Even a Broken Watch is Right Twice a Day
Vol: 76 Issue: 31 Thursday, January 31, 2008
I suppose I am accused of being a Calvinist, on average, about twice a week. Three times if I’ve written anything about eternal security or predestination.
John Calvin was a sixteenth century Frenchmen and Reformer. One of Calvin’s adherents, John Knox, founded the Presbyterian Church, based on the Five Points of Calvinism, known by the acronym “TULIP”.
In point of fact, (for all you purists out there), Calvin didn’t actually come up with the TULIP equation — the Synod of Dort did in 1619, more than a generation after Calvin’s death in 1564.
T=Total Depravity of Man This doctrine holds that man is born hopelessly enslaved to sin. It is not in man’s nature to do good, therefore all people are morally incapable of choosing to be saved on their own.
Calvinism holds that certain people are predestined to be saved by God, which leads to:
U=Unconditional Election which asserts that those who would be saved were chosen (elected) by God, irrespective of virtue, merit or faith, but grounded entirely in God’s mercy.
To a hyper-Calvinist, Unconditional Election means there is no need for a Christian to share his faith with the lost –since God has decided who will be saved, God will accomplish that person’s salvation on His own.
L=Limited Atonement holds that the sacrifice at the Cross was full payment for all the sins one had ever committed or would ever commit.
Hyper-Calvinists believe that Jesus died only for the elect, rather than for the sins of all men, and that therefore, certain people can never be saved.
I=Irresistible Grace describes the saving grace of God overcomes the resistance of the elect to the Gospel. To a hyper-Calvinist, a person whom God has chosen cannot resist the call of the Holy Spirit unto salvation.
P=Perseverance of the Saints is the Calvinist name for the doctrine of eternal security. To a hyper-Calvinist, this means that those God has called to salvation will continue in faith unto the end.
The Calvinist view of eternal security holds that, if a person continues in apostasy or habitual sin, it means such a person was never truly saved.
On the surface, my doctrine sure seems to be Calvinist, since I can’t find a lot about the main points with which I disagree. But I am not a Calvinist. That sounds contradictory, but it depends on whether one views it from man’s religious perspective or from the perspective of what the Bible teaches about faith.
On the total depravity of man, I agree, but not because John Calvin says so.
The Bible says so. Romans Chapter 7 is devoted to the subject of man’s depravity, a depravity so total that Paul likens it to being chained to a corpse, crying out, “Who will deliver me from the body of this death?”
Paul used a metaphor sure to be recognized by his Roman audience. It was a common form of execution to chain the condemned to a corpse. The Romans would withhold food and water and bet on how long it took the condemned to resort to cannibalism.
Paul chose this metaphor specifically to underscore man’s depravity, and that it is total. Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
“Desperately wicked” is a dictionary definition of the word ‘depraved’.
On the issue of unconditional election, I tend to agree, but only in the broadest possible sense. Calvinists interpret ‘election’ and ‘predestination’ separately.
Calvin’s ‘predestination’ means God has substituted His will for your free will — you have no choice in the matter. That isn’t what the Bible teaches.
One is ‘predestined’ in the sense of God’s foreknowledge. If by some miracle, I could move backward and forward in time, I could peek into tomorrow and see what you ‘did’.
The mere act of KNOWING what you ‘did’ tomorrow isn’t the same thing as causing you to do it.
If predestination (in the sense of Divine foreknowledge) is some kind of heresy, then what is Bible prophecy?
Nearly 150 years before his birth, God identified the Persian King Cyrus by name, calling him “His anointed” and listing the tasks that God had predetermined Cyrus would accomplish.
Cyrus was anointed, 150 years in advance, to capture Babylon, restore Jerusalem and rebuild the Jewish Temple. (Isaiah 44:24,26-28) Isaiah’s prophecy was so detailed it even detailed the battle tactics Cyrus would use.
Isaiah predicted the Cyrus would “dry up the rivers . . . . and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.” (44:27-28)
Daniel says that the Persian Army, under the command of Cyrus, dammed up the Euphrates where it passed through Babylon, walked down the riverbed and captured the city and the kingdom.
Once in power, Cyrus authorized the repatriation of the Jews from Babylon and the reconstruction of both Jerusalem and the Temple.
Cyrus did precisely as he was prophesied to do, but Cyrus did so of his own free will. God simply knew what Cyrus would do, and revealed it to Isaiah in advance. Cyrus wasn’t a robot. He did what he did of his own free will. It just so happened that God knew just which free-will decisions Cyrus would make.
Calvinism’s ‘limited atonement’ suffers from the same doctrinal excesses that collectively make up what has come to be known as ‘hyper-Calvinism’.
The Bible teaches that the Cross is all-sufficient atonement for sin, and that nothing we do can add or detract from it. But the Bible does NOT teach that atonement is ‘limited’ to ‘the elect.’
1st Timothy 2:6 clearly teaches that Jesus gave Himself as “a ransom for ALL.” The doctrine of ‘whosoever will’ is untouched — due the fact that God already knows whosoever ‘did’.
The difference is, God knows, but I don’t. It is still my duty to spread the Gospel.
‘Irresistible grace’ may have been articulated as a doctrine by Calvin, but Calvin didn’t invent it, and therefore, one can recognize when something agrees with what the Bible says without automatically becoming a Calvinist.
“For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” (Romans 9:15-16)
Paul wasn’t a Calvinist. The flaw in pure Calvinism is in assuming that, since grace is irresistible, there is no need to carry the Gospel message — the elect will ‘get’ it because God wills them to.
But God’s plan for salvation is in two parts: “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing cometh by the Word of God.”
God’s Word imparts the faith, but it must first be carried before it can be heard.
Finally, the perseverance of the saints, or ‘eternal security.’ Calvinism holds that, once a person is saved, he will be supernaturally able to resist the sin nature. If a person later falls away, it means they were never saved in the first place.
If anything, this is the opposite of eternal security. I know that I still fall into sin — I can pretend I don’t in front of other people, but I know better, and so does God. Calvinism gets around that by saying that means I was never really saved. So how could I ever be sure?
The Bible doesn’t have such an arbitrary benchmark for salvation.
“For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:10)
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
God’s benchmark for salvation is the sincerity and intent of the heart of the sinner. Calvin’s benchmark, in the final analysis, is based in works, not grace through faith.
The Bible is not Calvinist, nor Arminian, nor Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran or Methodist. It is the Word of God, and it is an individual love letter to each of us from God.
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2nd Peter 1:21)
Bible doctrine isn’t Calvinist because Calvin expressed it. Some places Calvin got it right, others, he got it woefully wrong.
Even a broken watch is right twice a day.