Was Paul unconditionally called? Paul did not think so and here is why.

Recently I saw something I never noticed before about Paul’s calling. Many Calvinists say Paul is an example of God’s unconditional salvation because he was a persecuting murdering. Moreover they say Paul’s call into ministry was likewise unconditonal and could never have been connected to anything God saw within Paul because, after all, he was a hostile persecutor.

However this cannot be squared with how Paul looks back upon his life in 1 Timothy 1:12-13. What is most striking about Paul’s statement in 1 Tim. 1:13 is its connection to the preceding one he makes in verse 12, saying, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he JUDGED ME FAITHFUL, appointing me to his service…”

It is then that Paul goes on to say “I received mercy BECAUSE I had acted ignorantly in unbelief…” In saying that God “judged [him] faithful”, or “considered [him] trustworthy” (NIV), Paul is not talking about his later years in ministry. He is talking about his initial call to ministry—specifically getting knocked off his horse and appointed by God as an apostle and witness of the risen Lord.

Yes, Paul was formerly a persecutor of the church and a violent one at that. But God also saw something within Paul—a zealous faithfulness to commit himself to what he thought was true—which at the time was Paul being “convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus” (Acts 26:9).

Yet it was this very quality of conviction and faithfulness that God was looking for and found within Paul. It is with this background context in mind that Paul says, “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer… But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief…”(vs. 11-12).

Paul is not boasting. He is overwhelmed with thanksgiving and gratitude that God “judged him faithful” despite zealously persecuting the church “ignorantly in unbelief.” Above all Paul sees his appointment to the ministry as God’s enablement (i.e. “I thank him who has given me strength”) and not as something he earned in any way.

Acts 26:19 ties everything together. Looking back upon his conversion and the ministry that was birthed out of it, Paul declared, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” This of course implies Paul could have been disobedient, had he so chosen. Paul never took God’s grace for granted, thinking the nature of divine grace made disobedience or rebellion impossible in his life. He was always conscious of the fact that divine grace was operating through him, and such grace would only continue to operate through him to the degree he obeyed God as act of his surrendered will.

No doubt most Calvinists would concede in principle to that last sentence. The problem is they equally hold to the principle that God also determined every instance wherein we do disobey his will— going so far as to insist (as John Piper does) that “God predetermined every tiny detail in the universe, such as dust particles in the air and all our besetting sins.” [1] This is widely known as theological determinism.

It may be suggested by some that Galatians 1:15 contradicts the points above. But that is not the case at all. There is no reason to assume that Paul being “set apart from birth” is a reference to Paul being unconditionally elected to salvation. Paul is talking about being set apart for apostleship—his election to Kingdom service. That is why in the next verse he ties in his being “set apart and called” with God’s purpose that he be sent to the Gentiles, saying “so that I could preach him among the Gentiles” (vs. 16).

For this view to be sound, we only need to assume that God had foreknowledge of Paul’s obedient response to the heavenly vision. In other words, God foreknew he was going to give Paul a vision and that Paul would “not be disobedience to the vision” he was given. In this sense, Paul was “set apart from birth” for a particular ministry, though that foreknown ministry was itself conditioned on God’s foreknowledge that Paul would become saved.

I believe all Christians have a specific call, an election to Kingdom service. I also believe that God’s foreknowledge of our repentance and faith can be the basis for that call. For example I have been serving as a missionary in S.E. 13 years. I have no problem believing God’s call that I depart the US and serve overseas was upon my life even before I was born. For if God’s foreknowledge of my life is largely informed by my free choices (and does not exhaustively determine all my choices as the Calvinist view demands), then there is no contradiction in saying my call to missions was conditioned upon my being saved, but occurred prior to my being saved (or even my existence).

In the same way, I believe Paul to be saying that he was set apart from birth to be an apostle. And if Paul was pressed on the matter, he would say his call to be an apostle was itself conditioned on his obedience to a divine vision—a vision and response foreknown by God.

An example from the Arminian scholar, Brian Abasciano may prove helpful. He once shared the following illustration with me. If God knows someone is going to be saved, he can then plan for the person’s service as a believer. It is like if a manager knows that John Doe is going to be transferred to his department (say his boss informed him), he can then choose the guy for some particular function in his department because of his foreknowledge.

Lastly, we have good reason to assume Paul’s perspective on being “set apart” for apostleship was being carried over from how he understood God to call other prophets/messengers before him—not to salvation per se, but to the nations. For example we read in Jeremiah 1:4-5 “Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

No doubt Paul saw himself as a continuation of this prophetic line for the nations/gentiles. Yet even here, Paul does not think that all his actions as a prophet are determinately controlled by God. Rather he always takes the biblical route that views our persistent obedience, or lack thereof, as being a reflection of our free response to partner with God’s grace or resist it. The former leads to God’s grace being formed within us, like fuel for a driver’s continuing journey. The latter leads to God’s grace being received in vain. The following verses reveal this biblical tension beautifully.

1 Corinthians 15:10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I [i.e. yet I am not the sole/sum product of my laboring], but the grace of God with me.”

2 Corinthians 6:1: “And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”

Paul’s urging that we work “together with” God’s grace and “not… receive the grace of God in vain” is clear evidence that Paul held to a robust theology of free will, not theological determinism. For it is absurd to think God’s grace acts upon us deterministically, such that it determines that we receive its deterministic nature in vain.



[1] https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/has-god-predetermined-every-tiny-detail-in-the-universe-including-sin

About StriderMTB

Hi, I'm Matt. "Strider" from Lord of the Rings is my favorite literary character of all time and for various reasons I write under the pseudonym "StriderMTB. As my blog suggests I seek to live out both the excitement and tension of a Christian walk with Christ in the 3rd world context of Asia. I am unmarried yet blessed to oversee an orphanage of amazing children in South-East Asia. I hate lima beans and love to pour milk over my ice-cream. I try to stay active in both reading and writing and this blog is a smattering of my many thoughts. I see the Kingdom of God as Jesus preached it and lived to be the only hope for a broken world and an even more broken and apathetic church.
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38 Responses to Was Paul unconditionally called? Paul did not think so and here is why.

  1. fromoverhere says:

    Well done Matt.

    You are gonna get a lot push back with people going to, say, MacAurthur’s commentary and state that Paul was made to be faithful (ahead of time by grace).

    “And he says, in effect, it amazes me that He counted me to be trustworthy. Now did the Savior look around and say, “Hey, there’s a trustworthy guy, boy, there’s a guy I can trust?” No. It was grace that made him trustworthy.”

    Oh well… back we go to making the word of Paul NOT mean what they say again. This is what Calvinists do all the time: Take obvious words, tell us they do not mean that, then tell us what they must mean.

    • StriderMTB says:

      MacAurthur really says that? Amazing. So God gave him grace to faithfully persecute the Church with zeal, so that he could give him grace to faithfully minister to the Church later. Imagine if we approached the whole Bible with such a hermeneutic. There is no telling what we could conjure up… well Calvinism for one 🙂 Thanks for pointing out the possible pushback.

      • fromoverhere says:

        Strider,
        They DO approach the whole Bible like that.

        I just found this quote from Grudem’s book “Making Sense of Who God Is.” [It should be “making God who we need Him to be…] [Remember they bring certain “God must be like this” ideas to the Word and then shape the Word around them.]

        ————–quote Grudem————-
        “​Cotrell has confused God’s decrees before​ creation with God’s actions in time. It ​is true that Calvinists would say that ​God’s eternal decrees were not ​influenced by any of​ our actions and cannot ​be changed by us, since they were made ​​​befor​e​ creation​.​ ​But to conclude from that ​that ​Calvinists think God does not react in time to anything we do, or is not influenced by anything we do, ​is s​imply​ false. ​No Calvinist theologian known to me​ has ever said that God is not influenced by what we do or does not react to what we do. He is grieved at our sin. He delights in our praise. He answers our prayers. To say that God does not react to our actions is to deny the whole history of the Bible from Genesis to revelation.

        Now a Calvinist would add that God has eternally decreed that he would respond to us as he does. In fact, he has decreed that we would act as we do and he would respond to our actions. But his responses are still genuine responses, his answers to prayer are still genuine answers to prayer, and his delight in our praise is still genuine delight.

        [Further down}
        ….​Now some may object that this view makes us ​mere​ ​”​puppets​”​ or ​”​robots​.”​ ​But we are not ​puppets or robots​;​ we are real persons​.​ ​Puppets and robots do not have ​the power of personal choice or even individual ​th​ought ​. We​,​ by contrast​,​ think​,​ decide​,​ and choose.”

        ——– end quote Grudem————–

        What?

        He decreed exactly what we will all do (and how delighted or grieved He will be about it) before time…. but we are are not puppets in His play. Why add this …..cuz Grudem KNOWS we are not puppets. [but in every way his above definition IS being a puppet.]

        God decided it all before time exactly the way it will go and we cannot influence it one bit; we just act it out like puppets….but we arent puppets. Compatibalism.

        THAT is being “captive to one’s definition of sovereignty.”

      • StriderMTB says:

        That’s… incredible. I’m sort of left speechless that so many intelligent people surrender themselves over to a level of cognitive dissonance that ultimately makes God the origin of conception for everything that is anti-God. I have long believed Calvinism is a deception— as stronghold of the mind that is rooted in hellish strategy to make God’s integrity and moral nature confusing.

  2. Victoire82 says:

    Hello! I’m new to your blog and to Calvinism (currently moving away from a Pentecostal and Charismatic background). I’m very interested in learning all I can about Calvinism including the reaction against it from other Christians. May I ask, in all sincerity, what your goal is in writing these posts? Is it to specifically condemn Calvinism, which I can see you do, or is it to invite a conversation? Either way, I’ll still be reading your posts as much as I can. Thanks!

    • fromoverhere says:

      Hey Victory!

      Thanks for asking….

      I will let Strider speak for himself, but as for me, I am moving from years as a Calvinist to a more Charismatic understanding.

      I put down the theo books and started reading systematically through the Bible (trying to set aside my Calvinist presuppositions to let the Bible speak— after all I “was taught” Calvinism from friends and books, and did not find it in the Scriptures myself):

      I came up with a huge list of reasons to re-examine the 40 verses that insist on Calvinism when the rest of the Bible sounded differently! A portion of those repeating themes in the Bible would include:

      How a “dead” prodigal son “came to his senses” ( Christ calls him ‘dead’ twice and that whole story does NOT square with Calvinism).

      How the rich young ruler “resists” the “irresistible” loving call from Christ who says “follow me.”

      Why does Paul use “persuade” “convince” and “reason with” if they are “not-capable-dead” or are “irresistibly called” (and it has nothing to do with what they think)?

      What does it mean that “God loves everyone”? More and more Calvinists say it is not true, but other Calvinists push back that God loves the non-elect….even though “the sunshine” that He gives them (that “shows His love”) may be a diseased, slave, tortured life. Meaning: they are not elected, but at least “they are love” (see above for that “sunshine love” description).

      Is that the “Good News” of the Bible: “Hey, friend, God m-i-g-h-t love you and Christ m-i-g-h-t have died for you”?

      Why does God give so many peoples signs to help their weak faith (Moses, Gideon, etc, etc) when He could just “give them faith.”

      Why does Christ say over and over that “your faith has healed you”?

      Why does Christ say “I have not FOUND such faith in all Israel”? Did He “find” it? Or did He “give it”?

      If He gives the faith….why does he sound “surprised” when the unclean woman touches Him?

      Why does the Potter of Jeremiah 18 (the one the famous Potter of Romans 9 is about) say that the clay did not turn out how He planned so He decided to do something else?

      Why does God say in many, many places of the Bible things like: “Oh, that they would always have hearts like this, that they might fear me and obey all my commands! If they did, they and their descendants would prosper forever.” Does this express unmet desire (“Oh that they would”) and alternate possibilities (“If they did….they would”)? [This is big one that NO Calvinist friend has ever convinced me us, especially since it hundreds and hundreds of places in all kinds of books and genres in the Bible.]

      Why does Satan blind the minds of people? If they are “incapably-too-dead” they need no blinding.

      When God warned Cain and told him to dominated over sin….could have have? Of course! Or the words of God are meaningless! But in determinism-Calvinism Cain had no choice but to do what he was destined to do, despite God “sounding like” He was really warning him.

      This list could go on and on and on…. and I’m sure Strider has many more (as do I!).

      Thanks

      • StriderMTB says:

        I agree with everything just said. It is a great list. I will refer others to it. 🙂

      • Camille Calilung says:

        Ok, well, yes, I can see what you believe is problematic with it and I’d have to examine these myself, as well as a layperson with no theological training and relatively new to Calvinism can. Needless to say, I have enough sufficient and convincing (to me, at least) reasons to move towards a more Reformed/Calvinist Biblical interpretation as, I’m sure, you have your own good and convincing reasons to move away from it. Not least of my reasons is how Calvinism is teaching me to love God and trust Him more. I also know that Calvinism has many streams and you might be surprised to find yourself in agreement with some of them. Thanks so much for your response! I will study those passages and try to see what you mean.

      • StriderMTB says:

        Your welcome. God bless your journey. Just a word of advice— anytime a Calvinist teacher preaches against a heretical doctrine or a moral sin, ask him, “Did God sovereignly predestine that heretical doctrine and those moral sins?” If he is an honest, consistent Calvinist he will say “yes” because the fundamental foundation to Calvinism (no matter what “stream” you belong to) is that divine sovereignty means God predestined ALL things before any humans were born or acted with fallen natures (i.e. unconditional).

        Also be warned that many Calvinists will try to justify God’s decree of ALL SINS and ALL EVIL by appealing to passages in Acts that say God predestined the crucifixion and suffering of his Son. They usually say, “There is no greater evil than killing the Son of God, yet God decreed it. Therefore we have good reasons to believe God is justified in decreeing all evil.” Just let that sink in. They hold that Christ’s death FOR sins is key evidence that God decreed all the sin for which Christ died! That would mean Christ is not dying for our sins— he is dying for the predeterminations of God!

        Think critically about these areas. It could be your experience in non-Calvinist churches in the past has been weak on scripture and overly emotional. There are MANY non-Calvinist churches out there like that, just like there are many DEAD Calvinist churches. It is very important to marry the Word with the Spirit, but the Devil seeks endlessly to keep them separate. But how we interpret the Word is most important because it has major implications on how we view God’s glory and character. And it is exactly here where Calvinists and Arminians have historically disagreed. Many Calvinists accuse Arminians of being driven to defend free-will. Free-will is important for moral responsibility, but the true drive behind Arminianism is to defend the glory and character of God from theological notions that bury him under a rubble of preordaining all that is contrary to his moral character.

        Here is a guide for you to know the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism.

        http://evangelicalarminians.org/an-outline-of-the-facts-of-arminianism-vs-the-tulip-of-calvinism/

      • fromoverhere says:

        Strider,
        You said that well and I thank you.

        I suspect that Victoire (like most YRR) was introduced to Calvinism by friends using books and websites. And using phrases like “for God’s glory” and “you dont want to have a ‘man-centered’ theology do you?”

        But when you drill down and find the determinist aspect of Calvinism, you find that they preach (albeit hidden sometimes) the foundational idea that God is the author of all events & thoughts, good and bad.

        Piper says this in many online articles….but in EVERY article…. even though it is about how “God decrees things” he will eventually slip into using the words “He allows” and “He permits” since using “causes” or “ordains” or “decrees” in that place would alienate people who would not like that. But fundamentally, he, like Grudem, believes that God ordained/ caused/ decreed all the evil before time so that “in time” He could be angry at it.

        Yes. The moral arsonist.

        But not very moral.

      • StriderMTB – You said, “…Calvinism is grounded in the unflinching belief that divine sovereignty means God predetermined all our sins.”

        Yes, that is so wrong of Calvinism…what that means is that the pure and holy mind of God thought up evil in His pure and holy mind first, then determined that this evil He conceived in His pure and holy mind be rendered certain. Hence, sin starts in the pure and holy mind of our God who has impeccable character.

      • StriderMTB says:

        Exactly Deo. This has long been my problem with it—not just on a theological level but a spiritual warfare level. Such a belief came from the “dark side” where the enemy wants nothing more except to make God’s moral character murky and confusing. I will usually rephrase Calvinism’s lofty language concerning God’s foreordination of all things by asking, “Do you believe God’s holy mind is the origin of conception for everything that is unholy?” That question often brings a pause and sometimes that is all I can hope for.

      • StriderMTB says:

        If you look at the link I added in the article there is a quote where Piper affirms that (and I quote) “God predetermined all our besetting sins.” If that is not the definition of un-glory I don’t know what is. If God’s moral character is the defining contrast to all this is evil, and yet God’s moral character decreed all evil, what then is evil?

      • fromoverhere says:

        Not only what then is evil, but why bother?

        I mean if God conceives of all evil for “a greater glory” then how and why do we stand against any evil?

        On some of his articles he say “even the holocaust.” So, there you have it…. even the torturous holocaust. Or as Calvinist James is famous for saying when asked if God ordained the rape of a little girl….”yes, otherwise it’s a meaningless evil.”

        There you have it (many times over) Calvin and his followers claim that “in order to be sovereign” (their definition of sovereign, and all things submitted to it) it must be true that God is the origin/ designer/ decree-er of all evil.

        In fact if God is equally glorified in creating and ordaining 94% of humanity to torture as vessels of wrath, then let’s just settle down and let that play out…it’s what He wants anyway.

        Good News: “Hey friend God might love you and Christ might have died for you, but if not, you will be equally glorifying to Him as a vessel or wrath.”

        Straw man!? Nah…. it’s just where determinist-Calvinism leads.

      • StriderMTB says:

        Yep. And then this is how it plays out further:

        Calvinist: “But we can’t just do nothing, because God ordained the means of our mission endeavors to reach his predetermined ends!”

        Me: “And yet if I do nothing and you do something, that is all the evidence we need to know that I was decreed to do nothing and you do something. If God decreed the means to reach his ends, and I am not part of God’s means, it is ONLY because I was decreed to be a lazy ass…or whatever.”

        Calvinist: “But that is such a horrible way to think!”

        Me: “Is that ‘horrible way to think’ included in the ‘ALL THINGS’ God determined?”

        Calvinist: “You just don’t get it.”

        Me: “Oh I get it alright! That is why I am not a Calvinist” 🙂

        Shake hands. God bless.

      • fromoverhere says:

        And again Calvinist preach like non-Calvinists!

        If they have told the crowd “God loves you” (they are preaching non-Calvinism). If they ever tell a person or crowd “Christ died for you” then they are preaching non-Calvinism.

        If they find themselves slipping, like the Reformed pastor yesterday saying things like “Maybe your neighbor hasnt come to Christ because you….” (you are preaching like a non-Calvinist). [What in the world!? How could he EVER say a person is / or isn’t coming to Christ for ANY human reason?]

        If they preach that we can make a difference in how things will turn out: our kids, our career, or marriage, then they are taking too much upon themselves …since the future is already set by God.

        Here is a Calvinist Sunday message: “Resist sin….. or not. Everything that happened to you this last week was planned by God before time….so whatever you did….. that was God’s plan. Same for this coming week. Amen. Dismissed.”

        Has your pastor ever counselled a crying couple in your church? The husband has been cheating on her for years. Then the husband says to the Calvinist pastor, “Pastor, you told us that all that happens is God’s sovereign will.”

        Calvinist pastor says: “Yes but not His will of command…”

        “Huh? If I cheated on her, then it MUST have been God’s sovereign will before time and I cannot see —in anything that you have taught us—- that it could have been any different.”

        Calvinist Pastor says what……?

      • StriderMTB says:

        “Here is a Calvinist Sunday message: “Resist sin….. or not. Everything that happened to you this last week was planned by God before time….so whatever you did….. that was God’s plan. Same for this coming week. Amen. Dismissed.”

        I gotta say I laughed out loud there. 🙂

      • victoire82 says:

        Thanks for replying. A friend recommended your blog. This is a good thing for me because it gives me extra motivation to read, examine, and refine what I believe. I read other things as well, not least, the same Bible you do :). I have been to the other side, as I said, coming from a Pentecostal and Charismatic background. I understand that bad theology can distort our view of God but bad theology is not the sole province of the other side. I also believe, as I pray and seek the Father, that He would not lead me astray. Predestination is not really so central in our church’s teaching. It comes up a lot because it’s leveled against us a lot and begs a response. If there is any overlap between the Calvinist and the Arminian, shouldn’t it be celebrated instead of being a “gotcha” moment? In my readings today, I came upon these questions: Are we (Calvinists and Arminians) not from the same household of faith? It’s not a matter or belief or unbelief, is it? Which Calvinist theologian was it that said,”… in the division of faith between Christianity and Islam, the Arminian is our brother.” Anyway, I can’t respond to much of the theological content at this point because a lot of it is pretty new. I will take the points raised in your blog and make sure to put it alongside my study of Calvinism. What I know is that His sovereignty comes hand in hand with the fact that He is Love. He has the supreme ultimate power. And I can trust Him. So I’ll be working backwards from that. One thing though, I go to the church of one of those pastors who you say hides bad doctrine by using “obfuscating language and word salad.” I am bewildered by that charge, to be honest. If you read their books, articles, and listen to interviews, what they believe is for all to see and hear. It is only a matter of whether you believe they are right or not. It’s not so hidden that you didn’t find it out. Anyway, I will continue in my readings and study. The “Does Calvinism Make God a Moral Monster” problem is an intriguing place to start. Thanks!

      • StriderMTB says:

        Hi Victoire82, I would encourage anyone to go to a church where they are held accountable, in abiding relationships and growing in the knowledge of God. I would rather anyone go to a Calvinist church where they are walking in holiness, than a dead, Non-Calvinist/Arminian church that provides no growth. I agree that all overlaps between Calvinists and Arminians should be celebrated—and there are many. The differences are no cause for disfellowship. We are indeed one household of faith and I count Calvinists as my brothers and sisters— always have and always will (I use to hold Calvinism for short while and it was the worst year of my life because I was initiated early on that Calvinism = the gospel and the gospel = God sovereignly decreed every one of my sins.)

        So while I agree the issue is not one of disfellowship, the tension and discord has historically stemmed from Calvinists equating Calvinism with the gospel. They call Reformed Calvinism the “doctrines of grace” or “the true gospel” “God-centered” and seek to corner the market on the Reformation all to themselves. Most Calvinists are unaware that Jacob Arminius was the LEADING theologian and proponent of the Reformation in the Netherland/Holland for years!!He was a student of Theodore Beza who was Calvin’s close associate. Arminius essentially got his “walking papers” from Beza and led the Reformation in the Netherlands. Calvinists later excommunicated Arminians at the Canon of Dort—which was perhaps the shoddiest, most corrupt council gathering in all Protestant history. [Arminian pastors and theologians were replaced with Calvinist ones and barred from taking seats prior to a critical vote on whether to condemn Arminian theology. Arminians at this time called themselves Remonstrants and they were very much like the young, restless and reformed of today— except they rejected doctrines like double predestination, limited atonement, God’s decree of all sin and evil, etc. These Arminians were stripped of their livelihoods and many had to flee persecution, threats and harassment after the Council of Dort.]

        Let me say a few follow-up remarks on some of your statements. You said,

        “What I know is that His sovereignty comes hand in hand with the fact that He is Love. He has the supreme ultimate power.”

        I totally agree and give a hearty AMEN to that. However—and this is key— do you mean to say that God has supremely and sovereignly predetermined every abortion, every act of child rape, every prosperity gospel sermon, and all your personal sins?

        If you say “NO WAY” then welcome to Arminianism 🙂 But if you DO mean to use such lofty language to smuggle in the hidden presupposition that God’s supremacy of love includes God decreeing all your sins, then I would say you are using obfuscating language and word salad.

        The point is leading Calvinists DO say exactly what you have said, and what they mean by that is exactly what I said above. But they know if they actually spoke in a straightforward manner half their congregations would walk up and leave.

        You said, “I am bewildered by that charge, to be honest. If you read their books, articles, and listen to interviews, what they believe is for all to see and hear.”

        Ahh—but that is my point. That is exactly what they will not do. They do not unfurl the full banner of Calvinism to the public. Instead of saying God decreed all your sins, they will say something to the effect of: “It is a great and glorious comfort to know our lives are gripped in the hands of sovereignty, that there are no accidents, no random events, no real tragedies, because everything about our lives from birth to death has been purposed and planned by the loving hand of our God to his glory and grace.”

        That sounds so— right. And yet if you were to go up and ask them pointblank: “Did God sovereignly decree all my sins” they will probably switch to Arminian language of permission and say “God sovereignly permits you to sin.” If so you need to press further and ask, “Does that mean you are saying God DID NOT sovereignly decree all things— including my sins?”

        At this point they have a choice. They either introduce you to a sinister doctrine called, “The will of command vs. the will of decree.” This is also called “The secret will of God vs the revealed will of God.” They will say the secret will of God is his secret decree of all your sins, BUT the revealed will of God is that you obey his commands and not sin. With this in view they will say it is God’s revealed will that you not sin. But whenever you do sin, that is an effect in time of what God decreed in his secret will.

        How this does not result in God being untrustworthy, morally ambiguous or schizophrenic— I have no idea. And neither do they.

        Lastly if they swerve and dodge and again seek to couch your sins in language of “allowance” and “permission” then you need to ask them: “If God decreed my sins and yet permits me to sin, does that mean God needs to get permission from himself to allow me to commit the sins he decreed?”

        At this point they will either “punt” to mystery and say, “Well we can’t know the mind of God”, OR they will own up to their theology in all its “glory” and admit “permission” language is simply being borrowed to soften the blow, and the true vocabulary is “irresistible decree” or “determined.”

        All this being said there are examples in the Bible wherein God has hardened hearts of some people so that they choose a path that is rebellious. BUT all these examples are of people who were ALREADY committed to rebellion and evil— i.e. Pharoah, King Sihon, Eli’s wicked sons, Herod, Judas, Jezebel in Revelation, etc. God can sovereignly exploit their foreknown wicked hearts to bring about certain ends— such as their own doom. Or he can use them as instruments of his judgment against other wicked nations, like God using wicked Assyria to destroy wicked Israel. The problem is Calvinism extends these actions of God across the board without exception. Everything we do is not just exploited by God but determined by God—before we were born. That means when Jesus told us to pray, “God… lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” we are actually praying for God to deliver us from the very sins and evils he ordained for us. And that makes no sense. You can see why it is not Calvinists per se but the implications of CALVINISM that I have a problem with.

        All this to say, I wish you the best and if you believe God has led you to fellowship with the Calvinist church you are attending, then stay there, serve there, love there and be a light there. And if possible stay committed to the true glory of God—which is not his ability to foreordain all evil, but overcome all evil.

      • Victoire82 says:

        Do I say that God predetermined sin, etc.? No, brother, I didn’t say that. Where in my statements did I say that? You assume that’s what I’m insinuating. I haven’t gotten that far yet and I am already being accused of obfuscation and doublespeak. I don’t know enough of the theology to even imply that. I may come to that point in my study of Calvinism where I have to face its logical conclusions but I have not come to that point. I came to this blog because my friend thought it would be helpful in my study. I wanted to see what the other side of the debate is saying and learn. That’s all. I will consider your other points. One question: When you say God predetermined sin and evil, do you mean that He created evil and causes men to sin?

      • fromoverhere says:

        Victoire,
        I dont think Strider said that about you. If you re-read it I dont think you will see that. I think there was a lot of “if you say (meaning “if a person says”) this….then”

        I have to say that Strider pretty much nailed it when describing where the logical trail ends in Calvinism (God ordained/ will/ decreed/ wanted/ planned all things, including sin). I think the point was that they theologize like that is true (“to give Him His glory!”) but they dont preach and live like it. They will fall back into “God allows” all the time (Piper does it in dozens of online articles).

        Lofty language when talking about His supreme authority of making everything happen by His direct hand, but using “He allows” language when dealing with the hard things.

        I think the question he asks: “do you mean to say that God has supremely and sovereignly predetermined every abortion, every act of child rape, every prosperity gospel sermon, and all your personal sins?” is one that needs to be answered. If a person (see how I avoided saying “you”?!) answer yes to that—- well you get (oops, that person gets) to be a Calvinist. But if the answer is no…. then…. not so much.

        If you would like to see the “Gotcha” passages and ideas of Calvinism handled one by one then slip over to Soteriology 101. Dr Leighton Flowers (former Calvinist) & Dr Brian Wagner cover a lot of these ideas and leave room for humble FOH (former Calvinist) to post too!

      • Victoire82 says:

        Thank you, fromoverhere! It’s difficult to talk about such things in a format like this because there’s no non-verbal cues to help regulate the exchange. I understand that you guys are not wanting to score points but to put safeguards against what may lead to a distorted view of God’s character. I completely understand. I think I may be out of place here, not because of anything said but my Calvinist theology is half-formed and I’m sure I have a lot of carry-over as a recovering Pentecostal 😉. I’m still learning to define the terms so maybe I should concentrate on that first before any foray into forums. But thanks for taking the time!

      • StriderMTB says:

        Victorie, something is wrong with how wordpress is categorizing our comments. They seem to be getting jumbled up in their organization. I am going to jump down here to the bottom to comment on what Fromoverhere suggested about Leighton Flowers and Mike Wagner. Leighton is called a “Traditionalist” which essentially means he does not hold to Calvinism and does not hold strictly to all aspects of Arminianism. He used to be Calvinist professor and actually considered himself to be an Arminian for awhile but he does not hold to the Arminian doctrine of “prevenient grace” otherwise known as preceding grace or drawing grace or enabling grace. As Arminians we hold that God’s drawing, preceding grace is necessary to bring fallen sinners to a place where they CAN believe, but not to a place where they MUST believe (that is Calvinism due to their doctrine of irresistible grace). Leighton believes the gospel message carries with it the grace of God to convict and draw, and there is no need of additional grace via the agency of the Holy Spirit (external to the preaching of the gospel). I disagree with Leighton on that point and think the Arminian doctrine of preceding, initiating grace is more supportable in Scripture. That being said, Dr. Leighton Flowers has great things to say against Calvinism because he taught it for so long.

        Here is a link to a debate he was in recently on the subject of Calvinism’s doctrine of determining all sin.

        Here is a also great Youtube channel by Mike Winger who, although being a Pentecostal, will also critque it in a healthy way. Here is a link to his reasons why Calvinism has many great things to teach but is ultimately full of major errors that must be corrected.

      • fromoverhere says:

        Victoire,
        I hope you really do see our charitable spirits (I’m a really fun guy with a wife and lots of fun kids!).

        I sincerely hope you do NOT leave these non-Calvinist sites and only-feed yourself on monergism.com and the Puritan Board! Phew! That would be a long, steady move into Calvinism (determinism) with absolutely no presentation of any other point of view.

        These sites dont give contrasting views either, you say? True, but you seem to have found the Calvinist side easily enough. I think you owe it to yourself to compare stuff you hear elsewhere.

      • StriderMTB says:

        Hi Victoire, thanks for stopping by my blog. I really appreciate it 🙂 May God’s shalom rest on you. Other than the two links I posted from Leighton Flowers and Mike Winger, another possible site to check out is http://www.evangelicalarminians.org They have a lot of great sources for further research. You can type in verses or questions in their search box. God bless!!!

      • Victoire82 says:

        Thanks. And peace be with you.

      • StriderMTB says:

        Hi, sorry I didn’t mean to imply you did say God determined all your sins. I probably could have been clearer. I was trying to point out that your statement—which I fully agreed with— is often how Calvinist preachers will smuggle in the hidden assumption that God decreed everyone’s sins. I was not suggesting you were doing that. I realize you are not saying that and do not (at least at this point) believe that. Hopefully you never will 🙂

        As to your question, when a Calvinist says God decreed or determined all sin and evil, what they mean by that is that God’s mind first conceived of the sins you will do and then rendered it certain that you will do them by irresistibly decreeing you will do them (for they say no one can resist his decrees). Some Calvinists, such as R.C. Sproul jr. (the son) have had the courage to admit their beliefs are one in the same with God creating sin. But other Calvinists won’t use that language and will pull up short and just say God decreed your sins.

        Now what this logically entails is something called “causal determinism.” This philosophical term is anchored in a theological context called “theological determinism.” What it means is God is the determinative cause of the evil of X, but not the causal agent that commits X. Calvinists will say this distinction allows God to not be held morally responsible for all the evils of the world he decreed. Why? Because it is said God is not the agent that does the evil of X, he only conceived, planned and determined others to be the agents to bring it about. But of course this distinction is absurd. It would mean a husband who conceived, planned and hired an assassin to kill his wife can’t be charged with her murder because he was not the causal agent who actually pulled the trigger.

        You are basically getting a “crash course” on how Calvinism seeks to preserve God’s holiness from the very doctrines they hold. So one more thing needs to be said. Calvinists are divided along the lines of soft determinism or hard determinism. Hard determinism holds that God causes people to commit evil by acting upon their wills to commit evil. But soft determinists hold to a theory called “compatiblism.” This theory holds that determinism is compatible with free will, if we define free-will as “acting in accordance with your strongest desires.” Doesn’t sound so bad on the face of it. But what Calvinist compatibilists will often NOT tell you is the underlying assumption that anchors it all back into God’s will of decree. The underlying assumption is that God secretly decreed the desires and motives that WILL act deterministically upon our wills! So in short it is just going the long way around determinism to arrive at the same place as hard determinism. For this reason it is universally debunked by non-Calvinists on the basis that compatibilism only works IF you redefine free-will as acting in accordance with the desires God determined you to have.

      • fromoverhere says:

        Well said again Strider!

        I suspect that Victoire would head towards compatibalism and Piper’s Three Wills. (God’s “Will of Command” is that you not cheat on your wife, but His “Sovereign/Secret will” might be that you do —-for His ultimate glory).

        Which leads me back to the true story of my Calvinist pastor friend:

        He counselled a crying couple (I mentioned above). The husband cheated on her for years. Then the husband says to the Calvinist pastor, “Pastor, you told us that all that happens is God’s sovereign will.”

        Calvinist pastor says: “Yes but not His will of command…”

        “Huh? If I cheated on her, then it MUST have been God’s sovereign will before time and I cannot see —in anything that you have taught us (or in what Grudem’s books teach us) —- that it could have been any different.”

        My Calvinist Pastor had nothing real to say in response.

      • StriderMTB says:

        Fromoverhere, Yes, when I hear some repeat Piper’s slippage into “permits” instead of “decree” I will say, “Does God need to get permission from himself?” Usually the discussion ends there and I am consigned to the dreaded, “Misunderstanding” box.

      • Victoire82 says:

        fromoverhere: And you could just ask me how I came to Calvinism instead of relying on your assumptions, of course :). I have no desire to get into a slanging match with other Christians. I just want to understand as much as I can. I know that you guys are responding to particular doctrines of Calvinism (predestination, God’s sovereignty) which, really, I’ve yet to hear explicitly preached at my church. I do see threads of it shining in the sermons’s weaving but it doesn’t preoccupy us as much as it does other non-Calvinist.

      • fromoverhere says:

        Victoire,

        I stand corrected. My fault. Tell us how you came to it.

        My daughter is on staff at a church and one-by-one she’s seeing the young (mostly) men bring other guys to “the Doctrines of Grace.” (through books and websites, but all proclaiming they found it through personal Bible reading).

        One guy (on staff) said recently that he is proud to be a Calvinist. My daughter is pretty sharp so just for fun…”Okay, so that means you think X” Mouth open… “no of course not!”

        She came home and told me, “Dad he said ‘no, of course not!’ to about 10 things. He has no idea what it means to be a Calvinist!”

        I told her…. but he will. And by then he will be too far down the track to wanna go back. Every other position will be vilified so much that even if/when he encounters propositions in Calvinism that he does not like, he will swallow hard and take it (or say “mystery!”) because being a “man-center, work-based Arminian!!!” No way!

        The first bit often starts with the “Gives God the most glory” and the “yours is a man-centered Gospel FOH!” yuk who wants that? I’ll bite!

        Or there could be the old “Did Jesus die to assure our salvation or ‘only make it possible’, huh, huh…C’mon answer FOH?” It is not till much later that the “I didnt know Calvinists believe that!” stuff comes out.

        She was just letting him know all the thing that are also true in Reformed/Calvinism. He knew none of them…and wanted none of them…. but oh well, he was still up in front of the youth group proclaiming “to be proud to be a newly-minted Calvinist.”

      • victoire82 says:

        I came to Calvinism because I started attending a Reformed Presbyterian church when I moved to the Big Apple. Simple as that. I found a gospel community where I flourished spiritually and it happened to be Calvinist. You could call it providential :). It is unfortunate that the “Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd has such a negative reputation as arrogant and unbending. Some of it is deserved, definitely, but not all of it is intentional, I think. As to your daughter’s encounter with that young man… I don’t think that is a mark against Calvinism itself. Young men, like the Young Turks, may be susceptible to any idea that proposes to revolutionize the old regime. But it wasn’t that unfortunate young man’s Calvinist views that made him act so stupidly. It was his pride that did that.

      • fromoverhere says:

        Victoire,
        Agreed and well-stated!

        BTW, we are 30+ year missionaries sent out by a Reformed church (still members) that has ministered to us over the years. Granted, most people in the pews dont know the difference between a Semi-Pelagian and a Semi-Polynesian, and no “reform-ness” ever comes up. I know many people (like you) who have their needs meet in a Presbyterian church (great!).

    • StriderMTB says:

      Hi Victoire, thanks for your questions and your genuine interest in wanting to explore the pros and cons of Calvinism. A great many wonderful things could be said of many Calvinists, but at the end of the day the underlying belief that God’s holy nature is the origin of conception for all unholy evil is simply too much. Their apprehension of God’s sovereignty undermines God’s glory and holiness. God is not a prisoner of his sovereignty. Just because God CAN do something does not mean he WILL do it. Just because God can irresistibly determine all things does not mean he has— or would even want to. God’s sovereignty is subservient to his his holiness in the sense that God’s holiness and glory (his pure goodness as revealed to Moses in the cleft of the rock) determines the boundaries of his sovereignty.

      However Calvinism inverts this and you end up with God being the determinative origin for all that is contrary to God’s moral nature. To cap it all off they say God acts in this way ultimately for his glory, as one who overcomes evil (the very evils he determined). In this theological worldview God is a moral arsonist. He sets moral fires just so he can sweep in and put them out so as to extol his virtues as a fireman. One more thing 90% of Calvinists (the young, restless and reformed crowd) are completely ignorant that Calvinism is grounded in the unflinching belief that divine sovereignty means God predetermined all our sins.

      They do not know this because Piper, Sproul, Keller, Carson and countless others work overtime to keep this doctrine hidden behind obfuscating language and word salad. So when Piper says God’s majestic soveriegnty reigns supreme over all human wills, it sounds so good, so right… until you realize Piper believes God’s majestic sovereignty predetermined every act of child rape and all your personal, besetting sins. This teaching is utterly evil and it must be contended against as a matter of spiritual warfare for the truth of God’s glory. I work with people in Asia who have suffered greatly from evil. To tell them God determined all their sins and the sins done against them— for his ultimate, mysterious glory— would shipwreck their faith. When Jesus was accused of being the source of both demonic oppression and deliverance he rightly retorted, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Calvinism divides asunder God’s moral character. No amount of lofty wordage can change that fact.

      Most former Calvinists will tell you they had no inking of such sinister presuppositions inherent with Calvinism, and it was their recognition of such un-glorifying, God-dishonoring assumptions that led them to shed Calvinism like dead snake skin.

      May God lead you forward in discovering that his glory is best seen as overcoming all evil, not ordaining it in the first place.

      By the way, I am Pentecostal in my theology. I am well aware the Charismatic movement has its own flaws, but such flaws cannot undermine the scripture’s clear witness that we are to walk in the gifts of the Spirit today. Shalom to you.

  3. drwayman says:

    And Paul also said he was “not disobedient to the vision” implying that he had a choice. – Act 26:19

  4. Dana says:

    Hi Matt,
    In Gal. 1:15 Paul describes his calling this way: “15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace…” Does this contradict your premise that God’s appointment of Paul to service was based on God’s evaluation of Paul’s faithful zeal in persecuting the church? Or does Galatians simply speak of God’s foreknowledge of those future events? God foreknew that Paul would be zealous, therefore he set him apart before birth. I guess the debate is like the chicken and the egg. Was Paul zealous because he was set apart or was he set apart because he would be zealous?
    Dana

    • StriderMTB says:

      Hi great question. I meant to add an addendum to my post that dealt with this question and I forgot. I will find it and add it in. Please come back in about a week and it should be added. Thanks Dana!

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