A Love Greater Than That of God Himself

Tim Kimberley of Credo House was once asked, "What if my kids aren't elect? The idea sickens me but it has to be possible. I have a hard time just shrugging that off and saying that it is to God's glory." (link) The individual asking the question admits to "wrestling with Calvin" over this issue and is, rightly, troubled by the implications of the Calvinistic theory known as unconditional election -- a theory which suggests that God has, from eternity past, without any condition, pre-selected to save some and not others, not by foresight of their faith in or rejection of Jesus Christ respectively, but by His own decree of the reality He desired to bring about in the history and drama of eternity past and future.

What the person is really asking is, How am I supposed to feel about the possibility that God did not unconditionally pre-select my child for eternal bliss, but rather chose him or her for hell, allegedly for His glory? The man is not alone in asking such a question: many have asked and continue to ask the very same question. R.C. Sproul admits, in his book, Chosen by God, to wrestling with this same question: "I did not like it. I did not like it all. I fought against it tooth and nail all the way through college."1

Of course, we understand from this admission that, during his college years, Dr. Sproul was "barely saved" -- that is, since he thinks that Arminians are "barely saved," then he, too, was only barely saved prior to adopting Calvinism. Not until he accepted Calvinism, well after his college years -- during his senior year in seminary, convinced by the teaching of Dr. John H. Gerstner and the writings of Jonathan Edwards -- was he "saved to the uttermost" (Heb. 7:25 ESV). Even then, he confessed, "OK, I believe this stuff, but I don't have to like it!"2

He then understood, however, that he could not -- not with integrity, at least -- believe a doctrine that he hated with his heart: "Once I began to see the cogency of the doctrine and its broader implications, my eyes were opened to the graciousness of grace and to the grand comfort of God's sovereignty. I began to like the doctrine little by little, until it burst upon my soul that the doctrine revealed the depth and the riches of the mercy of God."3 The person who asked Tim Kimberley the question of our post is experiencing the same struggle. Because our theology should be practical, and not merely theoretical, we have to emotionally as well as psychologically cope with the implications of our beliefs.

WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES

A rather naïve and tragic admission on the part of Dr. Sproul was when he wrote the following on a small card and kept it on his desk where he could always see it: "You are required to believe, to preach, and to teach what the Bible says is true, not what you want the Bible to say is true."4 Those four emphasized, very naïve words are the undoing of many: "what the Bible says." Now, I agree with Dr. Sproul to a point: each and every believer should always believe, preach, and teach "what the Bible says" is true. But the problem is the manner in which the core notion of this statement is contextualized: it is dangerous and nearly deceptive by default.

In essence, Dr. Sproul is implying that, since the Bible teaches unconditional election, then we are obliged to believe it, to preach it, and to teach it regardless of how we feel about the doctrine. After writing the note he was then led by Dr. Gerstner and Jonathan Edwards and their interpretation of Romans 9. He then confessed, "The combination was too much for me."5 He assumed their interpretation of Romans 9 was the apostle Paul's interpretation of Romans 9, and that shaped his Calvinistic theology for the remainder of his life. This is the exact same scenario that converted John Piper to Calvinism.

The conclusion for Sproul and other Calvinists is that Calvinism is merely "what the Bible says." Of course, some Arminians and others confess the same about their respective beliefs: not that the Bible actually teaches all variant theological positions, but that we each interpret the Bible according to our respective hermeneutic. In other words, for Sproul or Piper (or anyone else) to suggest that, by his Calvinistic understanding of various passages of Scripture he is merely believing "what the Bible says," is, plainly, naïve and erroneous at best and dishonest at worse. Sproul does not believe "what the Bible says" but what he thinks the Bible is teaching. He is no more interpreting Scripture by objective means than is anyone else in the history of the faith. Dr. Sproul may imagine that Calvinism is cogent, but the majority of Christian scholars, historically and at present, disagree with him.

THE COGENCY AND BROADER IMPLICATIONS OF THE CALVINISTIC THEORY OF UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION

Cogency refers to the reasoning and convincing powers of the intellect. Yes, Calvinism's presuppositions and consequent interpretative methods were once cogent to me as well, and they were once cogent to many others who have abandoned Calvinism. But just because Drs. Sproul and Piper found Calvinism cogent does not ipso facto make Calvinism right or biblical. To them Calvinism appears right and biblical. Yet to the majority of other believers and scholars, historically and at present, much of Calvinism is erroneous. But the so-called appeal to the broader implications of Calvinistic thought is what made Calvinism unappealing to me: it is what makes Calvinism unappealing to many others, as is evinced by the person who asked the question of this post, What if my children are not elect?

The doctrine of unconditional election, if true, was a settled and unchangeable fact of eternity past. No amount of praying can alter the list of names on God's pre-selected roll making up the unconditionally elect. God chose to save an individual irrespective of merit, works, or even foreseen faith in Christ. No reason can possibly be granted as to why God arbitrarily and unconditionally chose to save one individual and conscript another to hell. Unconditionally electing every individual ever to be born unto eternal salvation would have cost the glory of God not an ounce of denigration since His wrath was poured out upon His Son Jesus Christ in toto. But He, for reasons unknown to anyone, allegedly unconditionally elected to save only some, while damning the rest in hell for eternity.



The icing on this proverbial cake, of course, is that the unconditional election to salvation for some and the condemnation to hell of the majority is thought to accomplish bringing God glory. John Calvin's successor Theodore Beza, Arminius' mentor, even suggests that the sinners in hell can at least take comfort in the fact that their condemnation brings God glory.6 Beza's primary and heinous error is neglecting the fact that there is no comfort in hell! I wonder if Beza himself could have taken such comfort in burning in hell for the greater glory of God had he been one condemned by God merely by decree.

MY EYES WERE OPENED

Dr. Sproul believes that his spiritual eyes were opened, finally, to the "truth" of God's ways regarding unconditional election, and he is not alone. This neo-Gnostic tendency is so prevalent among neo-Calvinists, the so-called Young, Restless, and "Reformed" camp (many of whom are Calvinistic Baptists and who are, thus, not Reformed). In an article titled "Why Can't They See This?", Tom Nettles, among so many other Calvinists, seeks to answer the question, "Why do my Christian friends have such an aversion to the Doctrines of Grace?" (link) Many Calvinists do not understand how non-Calvinists cannot see the "truth" of Calvinism. The confusion should be obvious: the Calvinist's God has not seen fit to "sovereignly" enlighten the minds of non-Calvinists to such "truth."

What could be more obvious? How could some Calvinists be equally so "blind" in asking such questions? They believe that God meticulously governs and controls all events on earth and in the universe but then ask why non-Calvinists cannot see the "truth" of Calvinism. The inconsistency is glaring and bewildering. But, honestly, God has no more "opened the eyes" of Calvinists to the alleged "truth" of Calvinism than He has blinded the eyes of non-Calvinists to the "doctrines of particular grace." To read such implications from Calvinists is nothing short of tragic.

MY EYES WERE OPENED, TOO

When challenged by my father, I began to scrutinize the doctrine of unconditional election, to which I held during the late 1990s, and later experienced my own "eye-opening" reality. From neo-Gnostic, neo-Calvinist philosophy, God must have "opened my eyes" to the "truth" of Calvinism and then "closed" those eyes later, evident in my rejecting Calvinism. Respectively, God must have, then, "opened my eyes" to the "truth" of Arminianism -- that is, if God is meticulously sovereign in the manner in which Calvinists confess Him to be. My "eyes were opened" to a few biblical facts:

  • Salvation occurs by grace through faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 15:2; Eph. 2:5, 8; Heb. 10:39)
  • Scripture explicitly teaches that though all are totally depraved (Rom. 3:10-11), and totally incapable of understanding spiritual truths on their own (1 Cor. 2:14), regeneration still follows faith in Christ (John 1:12-13; Col. 2:13; 1 John 5:1)
  • Scripture explicitly teaches that God loves the world (John 3:16), and desires its salvation (1 Tim. 2:4), therefore God did not secretly and unconditionally elect anyone unto salvation by mere decree
  • Scripture explicitly teaches that those who are in Christ comprise the elect of God, both Jew and Gentile (Eph. 1:4), and election is, hence, conditional
  • Scripture explicitly teaches that Christ died to take away the sin of the world (John 1:20; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15; 1 John 2:2)
  • Scripture explicitly teaches that the grace of God is resistible (Acts 7:51; 2 Cor. 6:1)
  • Scripture explicitly teaches that some fall away from the faith, thus forfeiting eternal life (Matt 24:4, 13, 23-24, 26, 42-51; 25:1-13; Rom. 11:20-23; 14:15, 20, 21; 1 Cor. 8:9-13; 10:1-13; Gal. 6:7-9; Eph. 5:5-7; Col. 1:11, 23; 1 Thess. 3:1-5; 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 Tim. 2:12; Heb. 2:1-3; 3:12-15; 4:11; 6:4-6, 11, 12; 10:29; 12:15-17, 25)  

These scriptural facts cannot in any sense imaginable be reconciled with an overall Calvinistic interpretation of soteriological passages, rendering TULIP theology a serious error and, hence, unbiblical. Though holding to such theological errors will not necessarily be the forfeiture of one's salvation, those errors will certainly return to haunt them on Judgment Day (more on that below).

EMOTIONALLY COPING WITH THE CALVINISTIC THEORY OF UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION

In response to Tim's post, many Calvinists have neglected to address the emotional aspect of the main question by challenging Arminianism in a tu quoque fashion. In other words, some have sought to suggest that Arminianism presents the parent of an unbelieving child with an equal amount of anxiety, since an unbelieving child will not enter heaven, but hell, if such a one dies in unbelief. This argument is a red herring.

The question on the table is not about whether or not unbelieving children go to hell and how a parent should cope with such a tragedy. Unbelieving children and unbelieving parents and unbelieving siblings and unbelieving friends and unbelieving co-workers die every day and we all must learn to cope with not only the loss of a loved one but also the reality in which the lost loved one now exists. The Bible seems clear about the fate of those who stubbornly refuse the grace of God and reject trusting in Christ: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them." (John 3:36 NIV) But our topic here regards another matter entirely.

In Calvinism, God, from eternity past, unconditionally chose to pre-select some people to eternal salvation. He, by decree, fixed a certain number whom He would unconditionally save from His wrath in hell. We know from experience that many children of saved parents never come to faith in Christ, so we can automatically discount any notion that the children of regenerate parents will necessarily be saved. God has not unconditionally chosen to save all children of regenerate parents. Some children of regenerate parents, according to Calvinism, were decreed to spend eternity in hell; and, according to many Calvinists, they will burn there for all eternity to the glory of God. The question remains: How am I supposed to feel about the possibility that God did not unconditionally pre-select my child for eternal bliss, but rather chose him or her for hell, allegedly for His glory?

Answering that question is bound to vary according to the theology of the respondent. I will give my response, which is predicated upon a Calvinistically-opposed Arminian position. I think you, parent, can grieve hopelessly if your son or daughter dies disbelieving in Christ, not merely because of your child's disbelief, but because your God decided from eternity past not to elect, save, and thus grace your child with faith. He could have, easily, but arbitrarily and unconditionally chose not to do so. Evidently, your love for your child was stronger or greater than that of God Himself, given that condemning a person to hell merely by decree and refusing to display an ounce of salvific grace toward him or her is any other notion than loving. Congratulations, parent, you found a love greater than that of God in yourself. This is what R.C. Sproul alluded to, in my opinion, as the broader implications of Calvinism.

Moreover, you also have cause to fear, and not to feel secure, because you honestly cannot know whether you have deceived your own heart, and are thus not really unconditionally elect. The heart is deceitful above all else (Jer. 17:9), and there exists a possibility that not only are you self-deceived, but also deceived by God. Any cursory reading of Calvin will illustrate the truth of my words:
Experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence, it is not strange, that by the Apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ himself a temporary faith is ascribed to them. Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption ... [T]here is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith.7 
Why would God allegedly behave in such a manner? Calvin continues: "Nor do I even deny that God illumines their mind to this extent ... there is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent."8 God, the deceiver, allegedly brings Himself glory by acting thusly with the creatures whom He created in His image. Or perhaps He does not! Perhaps this portrait of God is a severely distorted one, like "looking in a glass darkly," viewing a marred image contrived by a marred individual.

Yes, this we think is the truth, that God is of such a noble, holy, righteous and just character than to make one confession -- "I desire all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4) -- but secretly and inwardly make a contrary confession -- "I have, by a secret decree, unconditionally elected to save only some people." Calvinism dishonors God with its erroneous theology. I fear to think what God might say to Calvinists on that Day, when they stand before Him to give an account for their words and teachings, that He might say to them: "You taught what, exactly, about my character?"

__________ 

1 R.C. Sproul, Chosen by God: Knowing God's Perfect Plan for His Glory and His Children (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1986), 3.

2 Ibid., 4.

3 Ibid., 3-4.

4 Ibid., 4.

5 Ibid.

6 Roger E. Olson, The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1999), 459.

7 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989), 3:2:11.

8 Ibid.