For those of you who don't know what Calvinism is, it can be summarized into the five points, TULIP, which you can read about here. Essentially this is a viewpoint stating that man cannot turn to God and seek forgiveness unless God "draws" him or compels him. So God chooses some to be forgiven, and he chooses others for condemnation. The decision is God's.
Now, my representation of Calvinism may be off to some degree, because I am not a Calvinist. At one point I carried on a long e-mail conversation with my friend Kevin about this. Eventually he said we weren't going to convince one another and we were starting to go around in circles, so we dropped it. Later he sent me another e-mail continuing the conversation, but by the time I got it I didn't have the energy to continue. At one point I had this conversation posted on my website but it was lost when I moved to blogspot.
Again the topic of Calvinism has come up with my friend Brian Quinn, whom you may refer to as Quinn or "his dudeness" or possibly "Walter." From what I can gather he is a rather staunch Calvinist. Read the comment(s) on the previous entry to see a bit. This post is a little bit of a response to that, but rather responding directly to these scriptures he brought up, which we can go on about at length (at perhaps will), I wanted to give a few thoughts on Calvinism, what I agree with about it, and what I find problematic with it. I think any discussion on how I take the books of Romans and Ephesians would be fruitless without an understanding of where I'm coming from. My view is not based solely on personal opinion, but rather on my reading of scripture and understanding of God.
My first and biggest problem is with Total Depravity, one of the five points of Calvinism.
Total Depravity declares that man is a slave to his sinful nature, and will never choose to do the right thing. Man does not choose to serve God in and of himself, and as such cannot turn to God and be saved. The Calvinist believes that because of this Inability, the only way a man (or woman) can be saved is if God chooses them and compels them to choose Him and turn to Him for forgiveness. This means that God chooses people, people cannot choose God.
What this means is that God decides who is saved and who is not - and that God creates certain people with the unchangeable destiny of an eternity in hell. They are created with a sinful nature, and because of this nature, they cannot and will not choose God. God chooses not to give His grace to some, so they die without forgiveness and suffer the consequences.
To me it is irreconcilable that a God of love, mercy, holiness, and justice, would create people who had absolutely no chance to turn to Him. I don't see how they can be held responsible for their actions if they had no other way they could go in life.
Burning Building Analogy
Let's assume there are 10 people in a burning building. Now, if I put the people in the house, or put them in a tunnel where they could only walk into the house, then I would be responsible for their place in the house. So it's important that I get the people out of the burning house, because they are trapped and can't get themselves out.
Now, if time isn't a factor for me (and it isn't for God), and I have the power to get every person out of the burning building, why wouldn't I? From my perspective there are only a two reasons I would NOT save everybody if I had the time or power.
(1) I don't care about everybody in the house and/or don't want to save them
(2) I offer my hand to the people in the house but they bat it away and refuse help
If I put the people in this situation, unless I offer them all my hand for help, then I think my goodness could be called into question. Too much of the Bible shows me a God that doesn't fit that description.
But humans choose sin
The Calvinist may agree with my assessment of the above, but say "humans choose sin, not God, so they are culpable." From my perspective that doesn't wash. If all humans are born with a nature that compels them to sin and makes them totally unable to turn to God and ask for forgivness, then it is not their responsibility when they don't turn to God. It is not fair to condemn somebody for not making a choice they could not have made.
But you are making God a beggar, dictating what happens to Him
Some believe that if you say humans can turn to God and ask for forgiveness without God's compulsion, then they are in effect controlling God's actions. God will save them if they ask Him to, so He is obeying them rather than the other way around. I don't believe this argument washes logically, either.
If I am asking God for His offered salvation through Jesus Christ's death on the cross, I am not dictating His actions. I am choosing whether or not to respond to Him. I fully agree that humans are sinful and dark, but the Bible would seem to say that we have no excuse for not turning to God. Why would it say that if we could not turn to Him without Him choosing us? Is it saying we have no excuse to not be chosen by God? Doesn't make sense to me.
The Role of the Holy Spirit
I believe that in scripture it is fairly clearly written that God draws people to Him. God, through the Holy Spirit, works in the lives of people to somehow draw them to Himself. I believe that there is a tension between God acting and mankind responding, and this is a perfectly reasonable interpretation of scripture. I believe that God reaches out first to us, not us to God. Giving all responsibility for belief to God is, in my view, a misinterpretation of scripture and an impugnment of God's character.
God condemns me for not choosing Him or asking Him for forgiveness. At what point can I ask God for his offered forgiveness? At no point, says the Calvinist, unless you are among the "elect." And I receive condemnation for that?
I rather believe scripture teaches that it is God's will that all people would turn to Him for forgiveness, but some do and some do not. If everything that happens is what God wills to happen...explain that to the rape victim, the child of abuse. And how can one read 1 Timothy 2:3-4 and say that only God chooses who is saved?
"This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."
I know it's possible to throw scripture around back and forth, and to people who are staunchly in the Calvinist camp or the non-Calvinist camp, it is almost certainly a fruitless endeavor. I cannot comprehend how people can believe in a loving God that would let people burn because they are the way He made them. I don't see justice in that either.
I believe God reaches out to all people, and that He offers all forgiveness and a place in the kingdom of God. (John 3:16, 12:44-48) I believe God desires that everyone would come to Him, but there are those who choose not to. (1 Tim 2:3-4)
I also believe that Calvinists are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and while I disagree with them on this point, I respect their views and devotion to God. These kinds of discussions are good for sharpening the mind, and delving deeper into scripture, but often end in frustration, and can sometimes be a waste of emotional energy better spent pouring into someone who needs an ear to hear them, or a shoulder to cry on, or someone to bring the love of God into their lives.
Okay, wow. I also believe this turned out much longer than I anticipated, and much of it came off the top of my head. So hopefully, Brian and others, you understand a bit more about my viewpoint on Calvinism and some reasons I don't agree with it.