Refutation of the five points of Calvinism. More specifically, it is a response to a booklet titled, TULIP: What We Believe about the Five Points of Calvinism by John Piper.
Other Articles on Calvinism
Let us first consider points one and four of Calvinisms TULIP: Total Depravity and Irresistible Grace. Without a doubt they are intrinsically linked, and thus it is almost impossible to consider one without mentioning the other. (Moreover, the other three points are built upon these pillars, and if these fall, the others must follow.)
All Christians rightly maintain that humanity is sinful by nature, born with a propensity to sin. This fact is easily proved from Scripture (not to mention human experience). In Romans 3:9-12, for example, Paul records a sampling of Gods assessment of sinful humanity as found in various Psalms: There is none righteous, not even one there is none who seeks for God there is none who does good. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1, 3 that we were dead in [our] trespasses and sins .by nature children of wrath. Unregenerate people are slaves to sin (Rom. 6:6) and are held captive by Satan to do his will (2 Tim. 2:26).
Clearly, the Bible affirms that, in general, humanity is very corrupt and sinful. In fact, unless God did something to get our attention and draw us to Him, we would never turn from our sins. Moreover, no person can escape his slavery to sin apart from Gods gracious help. We thus affirm mans depravity, Gods prevenient grace (i.e., a grace shown by God that precedes regeneration) and His enabling grace that empowers us to live holy lives once we are born again.
Calvinists, however, go further than that when they speak of mans depravity and Gods grace. They believe that unregenerate people are so corrupt that it is actually impossible for them to submit to God or believe in Jesus; thus they are totally depraved. Moreover, unless God sovereignly changes their wills by a grace that is irresistible, they will never submit to God or repent. Even though people might think they have the choice to repent, they are making a wrong assumption according to the Calvinist. If they dont repent, they are actually doing the only thing they can do, because God didnt grant to them His irresistible grace. If they do repent, they are actually doing what would be impossible for them not to do, because God is sovereignly influencing and changing them by a grace that is irresistible. Thus, they are making no choice at all in the matter of salvation. Rather, God is choosing them and making them into believers. He is changing their wills, because totally depraved people, according to the Calvinist, would never, and could never, humble themselves or choose to repent.
Interestingly, however, many Calvinists maintain that unregenerate people do possess free wills to some degree. John Piper states,
If unregenerate man could perform more evil acts toward his fellow man but doesnt because he is restrained by some wrong inward motive (thus the man is restrained by himself, and not some outside force), then unregenerate man is making a moral decision by his own free will. Piper also states, Except for the continual exertion of saving grace, we will always use our freedom to resist God (p. 9, prgh. 6, emphasis added). Note again the affirmation of the free will of regenerate and unregenerate man ("use our freedom"), but Piper believes that unregenerate man will always use his freedom to resist God, because he is totally depraved.
If this is so, then it is not too strong of a statement to say that Calvinists believe that God causes people to believe in Christ and be born again against their wills, because they would never and could never have chosen to believe and be born again otherwise. Given the choice, they would have preferred to stay in sin, not repent or believe, and never be born again. Just before God bestowed His irresistible grace upon them, had you asked them if they wanted to repent and follow Jesus, they would not have answered in the affirmative. But, moments later, God forces them into doing what they would have resisted moments earlier, would never have wanted, and could not have done. Thus, every person whom God causes to be born again, He causes them to be born again against their wills, and that is what Calvinists believe even if they say they dont.
Piper explains that some influence by the Holy Spirit can be resisted, but that the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance and make His influence irresistible (p. 9, prgh. 1). Thus, God can send two kinds of influence: that which is resistible and that which is irresistible, whichever kind He wills. Piper further elaborates on this as he explains how God can sovereignly give someone the ability to repent, which, according to Piper, is another way of describing how God sends His irresistible grace upon a person:
Directly after this explanation, Piper declares: Note: It should be obvious from this that irresistible grace never implies that God forces us to believe against our will. That would even be a contradiction in terms (p. 10, prgh. 7, emphasis added).
I must ask, how could irresistible grace work on a totally depraved person so as not to be forcing him to believe against his will? If the unregenerate person is initially able to resist Gods grace as he hears the gospel preached, then God must at that time be sending him a grace that is resistible. The totally depraved man, according to Piper, will always continue to resist Gods grace as long as it is of the resistible type. But as soon as God bestows some irresistible grace the man immediately can no longer resist (because the grace is irresistable, which means it cant be resisted for even a second), and so he is immediately born again and believes. But just a moment ago, he was resisting! How can Piper then say that it should be obvious from this that irresistible grace never implies that God forces us to believe against our will? Not only is that not obvious, it stands in direct contradiction to what Piper has just said!
Pipers logic becomes even more convoluted as he continues: On the contrary, irresistible grace is compatible with preaching and witnessing that tries to persuade people to do what is reasonable and what will accord with their best interests (p. 10, prgh. 7). Piper apparently realizes that the concept of irresistible grace raises an immense problem regarding the necessity of persuasive preaching, a problem he hopes to avoid with a one-sentence disclaimer that only exposes his problem. Pipers concept of irresistible grace is clearly not compatible with persuasive preaching.
Here is my question to the Calvinist: Why must we preach the gospel in order for people to be saved? If man plays no part at all in his conversion, why must he hear the gospel to be saved, as Paul says he must in Romans 10:14? A consistently logical Calvinist could never say that persuasive preaching influences the unregenerate person to yield to God, because the unregenerate person will always use his freedom to resist God (Piper, p. 9, prgh. 6). Thus the only way an unregenerate person becomes regenerate is if God sovereignly bestows upon him His irresistible grace. So all the persuasive preaching in the world wont make a bit of difference in the saving of anyone. In fact, to even attempt to persuade someone is an attack on Gods supposed sovereign grace in salvation, because to do so implies that salvation rests, in part, on the hearer and also rests, in part, on the preacher.
According to the Calvinist who is consistent, our preaching cannot have any persuasive power over one who is totally depraved, and if it does, then we must admit that unregenerate man can do something (be persuaded) that leads to his salvation.
If man has nothing to do with his repentance because the ability to repent is Gods gift, then why did Paul so often reason with the Jews from the Scriptures to prove that Jesus was the Messiah (e.g., see Acts 17:2-4)? Why did he attempt to persuade men (2 Cor. 5:11) and beg people to be reconciled to God? (2 Cor. 5:20). Why do we read in Acts 28:24 (as Paul reasoned with the Jews about Jesus), And some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe (emphasis added)? Why did Paul write, I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some (1 Cor. 9:22, emphasis added)? Why did he write that the Jews hindered him from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved (1 Thes. 2:16, emphasis added)?
Clearly, Paul believed that what he said and did affected the results of his evangelism, because peoples wills played a part in their salvation. Again, a preachers attempt to persuade an unregenerate man would be an admission that man plays a part in his repentance, and it would be an affront to Gods sovereigntyif no man can be saved apart from Gods irresistible grace. In fact, to try to persuade an unregenerate person to yield to Christ is to mislead him into thinking that he is not so totally depraved after all, because he can choose to repent!
To a Calvinist who remains consistent with his theology, persuasive preaching is ineffectual and useless, and the Calvinist can draw no other conclusion, lest he be guilty of believing that salvation is not completely the sovereign work of God. There is no escape from this: If people must hear preaching in order to be saved, then people (and preachers) play a part in their salvation, because preaching persuades them to do something, and thus they must have free wills that can choose to repent. This is just one more proof that salvation is not solely the work of God. Man must play a part, otherwise there would be no need for preaching.
Calvinists attempt to answer this particular objection by saying that preaching the gospel is simply a means God uses in saving people. I must ask then, Is it a meaningless means or a meaningful means? If it is a meaningless means, then why do you call it a means? If something is a means to something else, then it serves a purpose to a certain end. There is no such thing as a meaningless means.
If it is a meaningful means, then it serves some purpose that needs to be served to reach the desired ends. According to Scripture, preaching the gospel is an essential means (see Rom. 10:14), because by it Gods message is communicated to people who, if they are to be saved, must believe Gods message and repent. Thus, peoples salvation is dependent on preachers preaching and hearers responding.
If salvation is supposedly a sovereign act of God who bestows on some people His irresistible grace, why dont Calvinists simply stand in front of unregenerate audiences and recite nursery rhymes? Then they could prove the truth of their doctrine of irresistible grace as people are sovereignly born again. Yet I notice that Calvinists try to appeal to the minds and hearts of their hearers in order to persuade them to repent and believe, something their audiences, by definition, cant do unless God sovereignly regenerates them. The preaching of Calvinists contradicts what they say they believe.
There are many biblical examples of the effects of persuasive preaching that could be cited. For example, Acts 17:11-12 tells us:
Their receptivity had something to do with their salvation, as Jesus plainly taught in the Parable of the Sower and the Soils (see Mark 4:1-20).
If Calvinists are consistent with their theology, what is the gospel that they should proclaim? Should they deceive their audiences, calling on them to repent and believe in Christ, misleading them into thinking that they can do something in regards to their salvation, thus strengthening their listeners pride and increasing their spiritual darkness? Or do they tell them the truth that they are so depraved that they are incapable of submitting to God, and unless God shows them His irresistible grace, they can never be saved? How does faith come from hearing (Rom. 10:17) that?
Obviously, such a gospel leaves nothing for the hearer to cling to in faith. That is why Calvinists keep their unique doctrines secret from the unregenerate, only to reveal them at a later time to Christians when they are ready to receive the truth. Truly, the five points of Calvinism are the family secret. Even though they are supposedly the foundational truths of salvation, they dare not be revealed to the unsaved. This, by itself, shows the fallacy of Calvinism. Calvinists intuitively know that if they tell unregenerate people the truth, they will have no converts. So they preach a deceptive Arminian gospel, hope for a response, and later let their converts know what really happened.
I cant help but wonder how God takes pleasure in people who are, against their wills, supposedly regenerated by Gods irresistible grace. They are really nothing more than robots. If they love Him, it is only because they had no choice but to love Him, because they would have preferred to continue hating Him. This means, of course, that they really dont love Him, because love is predicated upon choice. Their warm feelings toward Him are pre-programmed; thus true love is impossible. I encourage the reader to take a puppet made from a sock, put it on his hand, have it turn and look at him, and then have it say, I love you! Does that give the reader the same feeling as when his spouse or child says those words? And why not? Because free will has been eliminated. The puppet is only saying what you are making him say.
I also cant help but wonder about the validity of Pipers belief that unregenerate man will always use his freedom to resist God. Imagine a man who is an adulterer. His God-given conscience condemns him continually (see Rom. 2:15), but he continues in his adulterous relationship. Thus he is using his freedom to resist God, which Piper says is all he can or will ever do since he is totally depraved. But imagine that he finally breaks off his adulterous relationship due to guilt. Now can it still be said that he has only used his freedom to resist God? No, it cannot. He used his freedom to repent of adultery, and yielded to his God-given conscience. If he can use his freedom to do that, why cant he, with the help of the Holy Spirit, repent of a lifestyle of rebellion and humble himself before God?
How could someone who has the free choice to remain unrepentant possibly not have the freedom to choose to repent? How could a person have the capacity to choose to become more evil but not have the capacity to choose to become less evil? Merely by choosing to not become more evil is by default, a choice for good. If we can use our freedom to resist God but cant use it to yield to God, we really have no freedom at all. Were robots, programmed to do evil, having no freedom. It is utterly impossible to have freedom to resist God if one doesnt have freedom to yield to God. Calvin himself certainly admitted this fact, writing in his Institutes,
At least Calvin was consistent in this respect. He admitted (unlike some modern Calvinists) that there really was no room for free will in this theology. If depraved man can do nothing other than sin, then he has as much free will as a bullet shot from a gun.
Calvinists clearly add to what Scripture states regarding humanitys depravity and Gods grace. Although unregenerate people are indeed, dead in [their] trespasses and sins, hundreds (if not thousands) of scriptures clearly state or imply that spiritually dead people can choose to humble themselves and repent, especially while they are under the influence of the gracious drawing of Gods Spirit. Gods drawing, however, never forces anyone to repent, nor does it change anyones will apart from the consent of his heart.
Although Scripture repeatedly decries the sinful state of humanity, at the same time it calls on all people to repent; thus it is obvious that all spiritually dead people still have the capacity to repent. For example, Paul publicly proclaimed, Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent (Acts 17:30, emphasis added). If Paul believed that people were so depraved that they had no capacity to repent, he would not have said that God was calling all people everywhere to repent, unless he was a deceiver. Moreover, if it were impossible for spiritually dead people to repent, God would be unrighteous to expect all of them to do what they are incapable of doing and then hold them guilty for not doing it.
Like Paul, John the Baptist, Jesus, and all the other apostles preached the gospel, calling on all people to repent (see Matt.3:2; 4:17; 11:20; Mark 6:12; Luke 5:32; 13:3, 5; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 11:18; 20:21; 26:20; Rom. 2:4: 2 Pet. 3:9). Several times in the book of Revelation, John is amazed that unregenerate people dont repent while suffering Gods judgments (see Rev. 9:20-21; 16:9, 11). Jesus pronounced woe upon all the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida because they didnt repent, obviously indicating He believed they had the capacity to repent (see Matt. 11:21). He also declared that the wicked people of Tyre and Sidon, who didnt repent, would have repented if they had seen miracles like the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida had seen! In both cases, Jesus believed that those who didnt repent had the capacity to repent and should have repented, in contrast to Calvinists, who believe unregenerate people have no capacity to repent outside of God changing their wills and forcing them to repent (which He only does for some). Thus, Calvinism portrays Jesus as a liar and a deceiver, because Jesus gave all indication that people could do what He knew full well they couldnt do. This also makes God the Father a liar, as Jesus only spoke His words (see John 12:49).
Jesus expected everyone of His generation to repent, because He stated that the men of Nineveh, who repented at Jonahs preaching, would rightfully condemn His generation for not repenting. Again, if they had no capacity to repent, He would not have condemned them, as that would make God unrighteous. Moreover, what right would the repentant people of Nineveh have to condemn Jesus unrepentant generation? The people of Jesus generation could rightly say, How can you, who by Gods sovereign decree could do nothing other than repent, condemn us, who by Gods sovereign decree could do nothing other than remain unrepentant?
Thus, the Calvinist, who believes God condemns people for not doing what they are incapable of doing, makes God grossly unjust. God is thus somewhat equivalent to the parent who spanks his baby for not walking, but He is a million times worse. Why? Because to the Calvinist, God tortures people eternally in hell for not doing what they were absolutely incapable of doing.
The Calvinist also makes God ultimately responsible for all the evil in the world. Why? Because God could put an end to all evil by influencing everyone with His irresistible grace, but He sovereignly chooses not to, thus evil remains only because of Gods sovereign choice. Depraved man can supposedly do nothing but sin unless God keeps him from it by choosing to show him His irresistible grace, so the ultimate reason for evil is because God doesnt keep evil people from sinning.
Calvinists often decry the position of non-Calvinists, accusing them of making man responsible for his own salvation (which is a false accusation). Yet Calvinists make God responsible for the damnation of billions! Clearly, the God of Calvinism hates people even before they are born, when He determines that their eternal fate will be incarceration and agony in hell. If God is solely responsible for the salvation of certain people, He is also solely responsible for the damnation of everyone else, because only He could have rescued them from their fate, but He decided not to do so. And that decision was not predicated on Gods inability to stop sin, but His unwillingness to stop it. Thus God wills sin in select peoples lives. To the Calvinist, man doesnt stop sinning because he has no choice, but because God, who can stop sin, chooses not to! God is thus even more totally depraved than we are!
Calvinists should not object to this point, because Calvin himself believed
that Adam fell, not because Adam chose by his own free will to sin, but because
God ordained his fall:
The Calvinist also portrays God as a very confused God who is actually working against Himself, hating sin and evil, yet promoting the very thing He hates by creating people who have no capacity but to do evil and who are predestined to never change. Moreover, the Calvinists God is a hypocrite, as He practices sins that He condemns in others, such as deception and showing partiality.
In summary, the Calvinist makes God a lying, deceiving, bigoted, malicious, unjust, confused hypocrite who is responsible for the worlds evil and who creates people for the expressed purpose of torturing them forever. If any man did the things Calvinists say God does, every person on the earth would rightly consider that man worthy of immediate execution, and certainly not worthy to be worshiped. Who is really robbing God of glory? Is it the non-Calvinist who says that man must yield to Gods Spirit using his God-given free will in order to be saved, or is it the Calvinist, who turns God into a monster?
Unlike the Calvinist who (whether he admits it or not) places the responsibility on God for peoples lack of repentance, Jesus placed the blame on the unrepentant people themselves. He said as He wept over Jerusalem,
Notice that Jesus loved them all and wanted them all to repent, but they refused to yield to His love. The Calvinist, however, makes Jesus say, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her, proving that you are totally depraved. I never wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, thus I chose not to grant you My irresistible grace, and I predestined you to eternal damnation. Im weeping now, not for you, because Ive hated you from the beginning. Rather, Im weeping for no good reason. Perhaps Im weeping for Myself, an unrighteous hypocrite, because I expect people to do what they cant do and I command people to do what I dont practice Myself. The Calvinist, who claims he is zealous for Gods glory, makes God into an immoral, repugnant monster.
Jesus also rebuked the religious Jews, saying, You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life (John 5:39-40, emphasis added). Clearly, Jesus believed that people had the capacity to choose to repent or not. This cannot be denied by any honest reader of Scripture.
Does Being Dead in Sin Make Repentance Impossible?
But how can one who is dead in his sins possibly repent and believe? some Calvinists ask. Isnt it true that dead people can do nothing and are unable to respond to outside influences?
Such logic, however, is seriously flawed, because it forces more meaning into the _expression, dead in your trespasses and sins than was obviously meant by the apostle Paul. Using such logic, we could just as well conclude that those who are dead in their sins cannot think, breath, speak or hope, since dead people cant do those things either. Like all metaphors, there are similarities that can be drawn between physical and spiritual death, but, like all metaphors, there comes a point where similarities turn to dissimilarities.
Pauls phrase, dead in your trespasses and sins expresses the fact that unregenerate man has no relationship with God because of his sins and is void of spiritual life in Christ as well as eternal life. It does not express the idea of man being incapable of making a choice to repent, just as it obviously does not imply mans inability to make any other choice, including moral choices. Unregenerate people have the capacity to choose between doing what God commands or not doing what God commands (irrespective of their motives for doing either), and this is quite obvious, because unregenerate people make choices all the time to obey or disobey their own God-given consciences (see Rom. 2:14-15). They are not so evil that they are incapable of choosing to obey, for example, one of Gods commandments. Sometimes unregenerate people even stop practicing certain sins while they continue in others, such as when the adulterer ends his affair because of his overwhelming guilt, or when the thief stops stealing for fear of being caught. So what is the difference between any other moral choice that an unregenerate person makes and the moral choice to repent and follow Jesus?
It is obvious from scores of scriptures that Paul did not believe that people who are dead in their trespasses and sins are incapable of submitting to God. From the time of Pauls conversion, Jesus made it clear to him that unregenerate people have the capacity and responsibility to turn from their sins. We read in Acts 26:16-20 Pauls narration before King Agrippa of his own conversion and calling, when Jesus said to him:
But are non-Calvinists saying that a sinful person can repent and believe apart from Gods gracious assistance? Any who do are in error. God graciously attempts to get the attention of the unregenerate man, speaking to Him through His creation (see Rom. 1:18-20), His providence (see Acts 14:17), and each persons conscience (see Rom. 2:14-16). By His Spirit and by His grace, God calls and anoints messengers who take the message of His saving grace to the sinner. By His Spirit and grace, God warns and convicts every sinner of sin, righteousness and judgment (see John 16:8). All of this God does by His grace in order that the sinner might be saved, and He does it all before the sinner has taken a single step towards repentance! Without Gods prevenient grace, certainly no person would ever repent. Jesus is, as He declared, draw[ing] all men to [Himself] (John 12:32, emphasis added) since He has been lifted up from the earth by crucifixion. And as Jesus also declared, No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him (John 6:44a). The Calvinist, ignoring the testimony of so much of Scripture that declares Gods universal love, His universal atonement, and His universal call to salvation, wrongly concludes that the Father is only drawing some, but not all, to Jesus. Yet Jesus plainly stated that He would draw all men to Himself. This fact cannot be denied by any honest reader of Scripture.
Note, however, that although Jesus is drawing all men to Himself, not all men are saved. This again proves that man has something to do with his salvation. He must yield to Gods drawing.
Another similar Calvinistic misinterpretation revolves around Jesus words in John 6:64-65. We read Jesus saying, But there are some of you who do not believe.
John then interjects: For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. John then continues his narrative: And He [Jesus] was saying, For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father.
Disregarding the greater context of John 6:41-71 as well of scores of other scriptures that reveal Gods desire for all people to come to Jesus (e.g., Matt. 11:28; 16:25; 22:9; Mark 16:15; Luke 9:23; John 3:16-17; 5:34-40; 7:37; 12:47; Acts 17:30; 1 Tim 2:3-6; 2 Pet 3:9; 1 John 4:14), Calvinists conclude that Jesus statement, No one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father proves that God sovereignly chooses only some to be saved.
This interpretation, however, stands in contradiction to so many other plain scriptures that declare Gods love for all, Jesus death for all, and Gods desire that all be saved. Since inspired Scripture cant contradict itself, we must find an interpretation that harmonizes rather than contradicts the rest of Scripture.
When Jesus said, There are some of you who do not believe, it wasnt the first time He mentioned believing in Johns sixth chapter. Jesus spoke in 6:28-29, 35-36, 40, 47 of believing in Him, and He spoke of it in such a way that anyone who reads what He said without a preconceived bias would conclude that believing in Him was something anyone could do, and something that God desires every person to do.
Thus, in 6:64, Jesus indicts some of His audience for not believing, just as He did to the crowd in 6:36. Clearly, believing is something they were supposed to do, not something that God did for them. Jesus said, Some of you do not believe. Those words strongly affirm the non-Calvinist view of human responsibility in salvation.
John then explains that Jesus possessed foreknowledge of those who would not believe, which of course is no surprise. Non-Calvinists maintain (and rightly so) that God knew before the foundation of the world who would and who would not believe in Jesus. John is only endorsing that truth, again affirming the non-Calvinist view. And John again supports the non-Calvinist view that each individual is held responsible to believe. Notice that John said, Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not [not could not] believe, and who it was that would [not had no choice but to] betray Him (6:64).
Finally, John quotes Jesus as saying, For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted from the Father (6:65). Contextually, Jesus must mean that God grants that people can come to Jesus only by believing, and that is in perfect harmony with what Jesus said in the two preceding verses, the entire context of 6:26-71, and the whole of Scripture.
Calvinists also use this portion of Scripture to support the theory that the reason Judas betrayed Jesus is because salvation was not granted to Judas. This, of course, makes God the real betrayer of His Son Jesus, as it eliminates Judas responsibility in the matter. To the Calvinist, Judas had no choice but to betray JesusHe was acting out his predetermined destiny. But if this were true, why would Jesus pronounce woe upon Judas for what he did, clearly holding him responsible for his treacherous act? If Judas had no choice but to betray Jesus because God didnt grant him salvation, why would Jesus say, Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born (Matt. 26:24). How could Jesus rightly hold Judas responsible for his actions if he really had no free choice in the matter? To the Calvinist, it was actually God the Father who betrayed Jesus, and Judas was just a tool in Gods hand. Thus Jesus should have said, Woe to My Father for betraying Me!
God Granting Repentance
But what about the biblical statements that indicate that God grants repentance? For example, Peter proclaimed of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:31).
There are only two possible interpretations that can be made from Peters statement. Either God was sovereignly giving each and every totally-depraved, unable-to-repent Israelite the ability and the will to repent by His irresistible grace (note that Peter said that Jesus granted repentance to Israel, not some Israelites), or God was granting all Israel, individually and corporately, the opportunity to repent, as well as His gracious help in their repentance.
If the first interpretation is correct, then every Israelite would have been saved, because, as already noted, God granted repentance to Israel, that is, the whole nation, and not certain individual Israelites. If Calvinists apply their doctrine to this scripture, they would have to conclude that God was bestowing His irresistible grace upon every Israelite. Of course, all Israel was not saved, thus proving that the first interpretation is incorrect.
This leaves us with only the second interpretation remaining, and it is the only one that makes sense and harmonizes with the rest of Scripture. Because God has given man free will, man has a part (albeit a very small part compared with Gods part) in his own salvation. He must cooperate with God if he is to be saved. God takes the initiative, loves the sinner, dies for him, draws and convicts him by His creation, His providence and Spirit, sends messengers to him, sometimes performs miracles before him, offers him salvation, and gives him the opportunity to repent and believe. If the man yields to all this influence, believing the gospel and humbling his proud heart, Gods grace continues to work, graciously helping him to repent by the Holy Spirits power, just as He helps the man all the rest of his Christian life to obey God. Both God and man play a part in mans repentance and ongoing sanctification.
Peter, of course, did not believe when he said that Jesus has granted repentance to Israel, that mans free will played no part in his salvation. He would later write, The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9, emphasis added). Clearly, Peter believed that God wants everyone to repent, but just as clearly, not all do, because they play a part in their repentance. On the other hand, we must never neglect to say that there is no man who could repent apart from Gods grace. We must have His help to come to the light, repent and believe. Piper cites John 3:20-21 as proof that those who come to the light are those in whom God does His work. I agree. No man will come to the light unless God works in him. Piper, however, elevates scriptures such as John 3:20-21 that highlight Gods part in mans salvation, and does not acknowledge the many scriptures that would serve to balance his position, those that emphasize mans part in his salvation. Salvation occurs when man does not abort Gods plan for him, but cooperates with God, who sent his son to be the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man (John 1:9, emphasis added). Why doesnt Piper mention that verse?
When Peter reported to the Jerusalem elders that Gentiles had been saved and God had poured His Holy Spirit upon them, they acknowledged, Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life (Acts 11:18, emphasis added). They were amazed that God was granting salvation to sinful Gentiles.
Again, according to the Jerusalem elders, God granted repentance to the Gentiles, that is, all the Gentiles, not just some pre-selected individuals. Thus, weve now learned from Scripture that God has granted repentance to Israel (see Acts 5:31) and the Gentiles (see Acts 11:18). That includes everyone. Since not all Israelites and Gentiles have repented, we can safely conclude that Gods granting them repentance does not mean that man plays no part in his repentance, which is also obvious from scores of other scriptures. Piper neglects to mention the scores of other scriptures that help us understand mans obvious part in repentance, and quotes only one scripture (2 Tim 2:24-26) that he misuses to buttress Calvinisms lop-sided view.
Let us consider that one scripture about repentance that Piper mentions. Paul wrote,
Again, Paul couldnt have been saying that man plays no part in his repentance and that repentance is a sovereign gift of God, otherwise he would have been contradicting so much of what he himself wrote. For example, Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2:3-4: This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (emphasis added).
So if we are to harmonize Paul with Paul, we must conclude that he was emphasizing Gods part in mans repentance. No one can repent without Gods help, because unregenerate man is a slave to sin (see Rom. 6:6). God wants all to repent. He is granting every person the opportunity to repent. And He is offering the ability to repent to all who humble themselves. God gives grace to the humble (Jas. 4:6). He, not they, is the one who frees them from their slavery to sin. And that is more likely to happen if the Lords bond-servants are kind and gentle to their opponents, as their kindness has a softening affect on their opponents hearts.
Again, if God was sovereignly granting repentance apart from mans willingness, what is the point of Pauls admonition to the believers to be kind and gentle to their opponents? If God is sovereignly granting repentance, it makes no difference if the believers are kind and gentle to their opponents! But because God is not sovereignly granting repentance, believers actions can make the difference in an unbelievers receptivity to the freedom from sin that God is offering them. (Incidentally, why didnt John Calvin follow Pauls instruction to be kind and gentle to ones opponents when he had Michael Servetus slowly burnt at the stake for doctrinal differences?)
In the Calvinistic interpretation of scriptures like those just mentioned, we can see the primary flaw in their methods of interpretation, that of ignoring context. Calvinists focus on certain supportive scriptures and ignore those that clearly contradict their interpretation of the supportive ones. Thus, their interpretation does not harmonize with the whole of Scripture. They have emphasized Gods sovereignty to the extreme, to the point of excluding what Scripture says about mans responsibility and God-given free will. Calvinists dive into a haystack to find a needle, and when they are pricked by something sharp, they exclaim, This isnt a stack of hay, its a stack of needles, just as I suspected!
The Mind Set on the Flesh Cannot Submit to God
By ignoring context, Calvinists misinterpret many scriptures. For example, Piper cites Romans 8:7 to support the Calvinistic ideas of unregenerate mans complete inability to repent and his need of Gods irresistible grace. In Romans 8:7 Paul writes, Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so (emphasis added). Piper points to this scripture as proof that unregenerate people are not able to submit to Gods law. Thus they are totally depraved and in need of Gods irresistible grace if they are to be saved.
But is this one verse the only verse in Scripture that explains anything about the state of unregenerate man? Does this one sentence in Romans 8 nullify or supercede everything else the Bible says about salvation? Was Paul a fool who contradicted his own teaching earlier in the book of Romans (e.g. Rom. 2:14-15)? No! Thus, we must interpret this one verse so that it harmonizes with everything else the Bible says. And that is quite easy to do. Paul is simply saying in Romans 8:7 that a mind that is set on the flesh, which is a hostile mind, does not submit to God and cannot submit to God. But does this prove that one cant, with Gods gracious help, soften his hostile mind, yield to Gods call, and repent of setting his mind on the flesh? No, it does not. All of Scripture leads us to believe that such a thing is quite possible.
In the very next verse we read, And those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom. 8:8, emphasis added). Does this verse prove that it is impossible for one to repent, no longer be in the flesh but be in the Spirit? Obviously not.
Moreover, did Paul write what he wrote in Romans 8:7 to prove the truth of mans total depravity and his need for Gods irresistible grace? No, he was writing to Christians to describe the difference between them and nonbelievers (see 8:4-11), to help them understand their obligation to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit, and to warn them against living according to the flesh lest they die (see 8:12-14). Again we see the classic error of the Calvinist who ignores context.
Piper contradicts his own theology at one point, when, after elaborating on mans total depravity and complete inability to submit to God, he states. If we think of ourselves as basically good or even less than totally at odds with God, our grasp of the work of God in redemption will be defective. But if we will humble ourselves under this terrible truth of our total depravity (p. 8, prgh. 1, emphasis added). Surely, Piper is not speaking here to people who have been regenerated and indwelled by Gods Spirit, who are forgiven, clothed in Christs righteousness and set free from sins dominion! Those kinds of people are not totally depraved! Every Calvinist admits that regenerate people can make the choice to obey God, thus no regenerate person can be considered to be totally depraved by Calvinistic terms and definitions. Thus, Piper is speaking to the unregenerate at this point, those whom he says are totally depraved and will always use their freedom to resist God (see p. 9, prgh. 6) since, of course, they have no capacity to do otherwise. Yet he counsels these depraved people to humble themselves, something that is impossible for them to do apart from Gods sovereign choice to show them His irresistible grace! Like all other Calvinists, Piper finds it very difficult to remain consistent with his own conclusions.
There is no better illustration of Calvinistic contradiction than at the end
of his booklet, where Piper complementarily quotes renowned Reformed theologian
J.I. Packer, who attempts to explain what a person must do who desires to be
saved. We would expect Packer to say that one can do absolutely nothing to be saved, since salvation is supposedly all the work of God and none of man.
The very question, What must I do to be saved? reveals that the
inquirer, according to the Calvinist, doesnt understand that salvation
is the sovereign work of God. The consistent Calvinist must tell such an inquirer,
You cant do anything! If God has pre-selected you, He will change
your will by His irresistible grace, regenerate you, and give you the gift of
repentance and faith. Your very question is presumptuous and reveals your pride.
But you can do nothing about your sin of pride, because you are totally depraved,
and will only use your freedom to resist God! In fact (according to page 6 in
Pipers booklet) you are so totally depraved that any attempts you make
at repentance are actually evil in Gods eyes, because everything you do
is a sin.
And so I must then ask, who is this person who is asking, What must I
do to be saved? He must be unregenerate, as he is confessing that he does
not believe he is saved, indicating that God has not regenerated him nor given
him the gift of faith. As an unregenerate person, he is either predestined to
be sovereignly changed by Gods irresistible grace or he is not predestined
to be changed. (We will later consider the Calvinistic doctrine of Unconditional
Election.) If he is not predestined to be sovereignly changed, then there is
nothing he can do to be saved because he will never be saved. He has no chance
of ever being saved.
So, to believe in Christ to be saved, I must, among other things, abandon all
self-righteousness and self-confidence and exchange my natural enmity and rebellion
against God for a spirit of grateful submission. Yet, according to the Calvinist,
I can do none of these things unless God first regenerates me! And if He regenerates
me, he also gives me faith in Christ! If I have faith in Christ, I dont
need to be saved! So why is Packer telling me that I must do these things through the renewing of [my] heart by the Holy Ghost? If my heart
is renewed through the Holy Ghost, Ill automatically do those things,
because God has sovereignly changed me. Im saved! I dont need to
Packers advice to the one who is sincerely seeking salvation repeatedly
contradicts his own theology. In fact, according to his own theology, there
are no unregenerate people sincerely seeking to know how to be saved, because
people are totally depraved and use their freedom only to resist God and do
evil. Packer would have been more consistent with his theology if he had answered
the question, What must I do to be saved? by saying, You cant
be sincere in asking that!
God Opens Hearts
Rather than allowing scripture to balance scripture, Calvinists consistently
focus on scriptures that emphasize Gods part in salvation and consistently
ignore those that focus on mans part. They thus conclude that salvation
is all the work of God and that man has no responsibility in the matter. For
example, Piper points to Acts 16:14, where we read about Lydia listening to
the preaching of Paul: And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city
of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening;
and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.
Satan Blinds the Minds of Unbelievers
Piper also cites 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 to support the Calvinistic idea of Gods irresistible grace. There Paul writes,
Does this passage prove
that God only shines His light into the darkened hearts of certain ones whom
He shows His irresistible grace? No, it does not, except to one who has a preconceived
bias and is looking for verses to support his bias. This passage highlights
Satans part in keeping people in his clutches and Gods part in releasing
them from Satans clutches. It does not emphasize mans part in that
process of being freed from Satan. This passage is not everything the Bible
has to say on the subject of salvation!
Does the New Birth Precede Faith?
Piper connects irresistible grace with the new birth on page 11 of his booklet,
and states that God sovereignly regenerates us, which results in our having
faith. The only scriptural support he offers for this view is 1 John 5:1, which
he quotes from the Revised Standard Version: Every one who believes
that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. Pipers argument is
that Johns words, has been, indicate that faith in Jesus is
the evidence that one has been, prior to his having faith, born
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