The Weaknesses of Calvinism – TULIP/Reformed Theology
A summary from my Bible Institute and Seminary studies
– Pastor Brian Saylor
Total Depravity – means that man is in complete rebellion against God, and by his free will he cannot and will never make a decision for Christ. When man is totally depraved, he cannot discern the truth of the gospel or understand it when it is presented to him. The Calvinist qualifies the meaning of free will, indicating that man is not totally free but is able to respond to God because of election and irresistible grace.
Biblical position – The Bible teaches that man is made in the image and likeness of God. Since God is Person, man reflects the personhood of God through his human personality, made up of intellect, emotion, will, and moral awareness. Because man’s will is reflective of God’s will, man has the duty and ability to make moral choices based on his understanding and motivations. Man is given and opportunity to make a moral choice for God as reflected in repenting, turning, believing, and receiving salvation and is condemned if he rejects. God, in the integrity of His nature, could not ask man to do what he was incapable of doing nor could He hold man responsible for all choices, whether good or evil, if the choices were not indigenous to man. Since man will be judged by God for his decision, it would be immoral for God to punish man for his lack of response to that which he could not do.
Unconditional election – The Calvinist bases election upon the divine plan (according to God’s purpose), so that the grounds of election is in God himself, which is to say salvation begins in God’s will and purpose and not in an act of faith or some other condition in the responder. As a result, man has no part in it. Calvinists teach that God never elects anyone to salvation because of his goodness or potential merit. The choice is from Himself; hence, election is unconditional.
The Bible uses such phrases as “chosen in Him”, and “predestinated unto adoption of children,” and “elect according to the foreknowledge of God.” But because these phrases are used by the Calvinist, does not mean the terms reinforce the Calvinists positions to the exclusion of another position. These are Bible terms that must be interpreted properly.
Biblical position – Election in the Bible is applied broadly. Election must always be interpreted within its context. The term elect is related to the church or to all believers, or those who have already accepted Christ. It is not applied to an unsaved, even if he is a candidate for salvation . As such, it relates to God’s plan of salvation, because He has elected salvation and those in salvation are identified as elect. When taken in light of the nature of salvation, we understand that Jesus Christ made atonement for all. Those who respond to His plan of salvation are characterized as elect.
To say that God has chosen some and passed over others is the breach the nature of God. God is One, which means He is Unity and acts in perfect harmony with His nature. Every part of God influences every other attribute of God. One attribute can never act in isolation from the others, hence God cannot be guilty of acting ignorantly or with a double mind. The nature of God expresses His love, as well as His justice. The Bible teaches that God so loves the world, hence this emotion is constant to all creature at all times. Unconditional election implies that God chooses some out of His nature, but since others are not chosen, then the unity of God is breached . Also the love of God is breached because He is not able to love all equally. If God chooses (elects) some, it must proceed out of pure motives form His total person. But the election of some and passing over of others divides the unity of God, implying duplicity, ignorance, or partiality in God.
Limited Atonement – Calvinists indicate that this aspect of their system is the most difficult of their five points to communicate. They teach that if man is totally depraved so that he cannot respond, and God is sovereign in His unconditional choice, then when Jesus died. He died for those that were chosen by God. To keep their system intact, they must deny that Christ died for anyone else, for if He had , then they must also be saved. Since they are not, atonement is limited.
The Bible teaches that the death of Jesus Christ was for all people of all time. This does not mean that all the world will be saved. The New Testament teaches that only those who receive Jesus Christ will enter into eternal life.
Five Biblical arguments against Limited Atonement –
- Doctrine of Substitution – Christ gave himself for the sins of the world (Jn. 1:20;1 Tim 2:6;Tit 2:11), church Eph 5:25, Christians Gal 2:20, Every man Hebrews 2:9.
- Redemption is adequate – 1 Peter 1:18-20
- Propitiation – 1 John 2:2
- Jesus satisfied all the demands of the law. Col 2:14
- Jesus Christ reconciled the world unto Himself. 2 Cor 5:19; Eph 2:16
The arguments against Limited Atonement are also powerful arguments for evangelism!
God created a plan that provided for all, offered to all, and wants all to participate in it. To say that God did not provide a universal salvation is to question His attribute of love. To say God saved all apart from their appropriate discharge of human responsibility is to question His integrity. To say God elected some to salvation but not all is to question His justice. The necessity of human response fulfills our understanding of God’s relationship to His creatures.
Irresistible grace –Calvinists teach that the grace of God is as immutable as the power of God so that man cannot resist it. They teach that since God of His own free will has chosen (elected) man and Christ has died for him, then man cannot resist the power of God that brings him to salvation.
The Calvinistic doctrine of irresistible grace is built on a misunderstanding of the doctrine of man. First, irresistible grace takes away initiative from man. The doctrine of conversion stands against irresistible grace. Salvation provided by Christ is obtained by both regeneration and conversion. To deny any human role in salvation is to formulate a doctrine which denies a substantial part of the biblical teaching on this matter.
Irresistible grace has a wrong understanding of the means of obtaining salvation. The Bible is the Instrument of Salvation and the Holy Spirit is the Agent of Salvation. Before a person comes to Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is the Agent who works in his heart first by “common grace”. The means the Holy Spirit works in the heart of all men to give them an awareness of God. The Holy Spirit works through the conscience Rom 2:1; and through the revelation of God in nature Rom 1:18. When the sinner comes under the influence of the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is the Agent of “special grace”. The Bible is the instrument that God uses to give salvation to individuals. The Word of God is pictured as seed which is planted in the human heart. As the Word of God germinates, it enlightens him, and convicts him of his sin, righteousness, and judgment John 16:8.
The work of the Holy Spirit upon the Word of God in the human heart produces faith. Faith is not a gift through unconditional election, it comes in response to , and is produced by , the Word of God as a soul winner implants the Scriptures into the human heart. This instrument becomes the basis of conviction and the impartation of a new nature 2 Peter 1:4. As faith grows, the person is able to reach out in the act of belief and receive Jesus Christ as his Savior; the whole process is a gift of God. Eph 2:8-9
Another argument against irresistible grace is that it is inconsistent with the nature of a man as reflected from the image and likeness of God. God cannot deny Himself by going contrary to the human nature in man which He created. A consistent God will not force salvation on a man against his will.
“Calling is the invitation of God to men to accept by faith the salvation in Christ. It is sent forth through the Bible, the preaching of the Gospel, and in many other ways. Nothing can be clearer from the teaching of Scripture than the fact that the call and invitation are universal and that is a free offer of salvation to all who hear and repent and believe.”
Perseverance of the saints – Calvinists teach that the saints will persevere because their salvation is dependent upon God’s irresistible grace which was granted to them because Christ died in atonement limited to the elect. They teach that since man has absolutely nothing to do with his salvation, he will “persevere”, because the Savior has declared that he has eternal life.
Most men who reject Calvinism claim to hold the fifth point which is the perseverance of the saints. They claim perseverance is eternal security. However, the doctrine of eternal security is not the same as the perseverance of the saints. Calvin implies in his doctrine that if one is saved, he will persevere because of the election of God. It is rooted in the nature of God.
The occasions of believers in Scripture who died outside of the fellowship of God questions the perseverance of the saints, … they persevered until death. Ananias and Sapphira Acts 5:1-11; died in a state of rebellion. Other Christians who came to the Lord’s table in Corinth with sin are described as, “they slept” 1 Cor 11:30. Also there was a “sin unto death” 1 John 5:17, 18, where sins led to the premature death of saints. The death of these believers outside of fellowship with Christ certainly does not take away eternal security, but it does question perseverance.
Resources: Dr. Elmer Towns, Dr. J. Vernon McGee, Dr. Harold Willmington, Dr. Charles Ryrie, Dr. Bob Wilkin
The Gospel Debate
The Free Grace View – NJF
All holding the Free Grace view have four beliefs in common.
First, the sole condition of eternal life is trusting in Christ as one’s Savior. None of the following are conditions of eternal life: turning from sins, being willing to turn from sins, committing one’s life to Christ, baptism, doing good works, or persevering in the faith.
Second, the promises of God’s Word are sufficient for assurance. While one’s works can have a confirmatory value, they are not essential for assurance. Any believer can have 100% certainty of his salvation if he but looks to the promises in God’s Word to the believer.
Third, the Gospel of John is given great weight in formulating one’s view of the Gospel.
Fourth, eternal salvation once gained can never be lost.
The Lordship Salvation View
All those who believe in Lordship Salvation disagree with the first three Free Grace positions stated above. The following three points are held by all in the Lordship Salvation camp.
First, the condition of eternal life is more than trusting in Christ as one’s Savior. One or more of the following are also conditions of eternal life: turning from sins, being willing to turn from sins, committing one’s life to Christ, baptism, obedience, and persevering in the faith.
Second, the promises of God’s Word, while necessary for assurance, are not sufficient. One must also look to his works. No believer can have 100% assurance of salvation merely by looking to the promises in God’s Word to the believer. (Indeed, most, but not all, in the Lordship Salvation camp say that 100% assurance is impossible since no one’s works are perfect.)
Third, care is taken not to give undue weight to the Gospel of John when formulating one’s view of the Gospel. The Synoptic Gospels and the NT Epistles are felt to be at least equally as important as the Gospel of John in gaining a proper perspective on the Gospel.
Lordship Salvation advocates are divided on the eternal security issue. Reformed Lordship Salvationists, in agreement, with Free Grace Salvationists, believe in eternal security. However, Arminian Lordship Salvationists do not.