Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Trouble With Calvin – Pt. 3

In my last two blog posts, we examined the first two of the “five points” of Calvinism popularly known by the acronym, TULIP, which represents 1. Total Depravity 2. Unconditional Election 3. Limited Atonement 4. Irresistible Grace 5. Perseverance of the Saints (“once saved, always saved”). In this post, we will tackle the third point:

Limited Atonement

No Christian that I know of would deny that some doctrines are more or less clear than others in Scripture. When it comes to the atonement of Christ, the Scriptures are most clear: Jesus Christ died on the cross for the entire world. The redemption that Christ merited through his passion and death was for every single human person that has ever and will ever live. The Calvinist teaching of limited atonement espouses the exact opposite. We find this teaching in many places in the Calvinist confessions by way of their emphasis on the sacrifice of Christ being only for the sins of the elect and not for the sins of the whole world. The Westminster Confession of 1643, for example, declared:

In this sacrament Christ is not offered up to his Father, nor any real sacrifice made at all for remission of sins of the quick or the dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of himself, by himself, upon the cross, once for all, and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God for the same; so that the Popish sacrifice of the mass, as they call it, is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of the elect (emphasis added).

Notice, Christ’s sacrifice, was not offered for the sins of all, but only for the elect, according to John Calvin and the Westminster Confession. I am always astonished at this teaching in light of the clear teaching of St. John in I John 2:1-2:

My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (emphasis added).

As Catholics, we have to go with St. John over John Calvin. Yet, Calvin was quite insistent that Christ did not die for all. He taught, as we’ve seen before:

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk. 3, Ch. 21, Para. 5).

We keep coming back to Calvin’s notion of “double predestination,” and we will again, because It is important for us to understand that for Calvin and true Calvinists, predestination means that it is God’s immutable will that some go to heaven and some go to hell. Before they ever commit one sin, God has already decreed and ordained their eternal torment. Calvin said:

Those, therefore, whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children (Ibid., Ch. 23, Para. 1, emphasis added).

If the Calvinist notion of predestination were true, then this doctrine of limited atonement would follow. If God’s eternal decree representing his will from all eternity is that only some be saved, and if his immutable will is for some to go to hell, then clearly, he did not die on the cross for the salvation of all. This follows necessarily.

This is a case of a presupposition based on the misunderstanding of a relatively few biblical texts that ends up contradicting the plain teaching of Sacred Scripture. The atonement of Christ on the cross is the greatest expression of our God’s salvific will for all of mankind. And sacred Scripture could not make it any plainer:

John 3:16: 

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Notice, the text does not say, “God so loved the elect…”

I Tim. 2:3-6:

This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all (emphasis added).

Here we see—contrary to the Calvinist teaching of a limited atonement—that Christ died for all revealing God’s positive salvific will for all to be saved.

II Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (emphasis added).

Here we see not only that God’s positive will is for all to be saved, but he clearly does not will any to perish in the fires of hell either. Again, this is expressly contrary to Calvinism. The biblical text reveals God’s salvific will to include each and every human being that has ever or will ever live. Those who end up in hell will be there because they chose to reject the truth, not because of any positive willing on God’s part.

Calvin Responds:

I actually like to read John Calvin’s magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion. I love the way Calvin’s mind works. Give me Calvin to read any day over Luther. Luther is all over the place with his theology. Calvin is disciplined, thorough, consistent, and easy to understand. Don’t get me wrong, he is profoundly wrong on many crucial matters, but at least you know where he stands.

When it comes to Calvin’s responses to the above-mentioned texts, well, let’s just say they are disciplined, consistent, easy to understand, and dead wrong. For brevity’s sake we will just take I Tim. 2:4 in this post. Let’s cite verses 1-6 for context:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every ways. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…

This text is quite plain, making clear that:

1. God wills all men to be saved.

2. Christ Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all.”

But listen to Calvin’s response:

By this he assuredly means nothing more than that the way of salvation was not shut against any order of men… (Institutes, Bk. III, Ch. 24, Para. 16)

 Really? It is hard to believe Calvin was really satisfied in saying that “all men” did not refer to “all men,” but to all “categories of men.” In this case, St. Paul was limiting prayer for the “categories” of “kings and men in high positions.”

But then you have the problem of verse six saying, “Christ… gave himself as a ransom for all” to have to them mean ”all categories of men.” That is simply not what the text says.

A Final Thought

John Calvin was stuck. He had a presupposition that simply did not fit the text, so he had to twist the text to fit his presupposition. He did not believe Jesus “ransomed all” on the cross (as I Tim. 2:6 says) because he believed Christ only made atonement for the elect. He did not believe God wills the salvation of all (as I Tim. 2:4 says) for the same reason, so he had to come up with the above that is really so far beneath a man with the intellectual capacity of a John Calvin. The man was brilliant.

He had to defend the indefensible belief in “limited atonement” in order to preserve the acronym, right?

But this leads to my final point for this post. There is another text that absolutely obliterates the notion of “limited atonement” that Calvin did not deal with in his magnum opus. That text would be II Peter 2:1-3:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words; from of old their condemnation has not been idle, and their destruction has not been asleep.

In this text, St. Peter makes clear that Jesus “bought” (the Greek word here is a form of agorazo, which is used in I Cor. 6:20, 7:23, Acts 20:28, Rev. 5:9, 14:3, and 4 to mean “ransomed” or “redeemed”) not just the elect, but even those who will eventually end in the torments of hell. There can be no doubt concerning either the words or the context of II Peter 2.

Calvin did not include this text in the nearly 700 pages of Institutes of the Christian Religion? I have a hard time believing this one got away. He just didn’t know about it. He was too smart for that. Perhaps he left this one alone because his answer would have been even worse than what we saw above in his dancing around I Tim. 2:4. I don’t know.

But what I do know is this text makes clear this fact: Jesus did not only die for the elect. His atonement was not “limited.”

He died for all. And “all” means “all.”

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The Trouble With Calvin – Pt. 2

In my last post, I began a series of critiques of John Calvin’s famous “five points,” most often referred to using the acronym, TULIP, which represents Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistibility of Grace, and The Perseverance of the Saints (“once saved, always saved”). In this installment, we’ll deal with Unconditional Election.

Calvin’s idea of Unconditional Election simply means that God “elected” certain men for salvation and others for damnation from all eternity, rooted in texts of Scripture, as we will see below, like Romans 9:10-12:

And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call, she was told, “The Younger will serve the younger.”

Calvin’s ideas of election and double predestination are virtually indistinguishable.  Double Predestination, as we saw before, is the teaching that claims God to have determined from all eternity who will go to heaven and who will go to hell giving to man no real choice in the matter. The Catholic Church condemns this understanding, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1037:

God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (Citing II Peter 3:9).

Just as with predestination, for Calvin, God both wills and brings about the damnation of souls by his positive decree of election. He must, or else, in Calvin’s mind, he ceases to be truly almighty:

They deny that it is ever said in distinct terms, God decreed Adam should perish by his revolt… They say that, in accordance with free will, he was to be the architect of his own fortune, that God had decreed nothing but to treat him according to his desert. If this frigid fiction is received, where will be the omnipotence of God, by which, according to his secret counsel on which everything depends, he rules over all? But whether they will allow it or not, predestination is manifest in Adam’s posterity. It was not owing to nature that they all lost salvation by the fault of one parent… As this cannot be ascribed to nature, it is plain that it is owing to the wonderful counsel of God… I again ask how it is that the fall of Adam involves so many nations with their infant children in eternal death without remedy [Calvin here refers to the false notion of unbaptized babies being predestined for hell], unless that it so seemed meet to God? Here the most loquacious tongues must be dumb. The decree, I admit is dreadful; and yet it is impossible to deny that God foreknew what the end of man was to be before he made him, and foreknew, because he had so ordained by his decree…Nor ought it to seem absurd when I say, that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at his own pleasure arranged it (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk III, Ch. XXIII, Para. 7).

Yes, this “decree…is dreadful,” but it is not God’s. It’s Calvin’s!

Twisting the Truth

There is some truth to Calvin’s notion of election. Scripture as well as the Catholic Church, will often refer to “the elect” as those who will finally persevere until the end and so be saved.

“The Church . . . will receive its perfection only in the glory of heaven,” at the time of Christ’s glorious return. Until that day, “the Church progresses on her pilgrimage amidst this world’s persecutions and God’s consolations.” Here below she knows that she is in exile far from the Lord, and longs for the full coming of the Kingdom, when she will “be united in glory with her king.” The Church, and through her the world, will not be perfected in glory without great trials. Only then will “all the just from the time of Adam, ‘from Abel, the just one, to the last of the elect,’ . . . be gathered together in the universal Church in the Father’s presence” (CCC 842).

Jesus himself speaks of the “elect” who will persevere and so be saved in texts like Matt. 24:22:

And if those days had not been shortened, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.

St. Paul speaks of the ”elect” as well:

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which in Christ Jesus goes with eternal glory (II Tim. 2:10).

The Catholic Church has no problem with referring to “the elect” as those who will finally persevere until the end and attain final salvation. The problem with Calvin is his claim that each Christian can know with “infallible certainty” (as the Westminster Confession says it) that he is one of the elect. And, his claim that man has no real say in whether or not he will be one of God’s elect.

St. Paul did not even claim for himself this “infallible certainty” of his final salvation.

… but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (I Cor. 9:27).

This word translated “disqualified” in the RSVCE is adokimos. This is the same word St. Paul uses for those who reject God and whom God then “gave up” to a “reprobate mind” in Romans 1:28. Or, in II Cor. 13:5, he uses it thus:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ is in you?–unless you fail to meet the test (or, as some translations have it, “unless you are reprobate”; II Cor. 13:5)!

One can know via a private revelation that he is one of the elect, but Scripture indicates that God alone knows, ordinarily speaking, who the elect are. St. Peter tells us we must continue to be zealous to do good works until the end of our lives in order to ensure that we are truly one of “the elect:”

Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall; so there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In that same letter, St. Peter also warns that even those who have experienced the transforming power of God in their lives as he describes it in II Peter 1:2-4 can then fall away and be lost in 2:20-22. There is no presumption here with St. Peter as to who is one of the “elect,” as we see with John Calvin.

Thus, for Catholics, however one understands the theology of “election,” as long as one does not deny certain essential truths, there is freedom. For example, a Catholic can believe that the number of the “elect” is “predetermined” inasmuch as God knows how many will cooperate with this grace and persevere until the end. That means there is a limited number of “elect,” and, of course, not everyone is “elect.”

A Catholic may not, however, teach “election” to mean that God does not give to every single person the real possibility of salvation. As Gaudium et Spes 22, paragraph 5, says:

For, since Christ died for all  men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we  ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to  every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.

In other words, “election” does not mean God arbitrarily “elects” some for heaven and damns others to hell as Calvin taught. A true biblical understanding of “election” must involve man’s free response as CCC 600 tells us:

To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of “predestination”, he includes in it each person’s free response to his grace.

God’s predestination and/or election presuppose God’s initiative. God’s “eternal plan of predestination” goes before us so that if we respond to God’s call, it is only because God’s grace, predestination, election, and calling went before us. Without God as first mover, we could not take one step toward God as one of his elect. However, without our freely willing it, we will not finally “be in that number, when the saints come marching in.”

But What About Jacob and Esau?

Invariably, texts of Scripture like Romans 9, cited above, will be used by Calvinists to defend their position of unconditional election:

Though [Jacob and Esau] were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call, [Rebecca] was told, “The elder will serve the younger” (verses 11-12).

In order to understand this text, we really have to understand the greater context of Romans. We have to make the necessary distinctions between God’s gift of grace and the plan of God, which are given to men independent of anything that man does or can do, and man’s call to respond to the gift of grace and the plan of God. When we see this, Romans 9 will come into focus.

St. Paul is writing to a people in Rome being assailed by “judaizers” who were coming up with their own plan of salvation and leading people astray. In essence, they were saying it is great to believe in Christ and the New Covenant, but if you want to be saved, you have to go back to the Temple, the Old Covenant Priesthood, sacrifices, the Old Law, especially circumcision, etc. True Christians who were rejecting the Old Covenant in favor of the New were being persecuted for their faith; and, no doubt, they were being tempted to succumb to returning to the Temple. If they would only do so, they would no longer be in danger of:

… being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction… [being imprisoned]… [experiencing the] plundering of… [their] property… (Heb. 10:32-34)

But, at the same time, as St. Paul says in Galatians 5, if they were to return to the Old Covenant and trust in it for salvation they would also be in danger of losing their souls:

Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you… You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace (Gal. 5:2-4).

It was in this context that St. Paul was exhorting Christians in his Letter to the Romans to understand God’s plan and gift of grace to have been decreed long before they were ever created. St. Paul encourages the faithful that nothing except their own willful turning away from God’s goodness can separate them from God’s grace which will keep them through all that they may have to endure. “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed” (Romans 8:18):

Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?… For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality (Romans 2:4-11).

Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off (Romans 11:22).

St. Paul is in no way saying that the individual Christians to whom he is writing have their eternities sealed and that they are going to heaven no matter what they do. In fact, St. Paul makes clear all over the New Testament that what you do determines where you will spend eternity as much as what you believe (see Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-6; Col. 3:5-6, etc.). Far from encouraging a sense of presumption, St. Paul says:

Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall (I Cor. 10:12).

St. Paul encourages these believers that nothing outside of themselves can ever separate them from God’s grace. There is nothing that any man, or any angel, or any power in the universe outside of themselves could ever do to take them away from God. God’s plan is secure and has been so from all eternity:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).

God’s plan and God’s power are sure. The question for St. Paul is this: will his readers–or will we–respond to God’s predestined plan for our salvation, or will we choose to reject it to our own eternal loss.

Foreknown, Predestined, Justified, and Glorified

It is this context that leads up to Romans 8 and 9 and the famous texts on “predestination” and “election.” Among the many problems with Calvin’s theology of election, as well as with the Calvinists today who follow his teaching, is a failure to distinguish between the several categories St. Paul lists in Romans 8:28-30, most especially “foreknowledge,” “predestination,” “justification,” and “glorification.”

In presenting his own theology of election in Romans 8, St. Paul says:

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified… Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect (Romans 8-30)

According to St. Paul, the elect were already “fore[known]… predestined… called… justified… and glorified.” Calvin wrongly thought from this that I could then determine that I am already “glorified” by God’s eternal decree so that there is nothing more I need to do. This is incorrect. St. Paul is continuing his thought that God’s predestined plan is secure. God has done it all for us on the objective level. But that does not mean were do not have to cooperate with his plan on the subjective level.

In other words, Christ purchased my salvation, justification, and glorification on the cross. It is a done deal on the objective level. But that does not mean I do not have to do something in order for it to be subjectively accomplished in my life.

Let’s take justification for example. Christ “justified” all men on the cross. He paid the price for all. However, a man still must “believe in his heart unto justification” (Romans 10:10) in order to actually be justified. And he must continue to practice ”obedience unto righteousness” (Gr. justification) in order to finally be justified (Romans 6:16; Cf. I Cor. 4:3-5; Matt. 12:36-37; Romans 2:13; Gal. 2:17; James 2:21-25).

Now let’s consider glorification. Catholics believe that Jesus ”glorified” all on the cross just as he justified them. However, we must “suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him,” on the subjective level (Romans 8:17; Cf. Romans 2:6-10; II Thess. 2:14; I Cor. 15:42-43). Christ’s glorifying us will take no effect in our lives unless we choose to allow what he did on the cross to actually be applied to our lives.

Thus, if we are finally justified, it is only because Christ already “justified us” on the cross. If we are “glorified,” it is only because Christ already “glorified” us on the cross. However, if we choose to walk away from Christ, we will not be finally justified or glorified. We will have rejected God’s predestined plan for our salvation, in favor of our own demise.

St. Augustine Weighs In

St. Augustine, who is often misunderstood and errantly used by some Calvinists to “prove” their position—a position that he never held—wrote:

… predestination, which cannot exist without foreknowledge, although foreknowledge may exist without predestination; because God foreknew by predestination those things which He was about to do, whence it was said, “He made those things that shall be.” Moreover, He is able to foreknow even those things which He does not Himself do,—as all sins whatever. Because, although there are some which are in such wise sins as that they are also the penalties of sins, whence it is said, “God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient,” it is not in such a case the sin that is God’s, but the judgment. Therefore God’s predestination of good is, as I have said, the preparation of grace; which grace is the effect of that predestination (On the Predestination of the Saints (Book I)—In What Respects Predestination and Grace Differ, Chap. 19 [10]).

Though I should mention that St. Augustine is not always either consistent nor correct on all matters relating to predestination, the “Doctor of Grace” presents well the Catholic and biblical position here when he explains predestination only refers to God’s plan for redemption, not reprobation. For that (reprobation), man must reject God’s call to all for salvation. As St. Paul said it:

[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4).

And:

… because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe (I Tim. 4:10).

St. John provides:

[Jesus Christ] is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

And St. Peter adds:

The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but if forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (II Peter 3:9).

Very important to our discussion is St. Augustine’s distinction between what he calls “the operating grace” and “the cooperating grace” in the lives of men. The first grace is given by God apart from man’s cooperation and prepares his will so that he may choose God. This grace is integrally related to God’s providential plan that existed from all eternity in the mind of God. This is the grace that the persecuted Christians to whom St. Paul was writing in his letter to the Romans can know is there for them and no power on earth can ever change that. The latter grace is given by God as well, but requires man’s cooperation for it to be effectual in his life.

When I shall have proved this, it will more manifestly appear that to lead a holy life is the gift of God,—not only because God has given a free will to man, without which there is no living ill or well; nor only because He has given him a commandment to teach him how he ought to live; but because through the Holy Ghost He sheds love abroad in the hearts of those whom he foreknew, in order to predestinate them; whom He predestinated, that He might call them; whom He called, that he might justify them; and whom he justified, that He might glorify them [Rom.8:28ff]… even man’s justice must be attributed to the operation of God, although not taking place without man’s will; and we therefore cannot deny that his perfection is possible even in this life, because all things are possible with God,—both those which He accomplishes of His own sole will, and those which He appoints to be done with the cooperation with Himself of His creature’s will (On the Spirit and the Letter, Ch. 7).

As we will see in more detail when we discuss the “P” of TULIP in a few weeks, God alone foreknows those who will finally persevere until the end in grace (except in cases of private revelation, as I said above), according to Scripture and to St. Augustine. But the key for us now is to see that St. Augustine very clearly teaches as Scripture does, that man must cooperate with the plan and grace of God in order to be saved. Thus, his election is not unconditional. God’s gift of grace includes our cooperation. This is all part of God’s immutable and predestined plan.

 … it is God who both works in man the willing to believe, and in all things prevents us with His mercy. To yield our consent, indeed, to God’s summons, or to withhold it, is (as I have said) the function of our own will. And this not only does not invalidate what is said, “For what do you have that you did not receive?” (citing I Cor. 4:7) but it really confirms it. For the soul cannot receive and possess these gifts, which are here referred to, except by yielding its consent. And thus whatever it possesses, and whatever it receives, is from God; and yet the act of receiving and having belongs, of course, to the receiver and possessor (St. Augustine, On the Spirit and Letter, ch. 60).

How far is this from the dreary predestination of Calvin’s invention that claims:

We, indeed, ascribe both prescience and predestination to God; but we say that it is absurd to make the latter subordinate to the former [as St. Augustine and St. Paul do!]… By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which He determined with Himself whatever He wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Bk III, Ch.21, Para. 5).

Michael Jordan Knows About Choice

For many Calvinists, John 15:16 is as plain as it gets when it comes to unconditional election. Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.” “See?” they’ll say. “The idea of God offering salvation to all is bogus. Jesus only elects a few, and it is his choice, not ours, as to who they will be.”

The 1984 NBA Draft is a great way, I find, to explain the biblical concept of God “choosing” us. The draft of 1984 is famous for having four Hall of Famers selected in the first round. You had Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton, all chosen in that same year. That is quite a class!

Hakeem Olajuwon, from the University of Houston, was chosen first overall by the Houston Rockets. That was certainly a good pick because he would become one of the greatest centers to ever play the game. But the second pick was where it became interesting. The Portland Trailblazers had Michael Jordan, from the University of North Carolina, available, but they chose Sam Bowie, from the University of Kentucky, instead. At the time it seemed like a decent pick because Bowie was an extraordinarily good college player, but it would eventually prove to have been the biggest mistake in NBA history. Bowie would unexpectedly flop in the NBA, while Michael Jordan would go on to be… well… Michael Jordan.

How doe this relate to our topic? Here’s how. The third team to pick  would be the Chicago Bulls, and they would choose Michael Jordan. If you would have asked Michael Jordan what team he would have liked to play for back then, there is no way he would have picked the Bulls. They were perennial losers at the time. But the truth is, he did not choose the Bulls, the Bulls organization chose him. And to this day, you will hear the refrain, “The Bulls made the best choice in NBA history. They chose Michael Jordan.”

Would anybody believe that because the Bulls “chose” Michael Jordan that he would not, in turn, have to choose them? Of course not.

So it is with Christ. He chooses us. Of that there can be no doubt. But according to his own words, he then asks us to choose him:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne…

In Summary

The Catholic Church teaches that God elects only some for salvation and that election was known to God from all eternity. All of you reading this post who persevere until the end with our Lord and are saved will only be so because God “elected” you to be so from all eternity.

In saying that, the Scriptures and the Catholic Church do not mean to say that God does not offer to all the real possibility of salvation. He does. Whether or not we will finally be counted among the elect depends first of all upon the call and “election” of God, but secondarily, it relies upon our free response to his call and our persevering in the grace of his call until the end.

If you enjoyed this post, and if you want to dive deeper into the topic of salvation, click here.

 

 

The Trouble With Calvin – Pt. 1

Over my next five blog posts, I am going to critique the famous “five points” of Calvinist theology: 1. Total Depravity 2. Unconditional Election 3. Limited Atonement 4. Irresistibility of Grace 5. Perseverance of the Saints (“Once Saved, Always Saved”).

Pt. 1 – Total Depravity

In John Calvin’s magnum opus, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin presents a view of man that is very much like Luther’s, but contrary to what we find in the pages of Sacred Scripture. Calvin used texts like Gen.6:5,

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,

and Romans 3:10ff,

None is righteous, no not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one…

in order to prove that man is totally and utterly depraved through the fall of Adam and Eve. Calvin’s conclusion from these texts and others was to say, “The will is so utterly vitiated and corrupted in every part as to produce nothing but evil” (Institutes, Bk. II, Chapter II, Para. 26).

What Say We?

The context of the texts Calvin used actually demonstrate the opposite of his claim. For example, if we read forward just four verses in Genesis 6, we find this:

But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord… Noah was a righteous (“just”) man, blameless in his generation (Gen. 6:8-9).

While we Catholics agree that God’s grace or “favor” was absolutely essential for Noah to be truly “just” before God; nevertheless, Noah was truly just, according to the text.

As far as the quote from Romans is concerned, the greater context of the entire epistle must be understood. One of the central themes of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the fact that it is through “the goodness of God” that we are led to repent (cf. Romans 2:4), to be justified (Romans 5:1-2), and persevere in the faith (cf. Romans 11:22). It is solely because of God’s grace that we can truly become just:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

Further,

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death…in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:2-4).

Notice the emphasis on the fact that man is truly made just so much so that he can fulfill “the just requirement of the law.” It doesn’t get any more just, or righteous, than that!

Thus, Romans 3:10ff simply does not teach total depravity in a Calvinist sense. It cannot when the context is understood.

Moreover, if we examine the very verses where St. Paul paints his picture of the wicked who have “turned aside” and “done wrong,” we find he actually quotes Psalm 14:3. The next two verses of this Psalm explain who these “evil ones” are.

Have they no knowledge, all the evil-doers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord? There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.

The Psalmist clearly refers to both evil-doers and “the righteous.”

The impetus of these and other texts from Romans tell us that Christ came to make us just, not that there are absolutely none who are just. We must stress again that it is because of the justice of Christ communicated to the faithful that their actions, and indeed, they themselves, are truly made just. But they indeed are truly made just.

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right (Gr.—ho poion tein dikaiousunein—the one doing justice) is righteous (Gr.—dikaios estin—is just), as he is righteous (Gr.—kathos ekeinos dikaios estin—as he is just) (I John 3:7).

There is no way the Scripture could be any clearer that the faithful are truly made just in their being and in their actions through the grace of Christ.

The Problem Magnified

More grave problems begin to arise when we begin to follow the path Calvin lays for us with his first principle. Even when considering the unregenerate Calvin is wrong about total depravity because Scripture tells us even those who are outside of the law can,

… do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts” (Romans 2:14-15).

Though Catholics agree with Calvinists that grace is necessary even for these who are ignorant of the law in order for them to be just before God—in other words this text is not saying these pagans can be justified apart from grace—the text does infer that nature is not totally depraved because man can clearly act justly on a natural level, or by nature.

But an even more grave error comes to the fore when we consider his notion of the depravity of the just. “Depravity of the just?” Yes. That was not a typo. According to John Calvin, even those who have been justified by Christ “cannot perform one work which, if judged on its own merits, is not deserving of condemnation” (Institutes, Bk. III, Ch. 9, Para. 9). How far from “he that acts justly is just” (I John 3:7) or the plain words of the Psalmist who uses similar words as found in Gen. 15:6 with regard to Abraham being justified by faith: “[Abraham] believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness,” in Psalm 106:30-31: “Then Phineas stood up and interposed, and the plague was stayed. And that has been reckoned to him as righteousness from generation to generation.”

Phineas was clearly justified by his works and not just by faith. In other words, Phineas’ works are truly “just as he is just” to use the words of I John 3:7.

There are a multitude of biblical texts that come to mind at this point, but what about the words of our Lord in Matthew 12:37, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Or, “by works a man is justified and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Or,

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:13-14).

These texts do not even come close to saying all of these works were “worthy of condemnation.” They say just the opposite!

We should be clear here: All “good works” man performs that contribute to his salvation are first and foremost God’s gifts, which, along with his cooperation, truly make him just and worthy to “walk with [Christ] in white; for [he is] worthy” (Rev. 3:4), by God’s grace and mercy. But we cannot escape the biblical fact that these works truly are just and they are truly the fruit of the just man himself.

The Problems Continue

Once Calvin deduces “total depravity” via poor exegesis of a relatively few texts of Scripture, all sorts of unbiblical notions follow. For example, Calvin also concludes from this that human nature is so totally depraved that free will is an impossibility. It’s a farce:

The grace offered by the Lord is not merely one which every individual has full liberty of choosing to receive or reject, but a grace which produces in the heart both choice and will (Institutes, Bk. II, Ch. 3, Para. 13).

According to Calvin, man’s total depravity means necessarily that he does not have the capacity to cooperate with God’s grace.

In fact, I argue that Calvin’s notion of grace and nature is a carbon copy of the theology of Sunni Islam. And I am far from alone in my conclusion. The famous Calvinist and anti-Catholic, Loraine Boettner, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, provides:

Dr. Samuel M. Zwemer, who in a very real sense can be referred to as “apostle to the Mohammedan World,” calls attention to the strange parallel between the Reformation in Europe under Calvin and that in Arabia under Mohammed. Says he: “Islam is indeed in many respects the Calvinism of the Orient. It, too, was a call to acknowledge the sovereignty of God’s will… It is this vital theistic principle that explains the victory of Islam over the weak divided and idolatrous Christendom of the Orient” (Boettner, The Doctrine of Predestination, p. 318-319).

Strange bedfellows? Perhaps not. Islam and Calvinism agree based not only upon a distorted notion of the sovereignty of God, but also because of a distorted notion of man’s depravity. The two are very similar.

Understanding the Strange

When John Calvin says man is utterly dependent upon God for every single just thought in his mind (see Institutes, Bk. II, Ch. II, Para. 27), Catholics will happily agree. And they would be correct. We do agree. However, appearances can be deceiving because there is more meaning beneath those words that Catholics cannot agree with.

With Calvin, there is no sense of grace aiding and empowering our wills as St. Augustine taught and the Catholic Church teaches. For Calvin, being “dependent upon God” means our free cooperation or free wills have no part to play. God does not merely empower our wills; he operates them.

In the end, this may well be the most disturbing idea stemming from Calvin’s notion of total depravity. Man is essentially a puppet of God’s, which led to Calvin attributing both the good and the evil actions of man to God.

And mind you, Calvin rejects and ridicules the Catholic notion of God merely permitting evil and working all things together for good. In his words:

Hence a distinction has been invented between doing and permitting, because to many it seemed altogether inexplicable how Satan and all the wicked are so under the hand and authority of God, that he directs their malice to whatever end he pleases… (Institutes, Bk. I, Ch. XVIII, Para. 1).

Evildoers do not commit acts of depravity in spite of the command of God, but because of the command of God, according to Calvin (Ibid. Para. 4)! In fact, Calvin uses Is. 45:7 and Amos 3:6 to teach that there is no evil that occurs that is not “impelled” by God’s positive command (Ibid. Para. 2).

God is the author of all those things which, according to these objectors, happen only by his inactive permission. He testifies that he creates light and darkness, forms good and evil (Is. [45:7]); that no evil happens which he hath not done (Amos [3:6]) (Ibid. Para. 3).

As Catholics we understand—as St. Paul teaches—“since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct” (Romans 1:28). This means God may well remove grace that is rejected. He may also hold back grace as well, but this is, as St. Augustine said, God’s “just judgment.” But, according to Calvin’s unbiblical teaching, God does not give grace in the first place and then “impels” men to act sinfully. As quoted above, according to Calvin, God causes evil. And we are not talking about physical evil here; we are talking about moral evil. That is categorically absurd! God cannot “do” or “impel” moral evil because He is infinitely and absolutely good!

God cannot lie (Heb. 6:8, Number 23:19), “he cannot deny Himself” (II Timothy 2:13)—or act contrary to His nature. If God’s nature is one of love and pure being, it is absurd to say that he can “do” evil, which is by nature a lack of some perfection that ought to be present in a given nature. In fact, James 1:13 tells us that God not only cannot cause this kind of evil, but he cannot even tempt anyone with evil. That is contrary to his nature.

The Bottom Line

When Is. 45:7 and Amos 3:6 say God “creates evil” and “does evil,” this must be seen only in a sense in which it does not contradict God’s nature and what is clearly revealed to us about God in Scripture. God can directly cause physical evil, such as the ten plagues he released against Egypt in Exodus. But this was an act of justice, which in and of itself was morally upright and justified. We can also say that God permits evil in view of the fact that he chose to create us with freedom. But even there, God only permits evil in view of his promise to bring good out of that evil as is most profoundly demonstrated through the greatest evil in the history of the world—the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through this greatest evil God brings about the greatest good—the redemption of the world. God did not kill Christ, nor did he “impel” anyone to kill Christ. But by virtue of his omnipotence, he brings good out of the evil acts committed.