November 23, 2017

How I Became … an Arminian

James_Arminius_2

Jacob Arminius

Today we continue our series on “How I Became a…”. Two weeks ago I discussed how I had become a Theistic-Evolutionist. That was one of my later theological “conversions.” Up for discussion today, is my one of earliest theological conversions, that is the transition to Arminianism.

Before going too far down a rabbit hole, let me first tell you my story. I will leave some of the theological definitions, implications, and applications to later in the post.

I grew up in a church that taught “Eternal Security.” They believed that once someone was a Christian they were “eternally secure.” Some used the phrase “Once saved, always saved.” Others used the term “perserverance of the saints.”  Once someone became a Christian, they remained a Christian. They might be “back-slidden”, but if they renounced Christianity, they could never have been a Christian in the first place. Oh, and they had a lot of verses to back them up.

People in this church knew their Bibles well. We would memorize huge sections of the Bible. Our Sunday School Superintendant had his pilot’s license, and for a couple of years the Sunday School class that memorized the most verses would get a flight in an airplane as a reward. One year, a week before the competition was to end, I was swimming at a local river, and, when diving in, hit a rock. I was lucky, and it only took a week for me to recover. I used that time to memorize 60 Bible verses. That put my class over the top, and we got to enjoy the plane ride. I mention this only because although we knew our Bibles well, we knew them very selectively, as I was to discover over the next number of years.

In 1985 I moved to Ottawa and started attending a new church of the same denomination. On Sunday evenings they had been going chapter by chapter through the Bible. By the time I arrived they were into the latter parts of the New Testament. The key moment came when we were studying 2 Peter 2:

20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.

The leader quickly said something to the tune of: “Well, this passage can’t mean what it seems to mean as it doesn’t fit with what we read in the rest of the Bible, so we must look for an alternate explanation.” He then went on at length to pontificate at length about Eternal security.

The alarm bells immediately went of in my head. “What do you mean this passage can’t mean what it seems to mean?”, I asked myself.

I then decided to do two things. I would read the Bible for myself to find what other verses I could find that communicated similar thoughts to 2 Peter 2. I would also find material that supported eternal security to see what the arguments were in favor of it. My quest was easier than I might have expected in the pre-Internet age. Church leaders pointed me in the direction of H.A. Ironside treatise entitled “Eternal Security of the Believer”, the text of which is now available online. Reading this booklet actually killed two proverbial birds with one stone, because it also listed many of the passages which were used by those who held a contrary opinion.

So I read, re-read, and read H.A. Ironside’s booklet once again. My internal response: “That’s all you’ve got?”

It wasn’t long after that, that I left that church, and started looking for a Church that would have a different perspective on the issue. I wanted a place that I could look both ways to see where my new theological journey would take me. Along the way I did some reading of Clark Pinnock, who had taken similar steps. In reading him in made me feel like I wasn’t along in my journey. It was said of Clark Pinnock that “he was reputed to study carefully, think precisely, argue forcefully, and shift his positions willingly if he discovered a more fruitful pathway of understanding”. This is a mantra I would love to be able to claim for myself. Incidentally, in 2008 I started attending a new church in Hamilton, Ontario. I discovered that Clark lived just one and a half blocks from the Church. I was often tempted to knock on his door, introduce myself, and offer to take him out to lunch or coffee. Sadly I never did, and he died two years later.

This was just the first step of many steps that I took towards Arminianism. I am not going to go into any of the others, but I did want to offer a few observations about my experiences as it relates to the topic this week of how we understand and read the Bible. I also want to summarize my current position on the issue, especially for those who might think that I am a heretic!

Over and over in Evangelical churches I have heard statements like “We are a Bible believing church.” “Catholics hold tradition as the final authority, but in our church the Bible is the final authority.”

Let me make this clear. In every evangelical church I have been in, the traditions of the church, especially the pet theologies held by the given denomination, have been held in higher stead than what the Bible might communicate about the topic. When scripture is read, it is read selectively with blinkers on.  You will see this again and again in the weeks to come. The difference is, the Catholics have 2000 years of tradition to back up what they believe. Most Evangelicals, have about 100 years, tops.

So what do I believe?

  1. I believe that Calvinism and Arminianism are two sides of the same coin. One looks at Salvation from God’s perspective, the other from a human perspective.  I realized I haven’t defined terms, so here is a fairly high level view of the two streams of thought.
  2. I used to believe that one could find a systematic theology that would resolve everything. I have come to realize, like we have been discussing this week, that the Bible is a messy book, and it is impossible to resolve tensions between certain scriptures.
  3. I believe that God is sovereign.
  4. I believe that God, in his sovereignty, chooses to give us freedom to make decisions. Either in line with his will, or contrary to it. In the words of Bruce Cockburn, “He wanted us like him, as choosers, not clones.”
  5. I believe that God holds us secure, and…
  6. I believe that you cannot “lose” your salvation, but…
  7. I believe that intentional acts of repeated unconfessed sin, and/or the intentional renouncing of Christ’s gift of Salvation will have eternal salvific consequences.
  8. I believe that there are many who were part of God’s family, but who are no longer part of God’s family.
  9. I believe that after renouncing Christ’s gift of Salvation it is “impossible” to return. Knowing however at the same time that “all things are possible with God.”

So that is my story in a nutshell. Feel free to jump in with both feet with comments on anything that I might have written here. On Fridays, my work schedule is busy, and it doesn’t give me much time to interact, but I do read everything, and I love all the interesting places that you take the discussions. A word of warning though, any comments about powerpoint will be censured!

Comments

  1. For me, what drove me away from Calvinism was its idea of God’s two wills: The will of precept, and the will of purpose. (In non-theologian: God’s revealed will, namely the precepts he wants us to do; and God’s unrevealed secret will, which he purposes to do without our input thank you very much.)

    In his revealed will, he stated unequivocally he desires all to be saved. But according to Calvinists, in his unrevealed will he desires otherwise, and has predestined some for salvation, and passed over those whom he doesn’t desire to save. (Or, if you’re a double-predestinationist, predestined the rest for wrath.)

    I know; plenty of Calvinists have tried to explain to me how this doesn’t make God out to be an almighty hypocrite. But they weren’t able to do so to my satisfaction; and it wasn’t long before I embraced unlimited atonement and prevenient (but resistable) grace. In other words, three-point Calvinism. Took me a while longer before I realized that meant Arminianism.

    • Double predestination…what a HOOT! All that amounts to is accepting the consequences of the predestination thinking of Calvinism. To think otherwise (the SINGLE predestination crowd) is to hold to the Scarlet O’Hara mode of thinking, that is, “I’ll think about that tomorrow…” If you remember, in “Gone With The Wind” that was Scarlet’s fallback position when encountering consequences that contradicted with what SHE wanted to believe.

    • Is it really God choosing others for hell? Or is it the absence of choosing them for salvation?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        In Black-and-White, Heaven-or-Hell dualism, is there any difference?

      • I think my brain just exploded. How is “not choosing for salvation” not the same as “choosing for hell”?

        “Let’s see…you three are on my team, but you three aren’t.” Doesn’t give much hope to the three not chosen.

        • There’s no such thing as single predestination for the Calvinist. It’s either double or nothing.

        • How is “foreknowledge of salvation” not the same thing as “foreknowledge of hell”? And, why would God create a person knowing that person would not choose him of his/her free will and then having them them spend eternity in a blast furnace.

          My point is this–what the difference in the final outcome?

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            The difference can be made – and has been in some Arminian books – about God’s character. Choosing to create a free agent that chooses eternal damnation is categorically different than choosing to create an un-free agent and consign them to hell. However, I’m with you on this one. The practical outcome is the same, which gets back to the “best of all possible worlds” conversation and the benevolence (or not) of God.

      • Well, that depends if you think there is only a Heaven and a Hell or if you think there is a Heaven, a Hell, and a holding-spot for the dead (such as Purgatory, Sheol or some other place yet unnamed). If it is the second option, then some go to Heaven, some go to no-mans-land and who goes to Hell if God is passing over everyone else? The ancients held this view, yet they also felt those in Purgatory would one day pass through the refining fire and join everyone else in Heaven. Universalism of the ancients included a fiery place, just not an eternal one. Anyways, I think we will live in a New Earth, not Heaven, anyways, otherwise why would God create a New Heaven AND a New Earth?

  2. Christiane says:

    is good to trust in the Shepherd that, if you DO choose to go out into ‘the great nothingness’ like the Prodigal Son, you can also choose to come home again

    is ‘trust’ in Christ the same thing as ‘assurance’ of your own salvation ?
    no . . . trust is child-like and humble;
    and the smug ‘assurance’ as worn by many of the stridently-assured who say ‘Lord, Lord’
    will stand on no solid ground before Our Lord when the smug have shown no compassion for others

    the differences between ‘trust’ and ‘assurance’ is as far as the East is from the West, and I for one am comforted by that knowledge

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Smug Assurance being the Arrogance of the Predestined Elect (and they KNOW it)?

      But then How Do You KNOW You’re Elect?
      And How Do you KNOW You KNOW You’re Elect?
      And How Do you KNOW you KNOW you KNOW?

      Someone on another blog speculated that all this Neo-Cal Theological smackdown is Neo-Cals trying to PROVE to themselves that THEY are Elect. I speculate that Talibani or ISIL’s “More Islamic Than Mohammed” is the Muslim version of the same thing.

      • Love this, HUG. I’ve wanted to ask those questions to my Calvinist friends. I mean, to KNOW you’re elect you had to DO something, right? You had to ACCEPT something to actually KNOW, right? There was some RESPONSE that had to come into play, me-thinks.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          That series of “But How Do You KNOW???” questions is based on the “Ressegue Regression”, a private term for a particularly underhanded “Witnessing Tool” I observed in 1978, breaking down someone’s faith via an infinite regression tactic throwing the mark’s own reasons back at them. The original IMonk called it “Are You Sure? Are You Certain You’re Sure? Are You Sure You’re Certain You’re Sure?”

          And The Signs of Being One of the Elect(TM) have varied through history from Being Rich (i.e. God Blesses His Elect) to Perfect Correct Calvinist Theology (i.e. More Calvinist than Calvin), with a lot of “Can You Top This?” in the mix. The only consistent pattern is that Proof of Election is “Whatever *I* Do That You DON’T”.

  3. I spent many years in e-mail theology lists debating Calvinism vs Arminianism. I quit. It had gotten to the point that I knew exactly what *I* was going to say, exactly what the Arminian on the other side of the aisle was going to say, exactly what I was going to say in response, ad infinitum ad nauseam. And neither of us ever changed the mind of the other. I got sick and tired of the same endless dance. So, I quit.

    I still consider myself, in most ways, a Calvinist. But I have reached the point where I will not waste another precious second of my fast-depleting lifespan arguing over the matter. There are more important matters of theology and church life that desperately need the attention nowadays.

    All of which is to say, knock yourselves out, guys. 😉

    • david brainerd says:

      Funny thing is all the time you spent arguing in favor of Calvinism you showed that deep down you never believed it at all. If you did believe it, you wouldn’t have believed your Arminian opponent even had enough freewill to change his view, so you wouldn’t have been trying to convince him. And again, you wouldn’t have posted this comment either,because even with that, you are trying to convince someone of something. You are trying to convince people, that your theology says are just sock-puppets. So you must not have much faith in your theology.

      • If you did believe it, you wouldn’t have believed your Arminian opponent even had enough freewill to change his view, so you wouldn’t have been trying to convince him.

        Strictly speaking, that isn’t true…Calvinism doesn’t mean believing every single action, that was, is, and will be, was predestined by God. Not as I understood it, anyways.

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

          Only the really important ones that could end up in eternal damnation?

        • Calvinism doesn’t mean believing every single action, that was, is, and will be, was predestined by God.

          But that is how it’s often preached and believed.

          • That’s how it’s ALWAYS preached until pushed back, then some other verses and assurances are muttered with a hand movement.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            And just like Extreme Islam, you end up with a God who (in the words of JMJ/Christian Monist) is Omnipotent but NOT Benevolent. And you wind up with the same side effects and corollaries.

            Because this solves the paradox of Evil by placing God beyond Good and Evil; God Wills What God Wills (In’shall’lah…) and who are we to call it Evil?

            And if you’re one of those Hyper-Cals my SF writing partner (the burned-out preacher) has had run-ins with, they go further than that into Socratic Atheism: God Wills what God hath been Predestined to Will, thus God is not God, Utter Determinist Predestination is. Like the background theology of AD&D2’s “al-Qadim” pseudo-Arabian Nights campaign background, even the gods bow before Fate. (Eh, Kismet…)

          • Not in legit Reformed churches, only in Baptist churches with TULIP soteriology, where Evangelicalism’s aversion to tradition severs the teaching from it’s actual roots.

            Learn Calvinism from the source: continental Reformed or Presbyterian churches. Read the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism. You will find a much more gracious and gentle sovereignty there than the caricature in the mind of most neo-Puritan fundies who cannot accept those documents because they teach infant baptism.

            I’ve almost never heard an intelligent critique of legit Calvinism that referenced these documents and demonstrated a coherent understanding of them. They have much to commend in them, and Evangelicalism generally would benefit enormously to consider them more seriously.

          • Miguel, you are a moderate voice of reason. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

          • david brainerd says:

            Comment deleted. Inappropriate.

          • ^^That comment is really too bad.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            I’ve almost never heard an intelligent critique of legit Calvinism that referenced these documents and demonstrated a coherent understanding of them. They have much to commend in them, and Evangelicalism generally would benefit enormously to consider them more seriously.

            Absolutely.

        • Calvinism doesn’t mean believing every single action, that was, is, and will be, was predestined by God.

          That’s EXACTLY how it is described when we start getting into the area of YEC and evolution and …..

          God created every photon of light in transient so the universe would look old is one of the things often stated.

          • And evolution in general, where there are no extinction accidents or outcomes or what-have-you that aren’t predestined. Therefore, the randomness of evolution – allele variants favouring one or the other of a species – is completely rejected in favour of every gene mutation and variation being completely predestined and ordered by God.

            Calvinists also can’t accept the realities of human evolution because they don’t point to a single breeding pair that we are all related to (common ancestors were not a “first couple”, but much later humans and our common male ancestor is about 90 thousand years younger than our common female ancestor). Neither ancestor was alone on this planet, they both were among a population of about 10,000 humans as evidenced by our DNA lines. So, if there was a couple called Adam and Eve about 200 thousand years ago (when humans arose as a population), they are not the ancestors of everyone on earth. Therefore, Adam’s sin was not passed down to all. Further, even if that couple did sin, what about the children of the rest of the people, why are they being punished by Adam’s sin? So it raises far more questions than it answers for Calvinists and they can’t handle the Bible NOT affirming our inherited sinful nature due to a naughty first-couple.

            Not that a first couple in the larger earliest population couldn’t have been called by God and sinned way back then, but if so, they certainly didn’t genetically pass sin on to the entire human race. It does clear up who Cain married and built a city with, though. So Calvinists should like that – and that all those other people Cain met (the rest of the human population) were even evil-er than Adam and Eve – but it doesn’t explain why all those others were acting so sinfully if humans were all made perfectly in God’s image until Adam fell. The rest of the population certainly seems to have naturally sinned enough that Cain is afraid of them, despite not being in the garden with his parents and therefore created as “good” humans who hadn’t yet fallen themselves. If Adam’s sin affected them, it is not explained how it could have done this? Did God just dump a bunch of undesirables “out there”? If so, this messes up the Calvinist view that people were sinless and had an ability to accept God freely before the fall, since the lot of them seem worse than Cain and Adam. So much for humans being created perfectly, yet choosing rebellion, it seems every single human besides Adam and Eve were as bad if not worse. Almost as if God made each of them with a sinful can’t-get-to-heaven human nature from the get-go. Or…maybe Adam and Eve is just a prototype of Israel, the story sure shadow’s Israel’s own – Promise land, rejection of God, banished from Promised land. Sounds awfully familiar…Maybe the point isn’t Original Sin as Augustine thought, but rather, Human’s weak ability to have a relationship with God throughout the ages and our need for Jesus to come to us and rescue us because there was no way for us to stick with God on our own. Adam and Eve is all of us, from Abraham and Sarah to us today, rather than a real couple with magical (since it clearly isn’t genetic) powers to ruin all of our natures so we can never know God.

      • Dave, that’s Fatalism, not Calvinism. If you don’t understand the difference, you aren’t in a position to give a coherent critique of either.

      • George Christiansen says:

        I am not a Calvinist, but I was for a while and most people argue against a caricature of it rather than what it actually teaches. Sadly many Calvinist believe in one. they are more Calvinist than Calvin.

        There is no bypassing of freewill in Calvinism. People choose to reject God and He changes a person’s desires so that they desire Him. It is not so much that the unbeliever cannot choose to repent; it is that they will not. This is also pretty close to what Arminius taught as well. The details are slightly different, but He also taught the need for divine intervention before someone would ever choose God.

        There really is something to be said for not really having a free will. i choose pizza, but why? I desire it, but why? Where did that preference come from? I doubt I chose it and if I did so it was not really a deliberate choice.

        My issue with Calvinism and Arminianism is that they bot say too much. Not as much as their followers, but more than we could possible know from scripture.

    • Yeah, it’s not worth it anymore. Anyone who wants to fight those fights, I’m starting to consider to be a very toxic influence in my life, and I’m willing to accept the consequences (including eternal damnation, if necessary) of cutting those people and influences out of my life. Keep your truth to yourself.

      • Stuart, have you seen this clip before? I feel for your frustration on the issue. Trying to force the Bible to answer questions it will not answer is an exercise in futility that will lead to exhaustion and despair. If you’ve never understood the Lutheran position, a paradoxical approach that rejects BOTH Calvinism and Arminianism, check out Fisk’s clear explanation:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTUUfaLtKss

  4. To me, the idea of predestination is a failure to understand that God is not bound by time and space the way we mere mortals are. Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow are all equally present to God…..only to us here on earth are these different.

    An analogy: I record a baseball game for my friend, Jonny C., who is a HUGE fan. Meanwhile, I go ahead and watch the game live…..

    The next day, Jonny and I sit down to watch the game. I, of course, know all the details and the score, while they are new and unknown to Jonny. The question is…are the Bad News Bears “predestined” to win the game with a home run in the ninth, with men on base…..because I already KNOW this to be true, but Jonny is still jumping and yelling and hoping for the Bears to win????

    Or, is it just that I have “seen” the outcome already, and Jonny has not??? My knowledge did not make the Bears win, nor does Jonny’s lack of knowledge impact the game….

    • I think that is a great analogy. I thank you for it.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      But this analogy only works because you are not God. God didn’t watch history, he created it.

      • Good point. As a writer, I find a better analogy to be the “creation of a book.” I know the story, the plot, the characters, but as I write, things change. Characters end up surprising me. The plot shifts. People live that weren’t going to live when I sat down and wrote my first sentence.

        That’s how I see God. If He’s a Creator and LOVES creating, why would He just say, “Well, this is the way it is and is meant to be, I’ve already cast the plot, I know how the story’s going to end, I won’t change a thing along the way, or let anything else change how the story plays out.”

      • The idea that God doesn’t create history but plans for it and also observes it is very appealing to me.

        Stupid Greg Boyd for getting into my head. If I could just get over my “arminian always leads to heresy” thoughts, him and I would have a lot in common…

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      “The question is…are the Bad News Bears “predestined” to win the game…?”

      It depends. Are they playing against the Cubs?

  5. david brainerd says:

    “One looks at Salvation from God’s perspective, the other from a human perspective.”

    I think that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. No matter what, nobody will ever be able to reconcile either theory with the gospel of Matthew. “Calvinism and Arminianism are two sides of the same coin,” and that coin is Paul’s inability to make up his mind which of the two false doctrines that make salvation all about predestination he wanted to teach.

    • “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard”. Several responses here:

      1. Really?
      2. It’s much easier to insult someone than to show why their statement is wrong. Imonk tries to take the more difficult but more loving of the two roads.
      3. I don’t know that I agree with Mike on this point, but certainly some things will look very different from our perspective than God’s. I see no reason to dismiss Mike’s argument out of hand.

      • I agree with you, Daniel. I actually liked the “two perspectives” idea.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          As a guy who’s both read and written imaginative fiction, the Two Perspectives idea is the most easily-understood analogy.

    • David, what exactly do you believe? Stating only what you disagree with is not stating what you agree with. And resorting to ad hominem statements only makes you lose credibility.

      • david brainerd says:

        I don’t believe in any kind of predestination but if you want to force me to I can claim to believe in corporate predestination of the church not individuals.

        • Barth believed in the predestined election to both judgement and vindication of Jesus Christ, and the corporate inclusion in his dying and rising again of all who have faith in him. But he had a much more irenic and humble tone, great theologian that he was, than you do.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      I could never call it the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard (oh, boy, that would be an interesting conversation). However, the idea that there is a “human perspective” and a “Divine perspective” – and that humans can understand and write voluminous tomes on the Divine perspective is sort of silly. If we can understand the Divine perspective, then how can we hold the human perspective? I see this is a particularly un-clever word game.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        …and that humans can understand and write voluminous tomes on the Divine perspective is sort of silly.

        Hasn’t stopped them from trying, though.

        I understand St Thomas Aquinas had some sort of vision or insight late in his life that made him refer to all this theological writings as “things of straw”. I don’t think Calvin ever reached that point.

    • Wow, now I’m really curious. So is Paul’s writing suspect? Or not inspired? Just wondering, since if the Bible is not really all that important, what exactly is the plumbline by which you decide what to disagree with? As you emphatically seem to do.

  6. Richard Hershberger says:

    “In every evangelical church I have been in, the traditions of the church, especially the pet theologies held by the given denomination, have been held in higher stead than what the Bible might communicate about the topic.:

    If I might restate this, every church–not merely every Evangelical church–looks at the Bible through its own theological lenses. There is nothing wrong with this. Quite the opposite. These theological lenses are attempts to make sense out of a messy anthology of conflicting texts.

    The problem is that many churches look at the Bible through their own theological lenses, while claiming that they are doing no such thing: that they are the only ones seeing the Bible clearly, without theological interference. Whenever someone makes the claim that he reads the Bible “literally” or taking its “plain meaning” I know there there is very little potential for productive discussion. After all, if I read any bit of the Bible differently, I am denying its plain meaning. I am either a dupe or a scoundrel. All there is left is to lecture me, like a somewhat dim schoolboy messing up my arithmetic homework.

    This is what happened during the early Reformation era, with the split between Lutheran and Reformed camps. They all thought that once they cast off Romish tradition and let the Bible speak for itself, everyone would naturally reach the same conclusions. In retrospect this was very naive, both about human nature and the nature of the Bible. At least they had the excuse that they were doing this for the first time in over a thousand years. Churches nowadays don’t have this excuse. Anyone doing this today is simply not paying attention.

    So we Lutherans tend to read some bit of the Bible and then natter on about “Law” and “Gospel,” perhaps with a dollop of “Two Kingdoms,” or even “canon within the canon,” and non-Lutherans sometimes roll their eyes, and if feeling particularly unkindly mutter about “tradition.” But at least we know that these are our theological lenses. We can take them off and examine them. This is far better than the guys who are wearing glasses with lenses like coke bottles, and think they have 20/20 vision.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Whenever someone makes the claim that he reads the Bible “literally” or taking its “plain meaning” I know there there is very little potential for productive discussion.

      Even if that “literal plain meaning” is that the demon locusts of Revelation are really helicopter gunships with chemical weapons piloted by long-haired bearded hippies.

  7. Good post, especially about the cramming systematic theology onto the pages of Scripture.

    Keep in mind that not all Arminians agree on the eternal security issue. Arminius himself was not clear on where he stood.

  8. Is Jesus necessary but not sufficient for salvation, or is he sufficient and necessary for salvation? That is the crux of the Calvinism/Arminian debate. Do I add or take away from my salvation? If I can fall away, then salvation is synergistic.

    • That’s theology talk. Reason trumping revelation. The only thing worse is people throwing their particular set of Bible verses at others while ignoring their opponents’ verses. Mike said it well: the Bible is messy, unsystematic, and resistant to our efforts at systemizing it. There are many “synergistic” texts and many “monergistic” texts. Humility, generosity, and a willingness to hold our systems lightly is the best way forward.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

        +1

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Reality is messy, and “God Lives in the Real World”.

      • George Christiansen says:

        That’s not reason trumping anything. It is reason speaking above it’s pay grade. I don’t believe that reason is ever in contradiction to reality, but there is a lot of reality that reason cannot perceive. Big difference.

      • CM, I agree with your comment. I have one question: holding systems lightly, how do we make substantial distinctions between what it means to be Christian, and what’s beyond the boundary? Is anyone who calls herself a Christian a Christian, whatever extra-biblical tradition they hold in addition to the Bible, or however they interpret the Bible? Are Rastafarians Christians, since they consider the Bible their Scripture, despite having a very different interpretative framework from traditional forms of Christianity, and having a very different and unique tradition? When Ramakrishna claimed that, among the several religions he had practiced, Christianity was one, and that all religions teach the same thing at their core, should we accept that he spoke as a true Christian who merely had a very different tradition? If that is too extreme to be taken as a serious question, then what about the Jehovah’s Witnesses: Should we as Christians accept Witnesses as fellow Christians if we are properly holding our theological systems lightly? What are the criteria knowing the demarcation point, the boundary? And, if there are such criteria, don’t they form a kind of theological limit themselves, not systematic but nonetheless non-negotiable?

        • Actually, that’s several questions, but of a family….

        • Michael Patton has an informative take on this.

          http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2014/09/six-views-means-orthodox/

        • Short answer: I accept the creeds as the boundary-forming statements. My point about holding one’s systems lightly was in the context of such debates as Calvinism/Arminianism, which are intramural debates within those boundaries.

          • What about the myriads of evangelicals all over the world who do not profess the ecumenical creeds (though they do not deny them)? Are they not Christian? Are you including the Ahanasian Creed? Isn’t it true that the Eastern Orthodox Church does not use either the Apostles’ or the Athanasian Creeds (though, once again, they do not deny them)?

            • To be honest, Robert, I’ve never given what you say here that much thought. Even if many other Christians don’t actually use the creeds to define themselves, the creeds nevertheless do define them. We are all living in their aftermath and they are the time-honored standards of orthodoxy.

          • I tend to place my boundary at the Trinity, whether or not the creeds are professed, and the Incarnation, revealed in the life, passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ given in the New Testament. But where a church denies the Trinity, but upholds the Incarnation, such as the Disciples of Christ, I find it difficult to deny that they are Christians. Incarnation, Christ as God and human, passion and resurrection, as revealed in the story of Jesus Christ given in the New Testament, seems to me to be the essential boundary, with or without the creeds.

            • I think that’s reasonable and generous. I don’t consider myself a “guardian” of orthodoxy, and if I were, who would listen to me anyway? It’s not like I’m the pope of the post-evangelical wilderness. :))

    • How about sufficient but not necessary? Or neither sufficient nor necessary?

      Those are the other two of the four.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

        I know! let’s reduce God and his influence to a philosophical binary! And Scholasticism was born…

  9. At the center of the Calvinist vision is an infinite gulf between a holy and sovereign God and a fallen, guilty, depraved, and powerless humanity. And that vision can exist, it seems to me, only when we take our eyes off of Christ, in Whom that gulf has been bridged – indeed in Whom the gulf has disappeared. In Christ, we see not only who God is and what He is like, but we also see who and what we are.

    Arminianism downplays Total Depravity, yet starts with the same god of separation.

    I don’t think the truth lays somewhere in between those two positions because both are the flip-sides of the same heresy. God is not stainless steel Teflon coated who stands aloof from us, rather, he comes to us in our humanity and shares with us in that. And that is what the Incarnation is about, “God with us.”

    It’s well past time to jettison the dodgy pseudo-gospel of late Medievalist who were more influenced by Plato than Christ. “God in Christ is reconciling the world to himself.”

    • Christiane says:

      TOM, well said, this:

      ” And that vision can exist, it seems to me, only when we take our eyes off of Christ, in Whom that gulf has been bridged – indeed in Whom the gulf has disappeared. In Christ, we see not only who God is and what He is like, but we also see who and what we are.”

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      I don’t know if I would go so far as “heresy” but I completely agree that these are two sides of the same wooden nickel. I’m not a big fan of either position.

    • A friend of mine, who continues to try to convert me to Calvinism, keeps playing up the Total Depravity thing, emphasizing the HUMUNGOUS amount of grace that is required to bridge the gap. I keep telling him that I don’t have to believe in Total Depravity to understand the amount of grace God has shown me and the world. I don’t believe God wants me to feel like I’m a worm, and there are plenty of scriptures to back me up on that.

    • Bringing out the “H” words is purely inflammatory and adds nothing to the discussion. If both Calvinism and Arminianism are “heresies,” as is everything in between, according to your statement, then please tell me what orthodoxy is and by what authority you make such claims.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Otherwise you’re Nutsy Nancy from the Cal Poly gang calling someone “Heretic Breath”. Except when she said it, you knew she meant it as a joke.

      • I meant “heresy” is the classical sense as Paul used it in I Cor. 11:19…division as the result of opinions, “????????”.

      • CalvinCuban,

        Both Calvinism and Arminianism are “systematic theologies”–which are not equivalent to “The Gospel”. No systematic theology = the Gospel.

        The Eastern church is neither Calvinistic or Arminian-istic. That example constitutes the earliest “orthodoxy” available.

        • Which begs the question: Is not the claim that no systematic theology is equivalent to the gospel itself a theological statement that amounts to the beginning of a systematic theology, since it includes and excludes the legitimacy of other theologies on the basis of a theological proposition?

    • In Christ, we see not only who God is and what He is like, but we also see who and what we are.

      Yes and no. Christ is not a reflection of us, he is a reflection of the Father. He shows us what we were meant to be as the image bearers of God, but that is a far cry from what we have become. As the New Adam, Christ is everything that we in our sinfulness, the Old Adam, can not stand and eagerly desire to slaughter. It happened with Abel. It happened with the Prophets.

      But we are at the same time Adam and Christ. That is the paradoxical struggle of the Christian life: simultaneously saint and sinner. The emphasis of one to the exclusion of the other leads to real harm.

  10. We are not saved by what Jesus taught, and we are certainly not saved by what we understand Jesus to have taught. We are saved by Jesus himself, dead and risen. “Follow me” he says. It is the only word that finally matters.

    Robert Capon, end of chapt. 6, The Parables of Grace

    • Or this, from “The Hammer of God” by Bo Grietz

      “Your conversion does not save you. Jesus saves you.”

      • I like that. Way back when I became a Christian, my “conversion” moment was saying the Sinner’s Prayer. I’m glad I did, obviously, because it propelled me in His direction, but now I’m not sure about the necessity of it. So curiously I am glad I did something that now I’m not so sure was necessary, but God used it to help me begin following Jesus.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          With Revivalism, Fundagelicals have gotten obsessed about “The Moment of Decision/Salvation”, and that is the result.

          Older church traditions count Damascus Road Spectaculars, Moments of Decision, and gradual Cathechism and growth in understanding all as valid.

        • Right. Saying the sinner’s prayer isn’t necessarily sinful. We say something quite similar to it at the beginning of every liturgy. The only trouble is when we point to this prayer as the magic voodoo sacrament that relocated our legal standing from damnation to grace.

          • Exactly. Saying the sinner’s prayer isn’t necessarily sinful, until someone turns it into something sinful. Oh, the theologies of man…

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Saying the sinner’s prayer isn’t necessarily sinful, until someone turns it into something sinful.

            At which point, to quote Mister Gumby:
            “MY BRAIN HURTS!”

  11. I never had the time to read and do all the things that many have here. I worked more than forty hours a week going through High school and never did homework. My mom stopped taking me to church after I was confirmed and my father never went. He bought me cases of beer at 13 and 14 because he didn’t want me smoking that sh**. Which didn’t work by the way.
    I should of died at 15 when my head hit a tree in a car accident going 55 With a lb under the seat coke in my wallet a quarter lb. in my jacket and they found me on a case of elephant beer.
    6 months later I was so angry at God for having done this to me. I couldn’t catch up at school and most people just stayed away from me.

    In the middle of a the blackest thunderstorm in early spring I was sitting alone and saying to him I just don’t understand why you would do this. I heard this voice very gentle yet very powerful say ” I didn’t do this to you. I am the one who saved you from it and I love you. ” The love of God invaded my life and I cried for hours and I knew I was saved for the first time.

    I have experience all the different soils in my life. I had to ask my mom to take me to church so I could thank him. No one knew what to do with me as I was going around asking everyone have you met Jesus. Most would just look at me and smile. I never got anywhere. I went back to what I knew but I knew I was loved

    Hit a bottom out of guilt and shame with little ones in tow. Quit everything and tried again with God. Again, I felt like I didn’t fit. Most just looked at me funny. I tried but my thinking wasn’t right and I kept thinking if just someday I could think right we could be close God. I knew he loved me I just thought he didn’t like me that much.

    33 years later after a two year stint with the bottle again I hit bottom again. Hard so very hard. I knew what hell was. I was experiencing it. I hurt all the time before the bottle and the reason I picked it up was things were going to change. No little ones in tow now. The spiritual agony of being void of God is the darkest and most horrible place I have ever been. I was trying to die. After eight days of no sleep drinking well over a 100 beers a day along side of 2 to 3 fifths of whiskey and not eating I almost succeeded. The shadows that danced the walls around me. The attempts at ending it all. The cutting myself to watch me bleed to distract me from the spiritual torment
    The ripping my flesh with barbed fish hooks and trying to electrocute myself. You see cutting distracts you from the spiritual pain and actually lifts you out of it. In the same way sickness traps you within yourself making it hard to see God. Just opposites. i understand weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    I hit bottom no money left and no where to go but to God. He was there. He never left me. He allowed me to go where I needed to out of love for me. I am sure it was hard for Him. It was for me. I cried out to him crawling across the floor daily in tears and he answered. He sent me songs I never heard before. Sent me to a church that became my first home. He gave me the Holy Spirit and told me of things I never thought possible and said to me that I never could do it without Him. These past 6 plus years have been the best of my life filled with everything and more than I could have ever dreamed of. The thousands of poems and a beautiful home and the lovely animals I call friends. All out of nothing the place I was. I understood selfishness is wanting to eat your own flesh to be fulfilled and I partake of Him.

    There is more so much more. I hear Him. His words are not plentiful but more to the point and very powerful. I have had the feeling that if I go back now to what I knew before this time in my life that I would be crossing a line that I might not return from. I am not sure of this but I don’t want to test it with all my heart. The temptation is there but there is an escape. Thank you Lord, I love you. Hope this helps

    • Wow! Paragraphs! 😉

      w, I’m sure both sides of the argument could claim your testimony as “proof” of their convictions, but it is the messy flesh and blood of belief that is most important. “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying “Abba, Father” THAT says it all!

    • W
      Thanks for sharing your history.

      When we are forgiven lots and have been really messed up we have a lot to be thankful for, don’t we?

      I met Christ years ago, he picked me up out of the crappy mess I had made. And your story reminds me how faithful he has been.

      Thanks!

    • W…I appreciate you being a part of this community. I will always remember your praying for my men’s retreat stuff. Thanks for sharing your story. You are an addendum to the Bible, and yours is a faith story of true wonder and grace.

    • Thanks for sharing, w. Reminds me of other testimonies I’ve heard. At the end of it all, I’m glad you believe and have found God.

    • dcmhejbl62 says:

      How beautiful, w. Thank you so much for sharing. Gets right to the heart of the matter, I believe. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the tiniest details that we forget the awesome, majestic, God-shaped big picture.

  12. Neal Punt, a Calvinist theologian( is he a Canadian?), has a theology of inclusivism. It is greatly misunderstood. I once looked up some of the people who have been considered such- very good company. Long story short, he has this saying that sticks in my head as a summation of his position on salvation. He says….all are, some are not.
    Not very logical, Paradoxical. I really believe if you think that all persons will be finally lost except those who the Bible declares will be saved, it shows in your very body language, whether you think you are inviting or not and has implications in presentation of good news. Likewise I believe if you think all persons will be saved except those who the Bible declares will be finally lost, the same is true. Human blameworthiness is taught so consistently throughout the scriptures that all orthodox Christianity confesses it. This has filtered into our thoughts and theology as if it were evidence that all persons are outside of Christ. But orthodox Christianity confesses it is by the grace of God. This does leave the question concerning the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility unresolved. Nevertheless, we can accept both because this is the testimony of the Scriptures( and the never ending Calvinist and Arminian debates). But who can know if someone says no to God and any finality on insisting on living apart from Him? It’s better to judge nothing and wait until out Lord comes.

  13. I know my shift into a more Armenian camp came in my own experience:
    1. Saved at five. Multiple “recommitments.”
    2. Converted to Islam at 20. I meant it.
    3. Reconversion at 23 to Christianity.

    My father tried to say I had been saved at 5 (mom led me in the “sinner’s prayer”) and that I was never “unsaved” into Islam (i.e.: I didn’t mean it), so I couldn’t be re-saved because I never really left. No, I really left. I didn’t want to fight over it. I still don’t. I just know I walked away and I came back.

  14. “I believe that intentional acts of repeated unconfessed sin, and/or the intentional renouncing of Christ’s gift of Salvation will have eternal salvific consequences.”

    You could be in big trouble then, Mike.

    What about all those opportunities to help people each day that you pass by?

    Don’t you see them? Doesn’t it bother you that for the sake of your own comfort and ease that you constantly commit these same ol’ sins every day?

    I hope you are wrong (quote above).

    If it’s any comfort to you…I know that you are wrong. Christ’s forgiveness is much stronger than your desire to repent and to ‘stop sinning’.

    So much for your “free-will”.

    • Steve,
      I have a question about your theology as I am not as familiar with Lutheran theology as I am with Calvinism. In Calvinism it is taught that God has chosen specifically who will be saved. No one will be saved other than who he has specifically chosen. I realize that you don’t speak for all Lutherans, but in your Lutheran understanding does God choose specifically who he will save?

      • Yes, Jon.

        God elects whom He will, through His Word and sacraments.

        Some hear the gospel and come to faith…and others do not.

        Why that is so is a mystery to us outside the fact that it is God’s business.

      • I just wonder how many folks God has decided He will save. 5% of all humans who’ve ever lived? 10%? 50%? Why would He cast three of His children into eternal fire and save just one? Why would He cast one of His children into eternal fire and save three? Does He do these things just to prove He can? Would you intentionally cast one of your four children into the fire? Would you cast in three of four? If so, what’s the point you’d be trying to prove, that you’re all powerful? Would you cast three of your four children into the fire?

        • It’s fun to quote that verse about God knitting someone together in the womb and then immediately asserting that person may be preordained for hell because they weren’t really God’s child, they were of the devil.

          • Exactly.

          • I believe that David wrote Psalm 139 about himself, not about humanity in general. In that context, the statement that he knits a person in the womb only to condemn them to hell is a weak argument for people in general. At best it would apply only to the elect, as David himself was.

          • CC…really? I guess it’s good to know I can discard the Psalms of David now, as they only applied to him. 😉

          • God will save whom He will save.

          • Rick Ro, you missed my point. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. Let me explain…

            I was addressing StuartB’s statement that, and I paraphrase, God creates someone in the womb only to turn around and send him/her to hell as that’s what the person was preordained for. My argument is that David was referring to himself in this Psalm, for it says in v. 14 that, “‘I’ am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Note the pronoun, “I,” not “we” or “us.” Furthermore, this verse is not about salvation or predestination but about the beauty and wonder of human creation and development in the womb. And in this instance, it was his creation, in particular, and presumably everyone else’s.

            Even so, we can read the psalms as though God were speaking to us vicariously through the psalm’s author. But to turn it into an argument against predestination is a non sequitur.

        • Patrick Kyle says:

          RR, and SB,

          Your problem is not with Steve’s views, or with Calvinism per se. (Although double predestination is a crock and truly abominable, and not taught in the Scriptures.) Your problem is with the Scriptures themselves because they do teach election. You may not like how some groups teach it, or the emphasis they put on it (neither do I) but its a fact to be dealt with.

          • Yes, I know scriptures speak of the “Chosen” and “the Elect.” Not sure we’re intrepreting what those terms really mean, though. For example, just becasue one is “Chosen” or “Elected” doesn’t necessarily mean one is saved, does it? The Jew is/was God’s “Chosen” people, but that doesn’t mean they’re all saved. So my issue isn’t really with the concept of “Chosen” and “the Elect;” it has more to do with what we do with that idea and making that a tenet of a theology. Yes, it’s nice to think that God has “Chosen” me and I’m one of His “Elect,” but Jesus himself talks about people who think they know Him turning out not to and being judged for that, so I’m careful not to place too much emphasis on “Yes, I’m part of God’s elect!” I’m saved by Jesus. That’s all that matters.

      • Patrick Kyle says:

        Jon,

        Lutheran doctrine is neither Calvinist nor Arminian, though each camp often accuses us of being on the other side. It is actually another trajectory altogether, and does not shy away from paradox. In a nutshell we reject limited atonement and ‘eternal security,’ but affirm single predestination. God’s normal mode of acting is primarily through means (the word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper) but He can be resisted by the World, our flesh and the Devil while He works through means. We affirm God’s sovereignty, but not the ‘naked’ sovereignty of the Reformed or the Muslims.

        The cornerstone of Reformed doctrine is God’s sovereignty, the cornerstone of Arminian doctrine is man’s free will. The cornerstone of Lutheran doctrine is God in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. All our theology is run through God incarnated in Christ. It places the Lutherans on a completely different arc, not bound by the twin horizons of Calvinism and Arminianism

        • Well said.

        • This is why I call myself “crypto-lutheran.” The more I explore Dr. Luther’s teachings, the more I see his third way. It meshes with both the scripture I read and the life i experience. I am finding it a very useful lens and it is showing up more and more in my preaching.

          I describe myself as “Meta-Baptist, Crypto-Lutheran, with Anglican highlights.”

          Or sometimes I’ll say, “I dress like Baptist on the outside, but I like to wear Lutheran underwear.”

    • Steve it does not matter what Mike thinks.

      He has as much choice in all this as he did to be born Canadian.

      And it was all decided before the foundation of the world…

      • Indeed.

        I find it a great comfort to know that The Lord has chosen me…and all others who believe.

        • I honestly don’t understand how that idea can be a comfort to you if you have real love in your heart for people. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and not only our friends and family but even our enemies. If you love your neighbor, the idea that he may have been predestined to suffer for all eternity is not a comforting thought. It is devastating.

      • Born in London, England. But that is beside the point.

        • A Canuck is a Canuck and you can’t duck out and claim to be an Englishman!

          • Joseph (the original) says:

            A Canuck is a Canuck and you can’t duck out and claim to be an Englishman!

            wait…shouldn’t that be, “You canuck out and claim to be an Englishman???”

            🙂

    • What is life but repeated acts of unconfessed sin. And hope and trust in Jesus?

  15. Joseph (the original) says:

    when Jesus revealed Himself to me back in October 1974, He did the inviting: “Come, follow Me…”

    was it His longing and ‘will’ to follow? most assuredly yes!

    did I feel this longing and respond by setting out upon the spiritual journey I still travel? most definitely?

    is my ‘perception’ of what I understand to be God’s will and my will limited? of course. does that diminish the adventure any? no. does that prevent me from having doubts? nope. does that give me license to do my own thing (free will choices contrary to what God wants me to do)? it does not.

    does God know in advance all my choices? I am not convinced. could God choose to engage His creation by letting us cooperate (within the limits of our existence) with Him while risking all the messy stuff we are capable of? of course. if God indeed is Sovereign and everything He does is right, just and good, then any Self-Imposed limits He so chooses is well within His divine prerogative, correct? since there are mysteries still veiled regarding the amalgam of God’s Will+my will, I do know one thing: God wants me to want to do what He wants me to do…

  16. I said audibly to my self this morning as I checked into the blog: “Let’s see what Mike’s said to get me all rilled up today!” …and I was not disappointed!

    I also want to summarize my current position on the issue, especially for those who might think that I am a heretic!

    It’s ok, Mike, we don’t need any proof. We already know you are a heretic. That’s ok, I have many friends who are heretics, so I wouldn’t hold it against you.

  17. Klasie Kraalogies says:

    OK, here are some thoughts. Note though that although I am no Calvinist, I was baptized Dutch Reformed. I grew up evangelical, eventually ending in a sect/cult, my first step out of sectarianism was back into the Reformed world, which I eventually left again.

    But let’s step away from theology altogether for a moment:

    For us to have free will, we would have to be able to point to a decision and say that it is truly ex nihilo. Can we? Are there really any actions or decisions that are free of causes? No. Thus, can we really claim free will? No. Thus, whether we have a deity that set the universal clockwork in motion, as in the Deists’ God, or a more personal, interacting, interfering God, the one who originated the Cosmos, who set all processes in motion, is therefore the one who is the ultimate cause, or Cause, and therefore the ultimate Determinant.

    Of course, there being an infinite number of processes, we have a dynamic system, thus we could claim non-linear Determinism. But not in-determinism. Not free will. Thus I learnt from Spinoza, and Bayes, and Godel, and Mandelbrot, and Turing, and Feigenbaum etc.

    Comments?

    • I once watched a Great Courses video class on the brain by Dr. Robert Sapolsky. Great stuff. Anyway, I was curious to see his take on whether or not a person truly had any “will” given how the brain works, the chemical make-up of a person’s body, the environment they grew up in, etc. Does a person who shoots a guy in road rage really have a choice? Did the make-up of his body and brain and all the factors that play into that moment to make it a “given”?

      Well…what do you think the answer is?

      • Klasie Kraalogies says:

        What is choice? 🙂

        The choice might have been made when he bought the gun. When he slowly slid into rage. Like a drug addict doing something under the influence of the drug – the choice was effectively theirs, just made earlier.

        Culpability is a different matter. That is judicial, and I do not want to confuse these philosophical discussions with judicial ones.

        We have to live in the world we live in. But the question underlying much of the discussion here is philosophical, and that is what I’m addressing. But if the world is non-linear deterministic, I am not losing any sleep over it.

    • For us to have free will, we would have to be able to point to a decision and say that it is truly ex nihilo

      Yes! Exactly. We have the ability to make decisions, for which we will be responsible because of our agency, but determinacy is separate from freedom. God is the only truly free being.

  18. I completely renounced my baptism and everything to do with Christianity in my twenties. However, at 33 I had special revelation that has brought me back into His grace. I have since been baptized again and now publicly declare my service to Jesus the Christ as my Lord and savior.

    Just thought that might interest you in regards to point #9. 🙂

    The Lord bless thee and keep thee!

  19. Ok, Mike. Nine thoughts for your nine thoughts:

    1. I believe Spurgeon was a fan of this idea. I believe they are two sides of the same err. The err being that Scripture will actually answer the question “Why some, and not others.” Bend and twist all you want, it simply isn’t given us to know. This much is given: God does not desire the death of the wicked, and yet some certainly shall perish.

    2. Systematic theology resolves nothing. Reason demands ideological resolution, but the task of Theology is to define the sacred mysteries: Trinity, incarnation, hypostatic union, atonement, sacrament. None of these things make rational sense, and the attempt to force them to always leads to err, and possibly heresy.

    3. “God’s not sovereign! He’s Love!” …can you guess who said that? It’s all about prioritization. Yes, sovereignty is an attribute, but our understanding of it is corrupted by earthly rulers. The preeminent attributes of God through which all his others should be viewed is his Holiness and his Love, as they are show in the cross.

    4. So in other words, we have the God of the Cheap Trick hit single? “I want you to want me, I need you to need me….” Sounds more like a lovesick teenager than an almighty benevolence. Yes, God does not make automatons. He gives us freedom to make decisions in the temporal realm about such things as what to wear and whom to marry. The ultimate decision, however, to reject evil and embrace righteousness in Christ, is no more doable without divine intervention than a dead man choosing to begin breathing again.

    5. Yes. Not the resolve of our decision to choose him. He holds us.

    6. I did that once. Took me a week and a half to find it, but it had simply fallen between the sofa cushions.

    7. “Intentional acts of repeated unconfessed sin” we are all guilty of. Therefore we are all doomed. “Intentional renouncing” does no more than the child yelling that he hates his father severs their family relationship. Strains it? Yes. But that man he hates is still his father and still loves him. God can handle our temper tantrums even better than we handle those of our children. In order to be outside the family of faith, you have to cease to believe. “Intentional renouncing” is often nothing more than grandstanding. De-baptism doesn’t work (see point 5).

    8. This, unfortunately, does happen. We have no idea how many, but I would wager it is less than we suspect.

    9. Based solely off Hebrews 6:4-6? That is a rather hard line to draw off something scripture mentions only once. If it is true, if it is that significance, we should expect it to make at least one other appearance in holy writ. Else we must concede the likelihood that we are misunderstanding the passage.

    • I agree with you on #7, Miguel. I’ve said this many times with my Christian brothers and sisters: I don’t think God cares where we are on the spectrum of our walk. If so, then my roller-coaster walk and faith would suggest that I better hope I die on a day I’ve just given $20 to a homeless guy and helped an old lady cross the street and read my Bible that morning and NOT on a day when I yelled at my wife and couldn’t be bothered helping a friend who has cancer and when I’m in total “Me” and self-pity mode.

  20. Mike, my testimony could almost be the polar opposite. I’ll paraphrase your paragraphs:

    I grew up in a church that did not teach “Eternal Security”. I’ll be fair and call them Semi-Pelagian Revivalistic Keswickian Anti-Intellectual KJV-Only Arminian Baptists. They believed that you could lose your salvation, and thus there was no assurance of salvation or justification, and they’d make certain of that. This led to weekly, often daily, crying out to God to save us, no end of tears, are you sure are you certain are you sure you are certain. Stories of men and women who served God for years and ended up in hell for having not “truly believed” were numerous. If you left tonight and died, you’d be in hell.

    After numerous rededications and what I now realize were Keswick type experiences, i learned to harden my heart and say no to being manipulated by the pastors and missionaries and evangelists, to never again raise my hand “unseen” or to walk down the aisle “to the alter for decisions”.

    My family moved and switched churches to a Calvinist baptist church, but while the church at large may have been C, most in the congregation weren’t. So all those labels were still in effect around me. Grew up, left, went Pentecostal Charismatic Holiness with all those labels still attached (let’s just combine them all and call it Fundamentalist), crisis of faith and cognitive dissonance, left. Now evangelical, I guess, but more than anything, i just want out of any and all churches and am too afraid of the repercussions and the future if I were to leave.

    Now, where do I fall on the Calv/Arm scale. I grew up Arm, briefly had Calv influences, more Arm/”Third Way” (them being cute, no serious theological thought or doctrine was attempted as that’s just all “mental masturbation”), faith saved by Calv theologians, and now here I am. Biblically i think the Bible teaches Calv. Personally I think God follows Arm.

    My problem is that I see every single great heresy in the church in modern times coming from the Arminian camp. Every single freaking one. I also see a lot of coldness and deadness coming from the Calvinist camp, as well as all this YRR nonsense. And my thinking is I’d rather be cold and dead than alive and burning from the inside with a strange perhaps demonic fire. Or I’d rather be neither. Lukewarm. Nominal. Happy.

    So to go down the list…

    1. I don’t care anymore but want to id as Calv but live/know life as Arm.

    2. Agreed. And most attempts to solve the Bible as messy are bs.

    3. Sure. But not all sovereign.

    4. what is freedom? most seem to think we believers only have the freedom finally to perfectly fulfill the law. that’s not freedom. that’s a cute way of saying you don’t have to, you “get” to.

    5. God holds us secure is too much hope for me to endure at times.

    6. why not. some days, i certainly hope i can lose my salvation. other days i’m glad.

    7. i have unconfessed sin in my life from when i was 6, so post-salvation. i no longer remember what it was. what do i do? do i go back to my first church and humbly ask forgiveness? do i submit myself once again to their yokes, read only the king james, never drink alcohol, not own a tv, do weekend visitations? how do i absolve myself of all the blood on my hands from years of not telling every single fcking person that they are going to hell without repentance and believe believe believe just repent and believe?

    8. yup, and god is fickle. you may think you are in, he’ll say no. there are no longer any transactions in christianity as far as i’m concerned, no formula or schemes, just do this, remember this verse, you’re good, it’s all feelings now anyways, if you don’t feel them you aren’t connected to the great spirit in the sky.

    9. we’ll see. i’ve seen many friend’s lives ruined by pastors telling them that they sinned and/or left god and now it’s impossible for “jesus to be crucified again”. and guess what. they are now drug addicts, single parents, strippers, whatever. very good self fulfilling prophecy there when you teach that theology. see, you left, why would you come back.

    no grace. no kindness. all truth.

    i’m only 29 and can you tell how weary and angry i am.

    • I’ll be honest. Any and all labels of christian are things i don’t want to bring into my 30s or use to describe myself in any meaningful way. Nor do i want to bring any type of church into my 30s as well. nor the bible, the single most influential and devastating book that’s been in my life.

      but i want to bring God. i want to bring Jesus.

      how do i do that. still figuring it out.

      • Good stuff, Stuart. Thanks for sharing.

      • dcmhejbl62 says:

        “but I want to bring God. I want to bring Jesus.” Another beautiful insight. Strips away all the extraneous that might be good or bad, and gets to the basics.

        “how do I do that.” You are doing it. It is a journey, not a destination. Our own paths to God and Jesus will not look like anyone else’s.

        Thanks Stuart.

      • And you will Stuart

      • What a journey, Stuart! The weariness and exhaustion of your pilgrimage can lead to moments of peace and comfort, just hang in there.

      • “Or I’d rather be neither. Lukewarm. Nominal. Happy.”

        To paraphrase what Peter Berger said in regard to the comparative epistemological advantages of Neo-Orthodoxy’s crisis theology, wrought in the the midst of the conflict of nations, and earlier liberal theology, developed in the staid enclave of the academic “ivory tower”: There is no reason why we should not believe that there are theological truths more likely to be seen and understood from the comforts of an armchair than from the horrors of a trench.

    • I believe that God loves me and desires my eternal companionship. I’m going to cling to that, and the rest of the theological world can go suck eggs.

      • I have no concept or assurance that God loves me. Just words on a page. Certainly nothing felt or demonstrated. Unless my still being alive is evidence of “blessing”, as the revivalists would yell.

        • Don’t get me wrong, Stu. I’m not claiming to go around sprinkled in God’s divine fairy dust. Truth be told, I’m more like a poor wretch clutching at a single lifeline with numb fingers and refusing to let go — though I persist more out of pure obstinant hard-headedness than anything else. At least that’s how I feel most of the time. But, sometimes, every once in a while, when I’ll willing to let go of all the crap that comes between me and Him, I really do feel a sense of His presence and love. I’m just trusting that He’s more consistent in His feelings about me than I am about Him or myself.
          And, heck, I figure that if I’m going to bother believing in any of this religious stuff anyway, I might as well aim high and believe for the best. Otherwise, what’s the point?
          Hang in there, Stu. I believe that God loves both of us — because I choose to.

        • “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”
          The bread and wine, Stuart, are more than just words on a page. What you seek from God is what the sacraments are here to give you. They demonstrate that Jesus loves and gave himself “for you.” Those two words are the Gospel, for the comfort of the broken.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I grew up in a church that did not teach “Eternal Security”. I’ll be fair and call them Semi-Pelagian Revivalistic Keswickian Anti-Intellectual KJV-Only Arminian Baptists.

      Just call them “The Mouthful”. It’s shorter.

    • I haven’t stop praying for you since I first read your comments and those friends that you talk about their story isn’t over yet.

      • and Stuart pastors aren’t God. Did those friends truly taste of all the goodness of God before they turned or did they just get fooled again because they never truly knew Him completely yet. Introductions aside His work is not over yet.

    • “Or I’d rather be neither. Lukewarm. Nominal. Happy.”

      “no grace. no kindness. all truth.”

      “i’m only 29 and can you tell how weary and angry i am.”

      Stuart, if anything I am about to say doesn’t apply or doesn’t ring true to you, ignore me utterly. But here we go: I’m guessing that you’ve spent a lot of time in churches where high degrees of intensity were encouraged, or even considered the bare minimum for the real true believers. You’ve also mentioned needing to get away from certain people or factions.

      It is OK to reject the binary logic. It is OK to resist manipulation. It is OK not to be pressuring yourself to answer 100 questions, or to be interrogating your experiences constantly, or to be always either striving or feeling ‘convicted.’ It is OK to have certain kinds of experiences; it is OK not to have those experiences. It is OK to need space. It is OK to want to be happy. It is OK to leave. Go somewhere where you can breathe and think and debrief, at least some of the time, if that is what you need.

      This does not make you lukewarm, and it does not constitute running away. It means you are human and you don’t have all the answers and you need space, and you need to live. It is not a sin to be alive or to feel things that are not in the official script. It is not wrong to feel tired, or to wish for life to taste less like fear and more like love.

      I can’t promise you that all this will go away, but … it does get better. It won’t always be this bad.

    • StuartB, you said, ” i just want out of any and all churches and am too afraid of the repercussions and the future if I were to leave.”

      Well, apparently that’s the fastest growing demographic within (North American, at least) Christianity….people who’ve, in efffect, said, “A pox on ALL your houses!” People who’ve left ‘CHURCHIANITY’….but not Christ.

      I’ve grown tired of the proverbial rat-race a number of times over the decades, and taken a ‘Sabbatical’ from ‘churchianity’…..but wind up missing some sense of ‘corporate worship’….so re-engage for a time. THIS time, my ‘Sabbatical’ has been an extended one….lasting almost 5 years. WHY should I be afraid of ‘repercussions’ for leaving? Am I saved by ‘church’? Or…by Christ?

      Like many others who have left, I have NOT ‘forsaken the gathering of ourselves together’…..I’m just far more selective about who I ‘gather’ with. I have friends….from all flavours of faith, and we ‘gather together’ frequently.

      Apart from all that….in the spirit of this conversation, maybe, just maybe….what we ‘read’ is man’s attempt to understand, being finite, the INFINITE. MAYBE….the answers lie in the seeking…..in the ‘questioning’…..not in the ‘cast-in-stone’ theology, the walls of the box, so to speak. Maybe, what God (or Source, as my best friend calls it/Him) wanted was for us to just seek HIM….to turn our eyes and hearts towards the INFINITE, and away from the mundane existence we so often live here on earth. MAYBE….THAT is the purpose and reason, rather than any rigid systematic theology…..or ‘church’ locked into their own accreted set of beliefs and requirements.

      I’m at an age where I refuse to be manipulated, lied to, or forced into a box I cannot justify. I’m slowly learning to be at peace with unanswered questions, to realize that the ‘point’ of it all might just be the JOURNEY, rather than some defined ‘destination.

      However, at your age, I had moments when I felt just as torn. God Bless…as you attenpt to walk through the minefield that is ‘faith’.

  21. I don’t know how to do a link from my iPhone, but a terrific, brief class on this ( and super easy to listen to) is on my blog, titled, “You have a “free-will”, right?”.

    Simple and straightforward. Like talking to a friend.

    • If in Safari…
      – tap into the URL so the cursor is there
      – touch and hold in the URL till you get a popup
      – pick copy

      When typing the comment tap and hold where you want to paste. After a moment you’ll get a popup with paste as a choice.

  22. Going to share a song that has been a tremendous encouragement to me throughout my life. Lyrics by the Irish saint, sung by the Man in Black.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3NYdnsv9L8

  23. Oh, one more shot, Mike:

    The alarm bells immediately went off in my head. “What do you mean this passage can’t mean what it seems to mean?”, I asked myself.

    And yet you apply the same selectively interpretative approach, which stands the clear assertions of particular passages on their head, to other passages, such as 1 Peter 3:21, or Romans 6:4. Or 1 Corinthians 14:34. John 20:19-23.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. 😛

  24. Small victory/praise comment…I threw out all my KJV-Only materials this past week. Lots of binders and books arguing against the KJV-Only position. At one point, those were necessary shields and weapons to protect me from those believers who wanted to hurt me. But now…I don’t need them. I won’t associate or be around KJVO types. So I no longer need to be afraid of them.

    Thank you Half Price Books for the lunch money too.

    • God-eth will smiteth thee for casting into the fires of Sheol the blessed-eth Scriptures of pureth tongue and speech! Repenteth, sinner! Readeth the blessed texts in the purest of tongue or be forevereth shunned and damned!

    • What? No book burning in the backyard?

      My, you are liberalizing.

  25. Ok (I’m home for lunch)…here’s the link:

    http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/pastors-class-22free-will22-etc.mp3

    Listen to 10 min. of it, and you’ll see how vapid Arminian theology is.

  26. OldProphet says:

    I wonder whether the thief on the cross was an Arminian or a Calvinist? Baptist or Catholic? I think is interesting that Jesus never talked about denominations, seminaries, robes, cathedrals, crusades in stadiums, etc. Of course, as the outcast, Evangelical, charismatic guy I have never done any of the things on the aforementioned list so I don’t know much about them. Didactic?!

  27. I gave my some of my testimony this morning to show how God can work and has. I ran out of time and was late for work. Everything that has ever been between us ( God and I ) has been falling off me in the last 6 years. I am freer than I have ever been. All these things are a direct result of His love at work in my life and the fact that I am loving Him back by being obedient. I am not being obedient out of guilt or shame but out of love. When this happens downloads of love pour into me greater than anything I have ever known. I know what He has saved me from. I know how important it is to Him and to me. I want for no one to go to the place I was forever it is truly the most horrible place imaginable.
    Deep within there is this place that says don’t turn your back on me now that you know and believe me I know. There is no more doubt in what He has done for me. If I turn now there will be no atonement that could bring me back because it will have been done with full purpose. I would grieve the Holy Spirit. A sin which can’t be forgiven. I would like to say at this point it would be I would never want to come back anyways. I have seen the place where those who love the darkness have chosen and they would not want the light ever. Even now the Holy Spirit is patient with me in my sins which have to do more about loving better. This love we encounter is …….do you know what I mean.

    The thing that strikes me is that these men Arminius and Calvin and so many others have made the ceilings which are floors we walk on. They are apart of a story and a testimony to us of their relationship with God. We should not stand still where they were. They would not want us to. They weren’t standing still. Thier legacy isn’t a 500 year old debate. It is about the love of God. Let us walk in it together and remember what we mean to Him. All of us here have a testimony and it is still being formed let us run it out together. It’s the coolest thing ever.

    Oh and by the way you people on here, well you all just melt my heart for real.

  28. To be fair here and to clarify on behalf of the Lutheran contributors: the Lutheran position is different than Calvinism. Though there is a definite opposition to the idea of “free will” (Luther’s Bondage of the Will being the classic statement of that), there is also no position of “eternal security.” Lutherans believe a person may renounce his or her baptism. Apostasy is a real sin. Salvation cannot be “lost” but it can be thrown away.

    • CM, I now attend and participate in services at the same denomination you have been in. I am welcomed to the table that Jesus set without having to assent to such statements as you present above. Otherwise I wouldn’t be there. If renouncing my baptism would not be an act of free will, what sense would any of this make? I consider free will to be the fundamental cornerstone of the human condition. If you don’t believe me, ask any seven-year-old kid. To deny free will in human beings means that somewhere between Martin Luther and me, someone is crazy.

      According to Roger Olson, if I understand him correctly, Arminius also denied free will. Okay, that would also means that either Olson or Arminius is crazy. Not to forget Steve Martin. Now all these people, including you, are sincere, thinking believers doing the best they know how to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. I can see how someone immersed in philosophical tangles might reach the conclusion that free will is an illusion. If it was, what would be the point of Jesus saying to James and John and me, “Follow me!” Even my dogs exhibit a certain amount of free will when I tell them to follow me, tho not of the level needed to follow Jesus. Or not.

      It is my intention to submit this comment by pressing the “Post Comment” button. Will I be able to actually do this of my own free will, or was it somehow predetermined and I have no more choice in the matter than a Roomba vacuum cleaner.. Let’s see what happens.

      • The analogy of a dog’s will to follow is a good on, me-thinks. The more a dog knows its master’s voice AND TRUSTS IT, the greater likelihood it will follow regardless of what’s going on around it. My dog can be intently focused on me and follow right beside me…right up until a distraction appears (another dog, a certain type of person). Then it’s HIS will, not mine. Thus the need for a leash, or dog treat…

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

        Fwiw, Luther’s bondage of the will is nothing like the determinism found in some theologies. Luther was arguing against the theology of Erasmus, who basically taught that baptism restored a person’s intellectual and rational capacity to a point of perfection or sinlessness, allowing that person to make truly free choices. Luther’s argument was essentially sciptural – “by what a man is overcome, to that is he enslaved”. That is why Luther’s book is the “bondage” of the will, not the “un-free” will.

        PS: I am over-simplifying for blog-comment purposes, but that is the gist of it.

  29. My aching head! I’ve been inching closer and closer to joining the Roman Catholic church over the past several years and discussions like these are just about pushing me over the line. There has just got to be definitive answers to some of these theological questions. More and more it seems to me that protestantism is just as relativistic as many of the secular ideologies that christians tend to rail against. If there truly is such a thing as truth, then wouldn’t God want us to know it? In my mind , it is becoming increasingly likely that God has given us a way (the Magisterium) to truly know what scripture intends to say. I just can’t believe that God means for us all to endlessly puzzle over these important questions never really knowing what the answer is. Should I be armenian or calvinist? Baptist or lutheran? Pre-trib or post -trib? 30,000 denominations and counting. Where does it all end? I just want to know the truth.

    • I believe there is such a thing as “truth”, and I don’t think God is trying to hide it from us. The problem, I suspect, is that the truth is like a vast ocean, compared to which our brains are just tea cup sized containers. We could all dip our cups in the same ocean and we would all get a little something different in our cups. You might get some sand and seaweed in with your cupfull of saltwater, while I might get a tiny shell and a baby shark. Divisions come when we try to define and limit the whole ocean by what we see in our individual cups. People with just sand and seaweed form a club and cast doubtful glances at those with something else in their cups. Surely “those people” must be dipping into a different ocean.

    • I just want to know the truth.

      Starts with this question and George being George and being loved. I am sure He will show you as you look to Him and ask who should I be. There will be your truth.

    • The simple truth is the Word and the Word is Living and the Word is Jesus. No add-ons. No qualifiers. But we humans tend to try to define that simple truth in a way that explains the shadows and things not visible and the pain, suffering and evil in the world, so we come up with boxes that we can understand and put God into. Hence denominations and theologies that fall far short. The Roman Catholic Church isn’t any different in that regard.

    • It’s (the truth) Christ…alone.

      As others have rightly said…with NO add-on’s.

      NO Pope required.
      NO decision on your part required.
      NO inerrant text required.
      NO “3rd use of the law” required.
      NO seriousness on your part required.

      Just faith in the finished work of Christ on the Cross for the ungodly. For people like you and me.

      That’s the truth.

      Wherever you can find that truth…go there. Be a part of those who proclaim that gospel. For there is NO other gospel…truly.

      • Amen!

      • The part of this “gospel” that you are neglecting to mention is that in it, most of humanity has been predestined to eternal suffering with no option of anything better. If that it is the nature of God, I don’t think that is “gospel.”

        • That’s one you’ll have to take up with God when you see Him.

          • Any ideas on how to view such a conception of God as “good news,” though? Especially if you have love in your heart for your neighbors (and even for your enemies), as Christ commanded?

        • Amen. This idea of leaving it up to God… what if you get there & God is just a bigger version of Hitler? There are those in this debate – Steve Martin – I mean you, that seem to be utterly blinds to the implications this has for God’s character, or maybe you just don’t care about that. God is the first & the biggest & I’ll follow him irrespective is what I get from such responses, no engagement over what then does true goodness mean, & does it matter?

  30. I don’t intend to come across as harsh, but doesn’t Calvinism have many similarities with Monothelitism and Monoenergism? If Christ really had two wills, which the Monothelites deny, somehow the Divine and the human energies compete with one another and the divine wins out. There then becomes only an illusion of the human energies at work.

    Being a precursor to Monothelites, Monoenergists eventually evolved their arguments to deny that Christ had two wills, a human and a divine.. Does Calvinism address whether or not Christ had a human and a divine will? If so, they are not Monothelites. Was the human will predestined to obey the Father? If this is the case, it sounds exactly like Monoenergism masked by Western terminology.

    If however, Christ didn’t have a human will and could not help but obey the Father, then this is identical to Monothelitism, again masked by Western terminology.

  31. I think they both are two sides of the same renaissance humanism. Luther still had one foot in medievalism, so I think he still offers an alternative perspective, although “Bondage of the Will” comes close to Calvinism.

    The Catholic Church condemned both Semi-Pelagianism and adopted semi-Augustinianism (not the full-blown Augustinianism later revived by the reformers) at the Council of Orange in 529. If you want balance, put on your swimming trunks.

    • They condemned semi-Pelagianism…and yet that is in fact what the RCC practices, whether they realize it, or not.

      ‘A lot of God…and a little bit of me.”

      That is the essence of semi-Pelagianism. It is actually WORSE than full blown Pelagianism.