By W. David Salley (firstname.lastname@example.org) – 07/23/2020
Much has been said and written regarding Calvinism in the past few years. Actually, this debate has been going on with vigor since the Reformation in the 16th century. Calvinists (the adherents to the doctrine) are men and women who have a high regard for scripture and a deep love for our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. In my opinion, however, they have moved from a clear biblical presentation of the gospel and have fallen into the Corinthian problem of following men rather than exclusively following God. Look at 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 and you will see what I am referring to.
The teachings of Calvinism were summarized by the followers of John Calvin (1509-1564 A.D.) some 50 years after his death and were presented with the acronym TULIP. While I do believe there are biblical and doctrinal points to be believed in all 5 points, at the same time I feel they are being misused and improperly stated and believed in the present day. What follows is my refutation and the reason why I disagree with at least part of the premise of each of the points.
For what it’s worth, here we go!
(T) Total depravity – Calvinists believe that human beings are incapable of choosing to exercise saving faith on their own because they are dead in trespasses and sins as a result of the sin that Adam introduced into the world.
We have, without question, all sinned, and found ourselves short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It is also not that we are as bad as we could be. Of all the despots and tyrants that have ruled down through history, none of them has ever been as bad as they could have been. Total depravity is simply the belief that none of us have the ability to come to saving faith without the work of God. To this we would all heartily agree as we read Jesus’ statement that “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (John 6:44).
However further study of the Word of God brings the realization that we have been carefully instructed that we must come to Christ in faith. This is our responsibility and ours alone. Christ has invited us to come to Him and only Him. The Holy Spirit is at work in the world convicting us of sin (John 16:8) which can only be committed against the God of creation. If God made us so depraved that there was no hope of our coming to saving faith, and then He did not make us one of those whom He elected to come to Him in faith, then our lostness would really be His fault, and to this I cannot agree! Far too many scriptures point to the fact that God designed us to have no excuse on judgment day. A few examples are found in John 6:37, 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:3-4. Romans says that there is sufficient evidence of God’s existence and (at least I believe) of His desire toward us that on the great day of judgment humanity will be without excuse! If God preordained, foreordained, or predetermined any person to miss salvation and go to eternal torment in hell, they would have an excuse! Look over Romans 1:19-25 and I think any rational, thinking human being would have to agree.
This is the plain language used by God so that we might all know and believe. Worth mentioning again is 2 Peter 3:9 which gives ample evidence that God’s desire is to save guilty sinners. The real problem is that guilty sinners will not repent of their sins because once again the wisdom of God speaks truth that we cannot hide from. Humanity tends to love its sin more that its Savior! “…and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)
To God alone belongs all the glory because in His salvation plan He is a seeking Savior. His mission was to “…seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). In the time leading up to the coming of Jesus into the world it was always the disciples who sought out the master. Plato sought out Socrates with a desire to become his disciple, and in turn Aristotle sought out Plato. Philip of Macedon sought out Aristotle with a desire that Aristotle would tutor Philip’s son, Alexander, who later came to be known as Alexander the Great! Normally the student seeks out the teacher, or the Master. Not so with our great God and Savior! Jesus reversed the normal calling between a Rabbi and a disciple. Christ, the Master, sought out we, the disciples, and urged us to follow Him! However, it is to me Biblically true that we have the opportunity, appropriated by free will (another contentious doctrine with many Calvinists) to make our calling and election sure by choosing to become a follower of Christ. To the Philippian jailer’s question “What must I do to be saved?”, Paul said clearly “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved…” The things of Christianity often go diametrically opposite of the normal ways of the world.
Notice the following quotes from great men of God who I believe went too far with their belief regarding total depravity, election, and predestination. The following show what I believe to be misapplied belief regarding the process of salvation. Notice the belief stated in these that we are saved in order that we might believe. This thought is a complete reversal of what I believe to be the mandate brought to us by the Holy Spirit in the inspired Word. Biblical Christianity preaches that in order to be saved we must believe which is not seen in these quotations!
“By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God by which He determined with Himself whatever He wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death” (John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, III, xxi, 5).
Arthur W. Pink wrote: “A man is not regenerated because he has first believed in Christ, but he believes in Christ because he has been regenerated” (found in the book, The Wisdom of Arthur W. Pink).
R. C. Sproul said, “Unless regeneration takes place first, there is no possibility of faith” (Tabletalk, February 1997) and “We do not believe in order to be born again; we are born again that we may believe (in his book Chosen By God).
Total depravity is not what some may think. It is not the fact that we are all sinners, which is a firmly established fact in God’s Word. Breaking one of God’s commandments at any time is enough to render us guilty before God and deserving of death and hell. Notice in the Garden of Eden there was only one law. Do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. Breaking this one commandment not only saw Adam and Eve judged as guilty before God, but also brought on the loss of the very paradise in which God had placed them and commuted the sin penalty to all of their descendants of whom we are part.
(U) Unconditional Election – In this point of Calvinism the doctrine presented is that man has absolutely no responsibility in the salvation process. The Calvinist would say that to God alone goes all the glory in the salvation process. And to that I whole heartedly agree! However, the Bible teaches us a few things that are necessary in the life of the one who comes to Christ for salvation. I absolutely believe that the Father does the work of drawing us to the Son (John 6:44-45).
I with equal faith believe the Holy Spirit is the one and the only one who can convict us of our sin debt (John 16:8). But the scripture also says there are some things we must do to be saved. We must confess with our mouth the Jesus as our Lord (Romans 10:9a). We must as well believe that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 10:9b). God will do neither of these things for us! It is given as a requirement for us to do them. Contrary to the belief of some steeped in Calvinism neither of these requirements is a work. Both are simply confessions of work that God has done for us and when we confess Jesus as Lord and confess our belief that He has indeed risen form the grave we do absolutely no work. We only show Him the honor that He alone deserves. To these we can clearly add the requirement of repentance. The call to repent was heard at the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist (Mark 1:4), of the ministry of Jesus (Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:14), of Peter (Acts 2:38; 2 Peter 3:9), and of Paul the Apostle (Acts 17:30). Jesus punctuated the command with His statement in Luke 13:3; “Lest you repent, you shall all likewise perish.”
(L) Limited Atonement – The Calvinist believes that Christ died only for the elect. But this single verse found in 1 John 2:2 destroys that belief. The fact is that Christ died for the sins of the world from beginning to end! While it is true that Christ’s death was sufficient for the sins of the entire created order from beginning to end, His death is only efficient for those who in honest truth confess Him as their Lord, believe in His resurrection and repent of their sins.
(I) Irresistible Grace – The belief here of the Calvinist is that nobody can resist the movement of God in their life. He comes to save and when He does the Calvinist belief is that no one can resist His call to salvation. The problem with this is the fact that we not only see free will demonstrated throughout the pages of Holy Scripture, we also realize the effects of free will in our lives. We make decisions daily that involve whether we will be obedient to the revealed will of God Almighty or not! God is indeed Sovereign over all His creation. He did not, however, make us little automatons who only dance around as He manipulates the strings that bond us as a marionette does in the hands of a puppeteer. He made us in His image and instilled within us His natural law, that which all of humanity knows is right action. He also has placed within us knowledge of that which is wrong. What we call our conscience is the imprint of God that is known throughout history and is worldwide in reach, in every tribe and on every continent. In Acts 26:27-28, we see the great apostle literally begging King Herod Agrippa to come to faith in God’s universal plan of redemption by believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Paul obviously did not believe in irresistible grace! He gave witness to those he came in contact with of the facts of Christianity and urged, yes even begged, those to whom he gave witness to believe!
(P) Perseverance (or) Preservation of the Saints – The final letter of the Calvinist’s acronym is “P” and is variously referred to as the Perseverance of the Saints, or as the Preservation of the Saints. Well which is it? Does God preserve the Saints that He has saved and made His own, or must the Saints persevere in their relationship with God through faith and adoration of His Son? Well the answer is – YES! It is indeed both as seen clearly from God’s Word. The Preservation of the Saints is realized in the fact that we are positionally placed within the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23 and Colossians 1:18). Not only are we placed within the body of Christ we are also sealed in Him by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30). You cannot get any more secure than that. We are preserved by God in His Son, Jesus the Christ. So, the preservation of the Saints is a Biblically derived doctrine that we can celebrate. But not only are we preserved; we do persevere. A true Christian will not walk away from the One who has gifted them with eternal life and forgiven them of their sins. The true Christian will continue in fellowship with the Savior and with His Church. John says that a mark of the false believer is that they will indeed walk away from the Church (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30 and 1 John 2:19 for these truths).
I in no way believe this little writing of mine will lesson the tension between the Calvinist doctrine, the Arminian doctrine and the (sorry if this offends) the Biblical doctrine of salvation in Christ alone, through Faith alone, by Grace alone with works to necessarily follow (Ephesians 2:8-10). In no way do we ever teach that we are saved by works. We must, however, teach that the truly saved will work for the greatest Master the world has ever known.
My only desire is that this may cause us to think Biblically, and let the Bible be our only authority as we work out the truths of God’s redemptive plan. May God alone be glorified, and may we be drawn closer together as we meditate on His love for us, and as we grow in our love for Him!