Calvinism has been growing for the past decade. Some of the leading evangelical pastors are Reformed. They include Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Tim Keller, John Piper, Joshua Harris, John MacArthur, Daniel Montgomery, Eric Mason, Darrin Patrick, FrancisChan, Tullian Tchividjian and now Rick Warren. Also bestselling author Donald Miller and popular scholars like Wayne Grudem and D.A. Carson.
The Calvinist (or Reformed) position is based on a reading of Scripture that seems to assert all people are too sinful to ever choose faith in Christ on their own (see Romans 3:10-12), God sovereignly elects some for salvation (see Romans 9:6-24), Christ died on the cross only for the elect (See John 10:11, 15 and John 17:9), faith comes only as a gift of God (John 1:12-13) and, as such, a person cannot lose their faith as this is the work of a perfect God (John 10:27-28).
What are the possible weaknesses of Calvinism? Dr. Jerry Walls, Dr. Roger Olson and Dr. Scot McKnight are the fiercest critics of Reformed theology today. They argue the following: (1) The interpretation of the cited scriptures do not necessarily support a Calvinist approach. For example, Romans 9 is about fulfilling the promise to Israel and election for ministry not salvation. The mention of “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated” refers to Malachi’s view of the two nations (see Malachi 1) and predestination refers Christ and the church via union, not individuals; (2) While most classical Arminians do not disagree with total depravity and perseverance of the saints, they do not accept “ULI in the Middle” of TULIP. In other words, they reject unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace.
Most of the leading Calvinists are “compatibilists” or they see freedom and the absolute sovereignty of God as “compatible.” The thinking breaks down as follows:
*A free act is not caused or compelled by anything external to the agent who performs it.
*It is, however, caused something internal to the agent, namely a psychological state of affairs such as belief, desire or some combination of these two.
*The agent performing the act could have done differently if he had wanted to do so (i.e., if he had different desires or different beliefs).
In other words, a person predestined for salvation is changed internally by the Spirit to see the truth and melts the heart to have a desire for truth and love. The person will then always freely choose an eternal relationship with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But Jerry Walls asks why God would not do this with everyone for then everyone would freely choose to do what is right.
Moreover, Walls argues if you accept compatibalism then you must accept the following: (1) God loves all people; (2) Truly to love someone is to desire their well-being and promote their truth flourishing as much as you properly can; (3) the well-being and true flourishing of all persons is to be found in right relationship with God, a saving relationship in which we love and obey Him; (4) God could determine all persons freely to accept a right relationship with Himself and be saved; (5) Therefore, all will be saved. But few, if any, Calvinists hold such a view.
John Calvin (and many modern Reformed theologians like Wayne Grudem) would agree there are logical problems but they often chalk it up to a paradox (i.e., a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet appears to be true). Calvin attributes this to “…the inscrutable judgment of God.” (See The Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.24.14 ). Although some of the better Calvinist scholars have offered what they believe are reasonable responses to Walls’ argument (see James White’s argument among others), the strongest argument for a Reformed approach is a plain reading of the Scriptures listed above and what appears to be a strained interpretation of those Scriptures by Arminians.
I would urge you to take a look at Romans 9 and ask yourself if Arminians are right that it is only about the history of Israel and God keeping his promise or if sovereign election to salvation is a part of it as well.
But is there a middle ground? Brilliant Christian leaders like Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig insist Molinism or “middle knowledge” makes harmonizes the Bible’s insistence on predestination and free will. What is Molinism? It can be broken down as follows:
What about Molinism or “Middle Knowledge”?
1.God creates the best possible world where the most people will freely choose to be in relationship with Him.
2.Thus, God foreknows who will choose Him when He creates them (predestination) but it is their choice (free will).
3.The Best Possible World is one in which the most people would freely choose without being robots and God knows under what circumstances they would so choose and acts to make sure they will have the opportunity to come to faith.
So, God predestines in the sense that He chose to create a world in which the saved freely choose a relationship with God while preserving free will. But is it Biblical?
Calvinists counter that this makes God contingent on the choice of people and does not adequately deal with the Scriptures listed above, which seem to indicate that faith is wholly a gift from God for no one would freely choose God without the Trinity sovereignly choosing the person for salvation (Romans 3:10-12).
I’ll leave it to you all to work out your theology with fear and trembling.
Until next time, grace and peace to you all.