even in many Open Theistic models God “foreknows” based on his knowledge of how each event will likely unfold (which is how they preserve sovereignty to some extent).
Nick: Good point. As forceful as Christ’s revelation was to Paul it doesn’t seem that he closed the door to his own apostasy as a real possibility. He seemed comfortable using language that indicates he was chosen from the womb and he could have ruined it if he chose to walk away from the true gospel.
Brian: Yeah, especially with all that stuff he said in Hebrews. 😉
You need to become an “Evangelical Calvinist,” then.
Paul = Hebrews?! I thought it was Luke, or Priscilla, or Apollos!
What is the difference between a Calvinist and an Evangelical Calvinist? Aren’t a good majority of E/evangelicals Calvinistic?
“Evangelical Calvinist” is easily misunderstood. It’s not Calvinists who are “Evangelical” (by way of sympathy). It’s language used to identify a strain of Calvinism that developed in Scotland (it is anti-Westminster or TULIP, and is also known as “Scottish Theology”).
You can come to the blog and click on the “Themes of Evangelical Calvinism” in my sidebar if you’re interested. Or wait for our book which will be out in late 2011, which you can also read about by going to my sidebar at the blog and clicking on “EC” book.
According to Roger Olsen in his book Arminianism, myths and realties, you can’t be a calmainian. 🙂
Roger who?! 😉
I agree with those who have said this is a sort of Molinist/Arminianism.
God be with you,
Yes, yes I am 🙂
Sounds similar to the Evangelical Catholicism that is running through Lutheran circles.
No. But it’s too involved to try and snapshot here. I would just point you to my blog if you’re interested in further insight on it.
Great thoughts, Brian. It is so disheartening to read these battles and things where some Calvinist will say an Arminian is “barely saved,” etc. We’re splitting hairs within the Body. We definitely have too much time on our hands! 😉
Craig: Are Lutherans allowed to read N.T. Wright because I like his books?!
Dan: It seems like we often forget that the purpose of the church is the mission of the gospel, not redefining our views over and over again until we can feel smug.
Yep, we’re allowed to read N.T. Wright. In fact, my New Testament prof used one of his books for Pauline Studies.
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