By Drew McLeod.
Drew is a Campus Director with the Navigators, currently working with students alongside his wife, Kirsty, at Massey University in her native New Zealand. You can see the original article, and visit Drew’s blog, here.
edited by Eric Kemp
After meeting at a friend’s wedding in 2009, a fiery red-headed girl and I became interested in one another and began talking on the phone almost every day. As we started to get to know each other better, I quickly discovered her view of God was radically different from mine and this began to dominate our conversations. Apparently, she was a “Calvinist” (a term I had very little if any familiarity with).
Before this time, I had never considered that God didn’t want everyone to be saved. After all, I had shared the Gospel with probably hundreds of fellow students during my days at college and prayed for many fervently (without ever once considering that God didn’t want to save them). She told me that God had already decided who was and wasn’t going to be saved before they were ever born. Subsequent to pleading with people to turn to Christ for a solid four years, this didn’t sit right with me. Surely it was the Holy Spirit in me engendering such love for these people? However, I knew that if these things were true and indeed accurately reflected the word of God that I needed to submit to them whether they “sat right” or not. Thus began my search for the truth. The following five things kept me from embracing this new “Calvinism” and landed me in a more firm position than before; that God indeed loved every man, woman, boy, and girl that I had shared the Gospel with over those previous four years (and beyond!)
1. The Plain Texts Weren’t Plain
“This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, a testimony at the proper time.” (1 Tim 2:3-4)
How can anyone read this particular passage without concluding that God wants every single individual to come to faith? Only in an abnormal reading of this passage would you conclude something like God wants “all kinds of men” to be saved and not every individual.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)
At face value, this passage also seems to communicate that there are countless multitudes in Jerusalem that Jesus, the express image of God’s person (Heb 1:3), wanted to be saved and he was desiring to bring them under his comforting and protective wing but because they were unwilling, he was grieved. While Calvinists have a certain argument against this (covered in #4) in short, it’s best to keep plain texts plain.
2. Calvinism Excludes the Old Testament
“And the Lord said to her: Two nations are in your womb; two peoples will come from you and be separated. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (Gen 25:23)
“I have loved you,” says the Lord. Yet you ask, “How have you loved us?” “Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?” This is the Lord’s declaration. “Even so, I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau. I turned his mountains into a wasteland, and gave his inheritance to the desert jackals.” Though Edom says: “We have been devastated, but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of Armies says this: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called a wicked countryand the people the Lord has cursed forever. Your own eyes will see this, and you yourselves will say, ‘The Lord is great, even beyond the borders of Israel.’” (Malachi 1:2-5)
Under what circumstances would you conclude that either of these passages are speaking with specific reference to God’s special salvific favor upon the individual Jacob or his irrevocable hatred towards Esau? In fact, in Genesis 33, Esau runs to and embraces his deceitful and treacherous brother Jacob a lot like the father graciously welcomes the prodigal son in Luke 15. Therefore, why would Paul be quoting these passages out of context in Romans 9 to talk about God’s plans to save Jacob and damn Esau before they were born or “done anything good or bad”? After all, the passage in Malachi was written some 13 centuries after the twins’ deaths! Since Romans 9 is a lynch-pin passage for Calvinists in Scripture, the Old Testament passages quoted there must be kept in view and ultimately do not support their reading of it; unless, of course, we permit Paul to quote these passages out of their OT context.
3. Calvinism Reads Onto Scripture Unwarranted Individualization
Outside of what has already been mentioned about the OT context of Romans 9, I can’t help but think we get ourselves into a lot of trouble by thinking that certain passages are talking about us.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you.”
Nope, that’s not about you, that one is about the 11 disciples left over after Judas (see also John 6:70 and Luke 6:13 where Judas is listed explicitly or implicitly as among those chosen)! We could say, in application, all believers are appointed to bear abiding fruit. However, to exegetically extrapolate this passage in a doctrinal way across all of Scripture, as if Jesus chose every single believer ever in the same way He chose the Apostles, is certainly irresponsible and misguided.
Romans 9 is a commonly misunderstood passage in the same vein as well. If Paul is talking about individual destinies decided from before they were born then why does he quote Genesis 25:23 and Malachi 1:2-5, which are clearly about the groups those individuals founded, to make his point?
4. Calvinism Is Unfalsifiable
A common refrain among Calvinists is something like “You just don’t understand Calvinism” or “If you only understood, you’d believe what we believe”. I submit that the reason so few “understand” Calvinism is that Calvinism is often unintelligible and ultimately unfalsifiable. This is because Calvinism makes many clear Scriptures unintelligible and contradictory. After all, if God chose Jacob for salvation and rejected Esau before he was born (as the Calvinist believes he does so with billions more today) then, in what meaningful way, does God love the world or desire that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:3-6)?
Of course, Calvinists have ways out of such conundrums by appealing to “mystery” and the “secret” vs “revealed” wills of God (“God can say one thing but actually, truly mean the opposite of the thing He said”). Ultimately, however, these things are just smoke screens for the prolific errors in logic and reason that are inherent in all forms of determinism. The only answer to my questions about these contradictions was that it was a “mystery” and that I should refer myself to Isaiah 55:8 or believe that Scripture is inspired. The aforementioned conversation on Calvinism ended with the following from a pastor I was put in correspondence with:
“I tried with all my heart to make the sovereignt [sic] verses fit into my Arminian framework. Rest came only after I laid down my arms of resistance and realized that I had to acknowledge “mystery” and that God is 100% sovereign and man !00% [sic] responsible. The temptation will be to lean unto human reason and move in the direction of 50 50 .Be biblical”
Allow me to translate what this communicated to me, “I know this doesn’t make sense to you and is contradictory but the sooner you throw your hands up in reverent surrender, the sooner you will accept this ‘mystery’ and be able to move past reasoning and attempting to falsify this”. But, if I must simply accept this and not question it, then how can I possibly know if this is true? Surely, there is a better, more cogent alternative. Since I knew God cannot plan, from all eternity, to damn some while simultaneously being grieved that they were unwilling to come to him (Matt 24:37-39), I maintained my rejection of Calvinism and “the doctrines of grace”.
5. The Good News Was Only “Good” for Some.
Since God’s kindness leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:10) rather than his holy justice or wrath, I believe it is of utmost importance to preserve the “Good” in the Good News”…for everyone. The Good News of Jesus is being able to look any person in the eye and say “God loves you, want you to be saved, and sent his Son Jesus to die for your sins so that you could be saved from the penalty of sin, which is death.” Calvinism, with its “irresistible grace” and “limited atonement” cannot affirm this previous statement. Because, if God wants to effectually saved you, he will; and if Christ did not die for you, then there can be no forgiveness of your sins (Heb 9:22).
This kind of loving-kindness (Heb. “chesed”) is a theme present from the beginning of the Scriptures. As Yahweh passes before Moses and declares his Name before him he says, “The Lord—the Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love [“chesed” love or “loving-kindness”] and truth” (Exo 34:6) and later in the Psalms “For you, Lord, are kind and ready to forgive, abounding in faithful love [chesed] to all who call on you.” (86:5). Later on, “loving-kindness” is described as part of who God is “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and great in faithful love [chesed].“ (145:8) If we remove the loving-kindness of God towards every man, woman, boy and girl that is contained in the Gospel (1 Cor 15:3-5) and talked about from the beginning then we lose the strength of the best news this hopeless, lost, and dying world has ever heard.
Much more could be said about how exactly I came to understand these passages and what the truth was that I landed on, but suffice it to say that these 5 were the reasons that I think keep many (rightly in my estimation) out of Calvinism today. And in case you were wondering, my romantic life took off years later with a different “fiery redhead” who lived even further from me than Calvin’s girl and now we are happily married, still sharing the Gospel with students together, and both believe that Christ died for all, loves all, and wants all to be saved!