Some Problems With Predestination/Calvinism (And What I Think The Bible Really Says)
(Part of the "Predestination vs. Free-Will" series)
Calvinists (those who believe in predestination, that we don’t have a real choice about salvation) – say that we have to evangelize and pray because God told us to and because God knew that this is how the lost would be saved. This is a pretty flimsy reason for evangelizing, given that (according to Calvinists) no one really has a choice about where their souls end up anyway.
(And actually, they'll say that we do get a choice, that we freely, willingly choose according to our nature. But what they don't say is that God alone determines our nature, whether we get a new "saved" one or whether we have to keep the old "sinner" nature which can do nothing but sin and reject God. This is still God determining whether we believe or not, whether we sin or not. Don't buy into their double-talk.)
If evangelizing didn’t really make a difference, then doing it just because God told us to would just be “going through the motions,” acting out a part just for the sake of acting it out. We would just be “pretending” to evangelize because it wouldn’t really be needed or have an effect anyway. This really waters down the Christian message and the urgency to reach the lost. And I think it can cause believers and unbelievers alike to not take seriously God’s call to salvation and Jesus’ sacrifice for them. What does it really matter what you think about these things anyway if it doesn’t really matter what you think and if you are just going to end up where God assigned you? It kind of makes a mockery of thinking and of faith and of sharing the Good News.
And if it's that God really does need us to evangelize and pray because it has an effect on what happens (which I believe is true), then this means there's the possibility of being disobedient. If God expects us to obey then that means there's a chance we could disobey. And if there's the possibility to choose between the two, we are right back to free-will and the responsibility of man to respond to God’s calls. (So I don't think a Calvinist is being true to their theology if they say that we have to obey the call to evangelize or that it makes a difference. If they say this, they are really just affirming free-will.)
Either He doesn’t need our obedience because He’s already determined where people will go and it doesn’t really matter what we do (which means that evangelism and prayer are just meaningless formalities) . . . Or He does need us to be obedient and to evangelize and pray because it makes a difference and has a real effect (which confirms the idea of free-will and choice, of God working in and through mankind’s cooperation).
It can’t be both.
[I will be writing a post on this sometime, but I have recently figured out why my Calvinist pastor is so passionate about evangelism. It stumped me for awhile - why someone who believes our eternities have already been decided and there's nothing we can do about it would be so passionate about evangelizing - until I found some articles he wrote on it. He believes the purpose of evangelizing is to "make God famous," that God's major goal in this world is to be famous among the people. And so an evangelist's job, according to my pastor, is to "make God famous." And to call people to repent.
But ... there was nothing in there about sharing God's love with people, about sharing with people God's desire to have a relationship with them, about sharing the good news of Jesus's sacrificial death for our sins. (Because Calvinists can't promise everyone that God loves them or that Jesus died for them, because they believe these are only for the elect. And Calvinists are not about having a relationship with God; they are only about God using us to get more glory for Himself, even if it's by causing horrible sins or by putting us in hell.)
And I don't understand how someone can call people to repent without giving them the chance to accept Jesus's sacrifice for them, to "accept Jesus into their hearts," asking Him to be their Lord and Savior. Calvinists fiercely deny that we can ask Jesus into our hearts or that we can accept Him. They call that "works," meaning that we are "doing something to earn our salvation." This is why they don't do altar calls, why they don't ask people if they want to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. My pastor said he doesn't do altar calls because he's afraid people will think they are saved simply because they "walked the aisle." But I know that's not true. He doesn't do altar calls because he doesn't want people thinking that faith is a choice.
But "accepting" what Jesus did for us is not works. It's simply accepting the gift that He created, that He sacrificed for, and that He is offering to us - salvation, eternal life. It's admitting that we can't do in on our own, that we can't earn or create salvation for ourselves, and so we are thankfully, humbly accepting what He did for us.
How can a Calvinist challenge people to repent without giving them the call to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior? I don't get it. And it's so sad to me to think about what kind of "gospel" this Calvinist pastor is spreading, to think about the version of God he's pushing on the people, how they are missing out on hearing about God's love, His desire to have a relationship with them, how Jesus died for them, and how He wants us to seek Him and accept Him.
I don't care what else a Calvinist gets right; if they get this wrong then it's all wrong! So sad! They are making God "famous" for all the wrong reasons.
Now back to the post ...]
Personally, I think that having no choice about choosing or rejecting God cheapens God’s love, His gift of salvation, Jesus’ sacrifice, and the joy of Him creating a heavenly family to spend eternity with.
It also cheapens the Bible and this life. The Bible is all about sharing God’s love, Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, and His offer of salvation and drawing people back to Him. But if we have no real choice then the Bible is superfluous. It’s really not needed because whatever is going to happen will happen regardless of what we think or do. And this life is superfluous, too, because nothing we do or decide here would really matter or make a difference if God already has our eternities planned. He may as well just skip this whole time period and plunk us down in the places we were already determined to go to.
But I simply cannot believe that this life is just for show and that what we do or believe or decide doesn’t really matter, not when the Bible clearly tells us how important obedience, faith, and our decisions are.
Personally, I think . . .
Personally, I think that when God calls us to be obedient, to pray, to evangelize, and to decide who we will follow, it’s because there is a real reason for it. Our choices matter and have real consequences. It’s up to us if we will follow and obey Him or if we rebel and reject Him. And we choose the eternal resting place of our souls. It is not pre-decided for us. This life matters and what we decide during this life matters. The Bible matters, and the calls, challenges, and warnings that He gives us through it matter. They are real. God has given us real calls, real warnings, and real choices. And we need to take them seriously.
He desires that all of us come to Him. He doesn’t want anyone to perish. But He allows it, if that’s what we choose. And I think this fits best with His character. What kind of glory would there be for Him to spend an eternity with robots who were forced to choose and love Him? Any of us can understand the specialness of being with someone who wants to be with us, who chooses to love us. None of us would find any real joy in being with a robot who was programmed to love us. But somehow, Calvinists believe God would. That He would enjoy an eternity spent with robots who were forced to "choose" Him and love Him, and that He would be glorified by it.
[And once again, do not buy Calvinist's double-talk about how we still willingly make a choice, even though (according to them) God causes all we think and do and whether we became a believer or not. They are simply trying to make it sound like even though they believe God causes sin and unbelief that we are still somehow responsible for our sin and unbelief, and so God is just in holding us accountable and punishing us for our sin and unbelief, even though He caused it.
They are full of rambling nonsense, trying to mesh two un-meshable, contradictory ideas. And it just absolutely butchers God's character, Jesus's sacrifice, and the Gospel truth! The sad thing is ... crazy-talk doesn't sound crazy to the person's who's saying it. It sounds perfectly reasonable to them. And that's probably the most dangerous thing about Calvinism: Calvinists truly believe what they're saying - no matter how crazy it sounds and how much it contradicts itself and God's Word - and they think it's their duty to spread it. Satan's best schemes involve disguising himself as an angel of light and using God's Word against God. Sad. And scary!]
Do you think God's love would really mean that much to us if we had no choice but to accept it? It’s the ability to choose it, to accept it, and to value it that makes it worthwhile, beautiful, heart-filling, and that makes us truly thankful.
And what would His forgiveness, grace, and mercy really be if we were just robots, forced to choose what He created us to choose? Our obedience or disobedience in this lifetime would just be part of the grand play where we are acting out our pre-written roles for the sake of acting them out. We wouldn’t have any choice to do anything else. And so His forgiveness, grace, and mercy – His response to our obedience or disobedience - would just be part of the play, too. Like a young child playing with dolls and acting out scenes, causing one doll to do something wrong, putting them in jail, and then showing “mercy” on them and letting them out. Do forgiveness, mercy, and grace really mean anything if God determines our decisions and forces us to behave accordingly?
If the person had no choice, if we were pre-programmed to respond to His love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy, then would we really be able to be genuinely thankful for them? Would they have any real, meaningful value? They would just be part of the act, the role we are forced to play, and our response to them wouldn’t mean much because we had no choice but to respond. And there would be no real joy in that, for us and for God.
Now, of course, maybe I am wrong. But given the way that God interacts with people in the Old Testament and all the invitations He gives (and warnings and challenges and calls), I do not think I am wrong. I think He has set up the two teams, and He says “Decide for yourselves whom you will serve.” (And not making a choice for God automatically means you make a choice against God.) And I think these are real choices with real consequences and a real need to pray and to share our faith.
Assumptions and Faulty Logic
The more I hear people try to “prove” predestination and Calvinism, the more I think that they are basing it on assumptions, faulty logic, and misunderstood Scripture which has been taken out of context.
They quote verses that talk about God doing something He has planned, and they assume it describes the way God works in every detail. So if He has planned and carried out one event in the Old Testament, it means that He plans every single event in history. They find a verse that says that He does whatever He pleases, and they assume it means that everything that happens is because God wanted it to happen, that nothing happens that He has not planned and carried out.
I believe, however, that whenever God has determined to do something, He does it (by orchestrating events in His foreknowledge of what we would choose to do), but it doesn’t mean that He always does whatever He wants in every situation or that everything that happens is because He wanted (caused) it to happen.
He didn't want Adam and Eve to fall. But He knew they would. So He had a plan in place that would incorporate their disobedience and work it into something good. In His foresight, He knows what we will choose to do, and He can utilize it for His plans. But it doesn't mean He causes us (or Adam and Eve) to disobey.
In the Old Testament, He determined to get the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. And He accomplished what He had determined to do - but only with those who were willing to be obedient. The first group - the people He pulled out of Egypt - wouldn't obey, and so He decided they would die off in the desert. But then He accomplished His Will with the next group - with their children, the ones who were willing to obey Him. When He has determined to do something, He works it out with or without mankind's cooperation, in His foresight.
And sometimes, there are things that He wants to happen, that He commands, but that don't happen because mankind refuses to obey. In the Bible, we read about how it's His Will that we take care of the poor and orphaned and widowed. But this doesn't always happen because we don't obey.
Sometimes His Will gets done because He works our obedience or disobedience into His plans. Sometimes His Will doesn't get done because we don't do it. Sometimes things happen that He didn't want (but that He allowed) because He knows how He can work it for good. Sometimes things happen because God allows Satan to do things (within boundaries). And yes, sometimes He does whatever He wants to do, regardless of us. Because He is God ... and He can.
This is a much more complicated view of how God works than the extreme Calvinist view my pastor preaches - which is that God causes everything that happens and that everything that happens is because God caused it. Calvi-god is actually a small, weak god who can't handle anything other than what he causes. Whereas the God of the Bible can handle everything and work it all into good, even the things He doesn't cause, the things He allows us and Satan to do.
[Listen to Tony Evans talk about how God works in the world in Connecting with God for a Breakthrough. The whole thing is worth listening to, but start at about the 5:30 mark to hear him talk about how God has started natural laws at creation which continue to this day, and how God can intervene in the activities of this world/nature but how He's not "required" to and often doesn't until and unless people want Him to and ask Him to. What Dr. Evans is saying is that God doesn't cause everything, as my pastor would say. God isn't micromanaging. He lets life and people continue on as they will, without intervening (for the most part) unless we call on Him. We hold a lot of responsibility over what happens, and we have to decide whether we will inquire of God, seek His help, obey Him ... or whether we will go our own way. And if we don't want to inquire of God and obey, God will let us go our own way and make our mistakes (while He continues to try to call us to Him). This is how I believe God works, contrary to my pastor's preaching that God causes everything and makes our decisions about Jesus for us.]
Strong Calvinists (like my pastor) quote verses (Romans 3:10-11) about how no one seeks God and how there is no one who is righteous, and they say it means that it’s impossible for humans to seek God because we are so totally depraved that we cannot even think about wanting God in our lives. And so God has to be the one to make us seek Him and believe in Him. (But this is only for the pre-chosen ones, of course). However, that’s totally reading into it something that is not there. Is it not possible that these verses are simply stating the general condition of mankind? That mankind’s general inclination is to be self-focused and not seek after God and that we do not have any righteousness in and of ourselves that can get us into heaven? That only the righteousness that comes from Jesus can do that?
They say that if you believe that man has the free-will to make decisions or choices or that our prayers can affect God then you are calling God weak and powerless, saying that He is dependent on fallen, fallible human beings and that we can interfere with His plans. I admire their desire to defend God’s sovereignty and power, but maybe His sovereignty and power don’t need to be defended. Maybe (as I believe) God has chosen to voluntarily limit His use of power and to allow mankind to make choices and have an effect. Therefore, it is not an attack on His power when we say that people have free-will. If we have free-will, it’s because God gave it to us and allows us to make decisions.
They say that God made people sin (because remember, He causes everything that happens, for His plans and purposes) and that He has pre-chosen whether we will be believers or unbelievers and that those who go to hell are there because it’s what God wanted, because it glorifies Him somehow. Yet in the same breath, they try to convince us that God really is just and loving and fair and righteous.
And when we question predestination and say that it doesn’t make sense, they say “Well, it’s what the Bible says. And you don’t have to understand it because God’s ways are far above our ways. So you just have to accept it in humble faith.” (But maybe it doesn’t make sense because it’s not what the Bible really says? Because they are trying to twist Scripture and God’s character to fit with wrong ideas?)
The more I hear people try to push and defend predestination, the more I see the flaws in their logic and their use of Scripture.
[Question for Calvinists: Are you willing to find out that you may be wrong? Sit with that question for a moment. Feel the answer in your heart, mind, and gut. If you are wrong in your understanding of this issue, are you willing for God to show that to you? Are you willing to admit that you may be wrong? If you are wrong, are you willing for Him to show you what the Word really says? Or are you so determined to cling to and push your view that you will not allow Him to change your mind? If you are willing to find out you may have been wrong on this issue, tell Him that and ask Him to open your eyes to the truth. But if you are not willing because you are absolutely sure that your view is the only way to view the Bible then . . . well, then there’s nothing anyone can say to change that.]
What I Believe the Bible Says!
I think that when the Bible says, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,” (Joshua 24:15) it means that we really do have a choice. We have to choose between accepting the Lord or rejecting Him.
I think that “God did this [created the nations of the earth] 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 17:27) shows that God intends for us to seek and reach. And this affects whether or not we find Him. The responsibility and possibility lies with us. It is His plan that we pursue Him. And He reveals enough of Himself in His creation to arouse our interest and to be found. And if we don’t find Him through it, it is because we refused to notice Him and to seek Him.
But how can He expect us to “seek and find” if He deliberately creates only some people to be saved and others to not? If this were the case, our seeking and reaching wouldn’t have anything to do with whether or not we found Him, because it would be wholly up to His pre-determined plan for us whether or not we became believers. There would be no “perhaps” about it. But God says “seek and reach” because it is then that we find Him. And if we do not find Him, it is because we did not do this. And I think the fact that He is close to all of us means that He is able to be found by all of us, if we so desire to seek and reach.
I think that when it says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” (Romans 10:13) He means that salvation is available to all, but our responsibility is to call on His name.
I think that when it says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20), He means that He knocks on all hearts but that we have to hear it and respond and open the door. The responsibility for the decision is ours.
I think that when it says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20), it means that everyone has the same chance to come to Him and no one has an excuse for why they don’t. (You sure would have an excuse if God made you reject Him.)
I think that when it says that God wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4), it means that He really wants everyone to come to Him and to accept the truth, that this is an option for everyone. And if they don’t become saved and accept the truth, it’s because they chose not to.
I think that when it says that He doesn’t want anyone to perish but that He wants everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), it means that He doesn’t want anyone to perish. He wishes everyone would be saved. Why would He specifically create some people to be destroyed, and then go and say that He doesn’t want anyone to perish but that He wishes everyone would be saved? When He knows it’s not possible? That wouldn’t make sense.
But it does make sense to say that He wants all people to come to Him and that He doesn’t want anyone to perish if He created man with free-will, with the chance to accept His offer of salvation or not. Then, even though He knows many will not choose Him, He can claim that He genuinely desires that all men find Him.
John 1:11-12 says, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-” Receive and believe. It contains an element of personal responsibility. And it implies that it is possible to refuse and not believe. The responsibility – the choice to believe or not believe – is ours.
“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-” (John 1:12) “For if, by the trespass of one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)
The concordance basically says [paraphrased] that the word “receive” involves the idea of deliberately grabbing ahold of something, of consciously accepting what is offered. It is active, not passive. It is intentionally reaching out and grabbing something, as opposed to passively acquiring something. There is a responsibility on our parts to grab ahold of grace and salvation, to not let it pass us by.
I think that when it says that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11), it means that it is available for all men to see and accept. What would it matter if it appeared to all people if people couldn’t really accept it unless they were programmed to?
[Notice 2 Peter 2:1: "But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them - bringing swift destruction on themselves." Two important things here: 1) They brought destruction on themselves. God did not cause it to come upon them. They brought it on themselves. 2) Jesus's blood "bought" these false teachers who denied Him. Even though they resist Him and actively fight against Him, His blood still paid for their sins, just like the Bible constantly says that Jesus died for all people. But since they refused Jesus, they brought hell upon themselves. This verse clearly contradicts predestination/Calvinism.]
I think that when He says that Jesus died for all and that God is the Savior of all men (1 Tim 2:6, Romans 5:18, 1 Tim 4:10), it means that Jesus died for all people and, therefore, salvation is available to all people. But only those who accept His sacrifice - His payment on our behalf - will acquire it.
[Calvinists say that God didn't give people the choice to accept or reject Him ... because if people could reject Him, it means that Jesus's blood was wasted. First off, that idea is found absolutely nowhere in the Bible. Not one verse. It is totally and completely man's own reasoning and logic, trying to support a flawed view of the Bible. And secondly, these verses, among others, tell us exactly what Jesus's death accomplished: It bought salvation for all men. And anyone who believes will go to heaven because of it. Where is the "wasted" in that? It accomplished exactly what God wanted it to accomplish, paying for man's sin so that we could spend eternity with Him.]
I think that when He says that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but that He desires that they turn from their ways and live (Ezekiel 33:11), He means that this is indeed possible. That they do have a choice to turn from their ways and that He didn’t just program them to be wicked. There is no joy for Him in the death of the wicked because it wasn’t His plan for mankind. He wants all mankind to be saved. But He allows everyone to choose for themselves.
Acts 16:30-31: “ ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved . . .” It does not sound like that decision is decided for us by God. Whoever believes will be saved and have eternal life. (For more on "whoever" - specifically from John 3:16 - see near the end of this post: "According to the concordance ... it's NOT predestination!")
And “believe” in this verse does not just mean “to believe, as though God has caused you to believe and you did nothing to become a believer.”
In the concordance, “believes” is active, not passive, like the word “receive.” It involves a conscious and willing action on our part. It is allowing ourselves to be persuaded by something and choosing to commit to it, placing our confidence and our faith in it. It means that we allow ourselves to be convinced of the truth, to be convinced that Jesus is the truth. This supports the idea that we are responsible for being willing to believe in Him or not.
I think that when God says that He so loved the world (John 3:16), He meant the whole world, all people. And that whoever believes in Him will be saved. ”For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The responsibility to believe is on us. And our belief or disbelief determines where we spend eternity.
He who has ears, let him hear!
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