First of all I think that many of the arguments for Five Point Calvinism commit the “fallacy of sweeping generalization”, which is applying a general principle as if it were a universal rule, or the “fallacy of hasty generalization”, which is drawing a generalization from too few specific examples.
For example just because Paul was called against his will with a light from heaven and immediately turned 180 degrees from his original direction (see Acts 9:1-20), does not mean that everyone is converted in that way. God has the power to do whatever He wants, but it appears that He does not always work in that way. Also in 2 Timothy 2:25 when it says to pray “that God may grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth”, it doesn’t mean that the only way a man can repent is by God granting it to him. In Acts 17:30, Paul tells us that “God commands all men everywhere to repent”. Yet, although God wants all men to repent (2 Peter 3:9), and all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth and God (1 Timothy 2:3-4), it is an irrefutable truth that not all men do repent, nor do they come to a knowledge of the truth, and as a result are not saved. Jesus clearly taught this in Matthew 7:13-14:
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
As well as his talk in Matthew 13:18-23 about the parable of the sower and the four soils:
Hear then the parable of the sower. “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”
Only one of the four soils represents that of a saved person. At least two of the other four soils look to be saved, but in fact are not saved.
Here are the specific problems I have with the following Five Points of Calvinism as represented by the acronym T.U.L.I.P.
- T (total depravity) – I agree with this point, so long as it is defined properly. This does not mean that man is as bad as he could possibly be but, rather, as RC Sproul says that fallenness, original sin, depravity has affected every aspect of man.
- U (Unconditional Election) – well it is actually conditional, not unconditional. The condition stated in God’s word is faith. John 1:12 clearly says this:Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. Notice the order – Receive, Believe, Become. Also, Ephesians 2:8: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith –and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. By the way, when it says “it is a gift of God” in that verse, “it” refers to the grace, not the faith. Additionally, why is salvation pictured as a ‘gift’ (Romans 6:23)? Gifts must be received (accepted) and opened in order to benefit the recipient. If you left your Christmas gifts under the tree and never opened them, would they be of any benefit to you? Are you doing any kind of works to earn your gift by receiving it and opening it? No. On the other hand, if the person handed you the gift, and you handed them back a $100 bill to pay them back for the cost of the gift, that would be an offense to the giver. Same thing with salvation – it is not a “works salvation” to decide or choose to receive a gift and open it. It is still by grace alone, through faith alone. I liked this quote given by Dr. D. James Kennedy in a sermon on faith “Faith leads to justification + good works”.
- L (Limited Atonement) – this is clearly refuted by 1 John 2:1b-2:Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
- I (Irresistible Grace) – This is refuted again by Jesus’ Parables teaching that not everyone is saved although God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9): 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), He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9), Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? (Ezek. 18:23) I do not find the argument convincing that God has “2 wills” and yes, I have read John Piper’s article on the 2 wills of God. I’ve also read a comprehensive, point by point rebuttal to the Piper article which I find more convincing. Paul even tells us in at least 2 places that people are active in refusing to believe: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. (Romans 1:18-19), They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved (2 Thess. 2:10b)
- P (Perseverance of the Saints) – I agree with that one. All truly saved people will persevere to the end. Jesus said “those who endure to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). He also said “By standing firm you will gain life” (Luke 21:19). Paul further clarified how we stand firm “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:21)
So, then, how can I reconcile this view with all the many Scriptures that say that only the elect will be saved and that God predestines only some to be saved?
I think there are at least 2 possible ways to make sense of this:
- Election could be talking about “corporate election”. God could be electing those who believe in Christ (also known as “the Church”) to be saved. For example, when Paul is talking to the Colossians, he says “Therefore, as God’s chosen people…” (Col. 3:12a), he could be talking just about the church. Or when he says “For he chose us in Him before the creation of the world…” (Eph. 1:4), the ‘us’ could refer to the church (the believers in Christ). Notice that in the first chapter of Ephesians, there are about 10 significant places (such as Eph. 1:4) where the phrase “in Him” (or other similar phrases) is used. This seems to indicate that God is not choosing individuals for salvation, but rather is choosing, as a group, those who believe in Christ.
- He could be choosing individuals based on His foreknowledge that those individuals will believe. Romans 8:29 seems to indicate this: “For those God foreknew he also predestined…”. Acts 17 seems to indicate that God places us where we are in this world, so that we can find him: “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27)
I would highly recommend reading the excellent book Deconstructing Calvinism for an excellent treatment of this topic.
It seems like most of the Christians I know are Calvinist leaning. It is tough because it causes contention in Bible studies and fellowship, but I know that I will be shoulder to shoulder with my Calvinist brothers and sisters praising our amazing God for all the ages to come in His glorious heaven and we’ll probably be laughing at our earthly selves thinking about all those hours we spent writing, discussing (and sometimes arguing) about how someone comes to believe the truth and be saved!