My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. - 1John 2: 1-2 (ESV)
I remember when I first heard about the New Apostolic Reformation. This band of wannabe prophets and apostles who claimed direct revelation that God was putting the band back together and lo and behold it was them! I thought it to be so obviously false in that the people who received the direct revelation were the ones who directly profited from it. That is also how I view the Calvinistic doctrine of election and predestination. I find it wildly convenient that the people who preach it and believe it just so happen to be on the approved list. It is easy to believe predestination when you consider yourself predestined. It is easy to believe in the doctrine of election when you believe God has already elected you. It is the same reason why I tend to not believe in the concept of a pre-trib rapture. The notion that everyone else is going to suffer but me? Nah, I will be floating on the clouds with Jesus.
Before delving into this study more in depth there needs to be some groundwork laid. I am not saying that there are not completely redeemable facets of Calvinism. My honest opinion has always been that it is only the arrogance of man that can believe that any one person or denomination has perfectly figured out an infinite God. A God I might add who has already taught us that His ways and thoughts are so far above our pathetic attempts at "wisdom." It is the reason why the Apostle Paul clearly said that trying to preach the Gospel with human wisdom and eloquence will actually empty the cross of its power. That being said, I openly admit that I could be wrong. That is a simple fact of my humanity and flesh, that carries with it inherent biases and predispositions that I am not even aware of. That is why I try to base what I say regarding doctrine solely on Scripture. It alone is the sole arbiter of all matters of doctrine. Not ironically by the way - that is a Calvinistic teaching.
As are the doctrines of election and predestination. These essentially teach that God pre-decided, at the foundations of the earth, who would be elected to be saved from their sins and who would not. Basically, that God decided before any of us were close to being born, who would go to eternal life and who would go to eternal punishment. Now I know there are a handful of Scriptures that can make a pretty strong case for such a belief. The problem however is that this type of belief system violates the entire remainder of the canon of Scripture. Let us just pull a random Scripture out:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6: 8 (NIV)
We know from Scripture that two of the characteristics of God are justice and mercy. I do not think there is any denomination who would disagree. How in the world is it just to decide that Bob is going to hell and Suzy is going to heaven before either of them is born? How in the world is it merciful to predestine anyone to hell before they draw a breath on this earth? The answer is it is not merciful, nor just. Now, God is God. He reserves the right to do whatever He wants with His creation but HE gave us His book for a reason and violating it is not one of them. The Bible says He cannot deny who He is. I believe any sane understanding of justice and mercy cancels out any doctrine of election and pre-destination. Let us reason and take this teaching to its logical conclusion. What was the point of the cross at all? If God has pre-decided who goes up and who goes down, why send Jesus to the cross at all? What is the point of the free gift of salvation? If my name is on the list, why would I even need it. If my name is not on the list than Christ's work can never be of any benefit to me. I am sorry but that is NOT the God described in the Bible at all. Let us now get into a sermon given by John Piper in 2003. Yes, it was a long time ago but to my knowledge Piper is still a Calvinist. Here is where you can find the video and transcript:
This sermon is where Piper gives some consideration to a handful of pastoral thoughts regarding the doctrine of election. He gives some opening explanation, seemingly uncomfortably so. I have sufficiently summarized this introduction in explaining what these doctrines teach. I want to review the five separate points he tries to make and see how they measure up Biblically. Here was the first point:
1) Not all things are good for us to know, and so God has not revealed them to us; and there are some things that are good for us to know, even when we can't explain them fully.
I think I will call this the doctrine of convenience. In fact, if you start your defense of your doctrinal position with a mea culpa of not being able to know everything, I am guessing there are solid points against you to which you have no credible, biblical answer. In his presentation Piper actually said, "The doctrine of election raises more questions than the Bible has answers for." Is there anyone else wildly uncomfortable with such a notion? If the Bible cannot answer for your doctrine then I am willing to bet your doctrine is not completely of the Bible. Are there areas of the Bible where theologians disagree? Absolutely but the fault is not in the Bible. It is always in the interpretation. Even Piper's usage of Deuteronomy 29:29 is a bit suspect here. Essentially Piper is asking for blind faith for the doctrine of election and predestination and if questioned, he thinks he can fall back on this:
"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. - Deuteronomy 29: 29 (ESV)
Does anyone truly believe God would hide matters of salvation? The entire Bible is one long story about the salvation of the Lord! We are to expect that He orchestrated all of this but is withholding some deeper secret about why He pre-decided who will suffer in eternal torment? Not likely. In all likelihood this is simply reinforcing that the decretive will of the Lord is not something we need to know about. That we need to be found in His revealed will and thus find ourselves closer to His decretive will. There is no point for any of that if I have already been pre-selected for hell. I am sorry Mr. Piper but the doctrine of election is only good to know if you have been elected. Otherwise it is an unjust eternal death sentence. He would continue:2)The doctrine of election has a strong tendency to make a church rigorous about the truth and about the Scriptures, and so keep it from drifting into doctrinal indifference and conformity to culture.
Really. So you think that if your starting point for doctrine is that you are special and going to heaven while all around you are people who have no choice but to accept their hellish destination that this makes you more rigorous about Scriptures? Well why wouldn't it! If I no longer need to work out my salvation with fear and trembling because I have been elected, heck, why would I EVER consider any other doctrine? I am sorry but this point really is a bit silly. I know plenty of churches that are not Calvinistic and yet they stick strictly to Scripture. The larger point though is there can never be a more attractive doctrine than the one that starts - you hit the lottery! Welcome to heaven! Piper believes that the followers are jarred by the "God-centeredness" of the doctrines but I really think I must object. I know that the favored view is that pre-destination is wholly centered upon God because it takes any decision making out of the hands of man but the reality is that these doctrines of election and pre-destination are more humanistic than any other. Why? Because what greater appeal can a doctrine have than to say, it's OK, you're in. Election is not God centered at all. It is completely man centered for those who are elected.3) A third pastoral thought about the doctrine of election is that it is one of the best ways to test whether we have reversed roles with God. I truly worry at this point for the apparent myopia Piper appears to be suffering from. Every point fails to grasp the easiest fundamental truth. When you starting position is that you are magically saved and everyone else is not, that is what forms your faith and beliefs. Not God. Not the Bible. You think the doctrine of election tests whether you have reversed roles with God? Let me save you the time. Yes you have and now there is no more reason to test anything. You have exchanged roles with God because you have pre-decided who goes to hell and who goes to heaven and lo and behold - you're in! Now I know you will be brave and say God made those decisions but is it not once again convenient that your faith starts with you being on the "yes" list? As for the second part of this you no longer need to play God. Why would you, when you already enjoy eternal life? While we are here, let me dispel another false assumption made here. Arrogance does not have to continue outside of an election doctrinal belief system. I do not ascribe to pre-destination and I readily admit that of these I am the least. I am amazed when God uses me for anything. On the other side, is not the traditional Calvinistic view as arrogant as you can get? To turn heaven into a members only club and you've been given the password? To essentially say to swaths of humanity, "sorry, Jesus died for me, not you." Before you think me too harsh please realize that is the Calvinistic belief of limited atonement. While these are examples of arrogance towards man, is not this belief system ultimately arrogant to God as well? If it turns out to be wrong it most certainly is. Piper continues:
4) The fourth pastoral thought about the doctrine of election is this: The humble embrace--not the discussion of, not even the intellectual belief in, but the humble embrace--of the precious truth of election and sovereign grace, produces radical, loving, risk--taking ministry and missions. Beloved, it is at this point that I am almost saddened at how coarse and unloving this doctrine can be while discussing how loving it is. Piper presents a letter he received from a missionary that has embraced election and pre-destination. Here is the beginning of it: "First of all, I am thankful for God's unfathomable grace in choosing me. I have done nothing to deserve this, and I continually marvel at my Father's goodness to me. The reason I am thankful to be chosen is because I know what I have been chosen for. Chosen to proclaim the excellencies of God; chosen to be eternally satisfied in God through Jesus; chosen to live in light and not darkness; chosen to taste and see that He is good."
Even though this language is couched in God-speak it is essentially narcissistic, no? Choosing me. Goodness to me. Thankful to be chosen. Know what I am chosen for. Chosen to do this. Chosen to do that. What about her mother? Father? Friends? Were they "chosen" too? What about the everyday people that are not chosen? She speaks passionately about seeing a street kind named Vasco also be chosen into the glorious light of Christ but what about the street kid next to him? How is this just? How is this love? I know people who choose a missionary life that sacrifice in love just as much as this woman appears to have done. Their starting position however is not - thank God I have been chosen! Piper offers up the following verses to drive home his point: