Armnianism v. Calvinism: The Destructive Debate.
“God would prefer us all to be united than divided. The devil would prefer us all to be divided than united. God prefers the man who loves than the one who hates. The devil prefers the man who hates than the one who loves.” ― Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem
At present, I am teaching an 11 week class on the Epistle of Titus for my church's adult education program. If you are wondering how I can teach a class for eleven weeks on a book that can be read out-loud from front to end in seven minutes, my response is that you should be spending more time meditating on the wording chosen. The theological richness found in Titus coupled with the practical application makes Titus a book well worth a long study. But it also has language that will spark debate in your church if you have, as my church does, a mix of people who tend to lean Calvinist in their viewpoint as well as a number of people who favor a more Arminian understanding of the Bible. Titus 1:1, for example, leaps right out with Paul stating that he has come "for the faith of those chosen of God." Obviously, those words have different understandings depending upon your orientation on the concept of predestination.
Last class, I was speaking on Titus 1:2 where Paul says that he is sharing the message entrusted to him, "in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago." This naturally leads to a couple of questions: (1) to whom did God make the promise, and (2) when was "long ages ago"? While the answers at which I arrived are not pertinent to this blogpost, I did share a quote from John MacArthur's sermon on Titus 1:2 with the class on the topic of what is the nature of the promise. The quote read:
God predetermined in eternity past to give a love gift to the Lord, and everybody who is saved is a part of that elect and chosen, predestined group of humanity that is going to be the love gift from the Father to the Son. That's why nobody ever gets saved unless the Father draws them, because the Father knows who it is He's giving the Son. That's why the Son never loses the ones who come because He holds on with tenacity to the precious gift that God the Father has given to Him.
As might be imagined, this quote did not sit well with those in the class who hold to a strongly Arminian view of the Bible. One particularly vocal Arminian member of the class objected to the quote saying that John MacArthur is a Calvinist who believes in Double Predestination which means some people are predestined to hell. This same individual then argued that the idea of double predestination was unbiblical. I told him that I wasn't pushing Calvinism over Arminianism in using the quote, but used it for the purpose of making people consider the fact that those who are redeemed are part of a gift that God has given to the Son, Jesus Christ, based on a covenant before the beginning of time, and that we should look at ourselves as being such a gift. The other individual was not assuaged, and continued to make a very pro-Arminian argument about the nature of the covenant that includes the idea that God "changed his plan" after Adam sinned.
This conversation has continued to gnaw at my thoughts. So, in somewhat of a cathartic exercise, I want to share a couple of thoughts about what this individual said, what John MacArthur teaches and why this type of argument is destructive to the cause of Christ. In order to approach this, however, I first want to respond to the accusation that Calvinists believe in Double Predestination. In order to do so, I first need to address the question of what is Double Predestination?
What is Double Predestination?
According to Wikipedia (which should be used with caution relating to matters of Christianity), Double Predestination is defined as:
Double predestination (Latin: gemina praedestinatio), or the double decree, is the doctrine that God actively reprobates, or decrees damnation of some, as well as salvation for those whom he has elected.
So in simple terms, Double Predestination is the idea is that God actively chooses some for salvation and also actively chooses others to be condemned to hell.
However, the Wikipedia definition is seen as a caricature by many who hold to Calvinism. Contrary to some of the offal that passes for a discussion of Christianity on the Internet, not all Calvinists hold to Double Predestination in the Wikipedia sense. For example, monergism.com, a website set up by people who are strongly Calvinistic in their viewpoint and who hold to Double Predestination, argues that the Wikipedia understanding is not a correct understanding of Double Predestination and argue that the Wikipedia definition is unbiblical. Consider the following from Monergism.com which makes that point:
The doctrine of double predestination is frequently argued against in the most passionate of terms, in large part because of a gross misunderstanding of what the doctrine actually asserts. Opponents of the doctrine often operate under the assumption that the way in which God brings the elect to salvation must be precisely the same as the way in which he brings the reprobate to damnation. Of course, salvation has its beginnings in the sovereign, monergistic work of God in regeneration, so that all credit is due to him. If double predestination is true, some people suppose, then God must also be sovereignly responsible for the beginnings of damnation in the reprobate: he must monergistically produce sin in the hearts of the non-elect, which will ultimately end in eternal judgment. This understanding of double predestination makes God the author of sin, and is utterly unbiblical.
Thus, many Calvinists hold that “the elect” means only those that God has chosen before the beginning of the world to receive salvation. Electing some to go to heaven does not mean God elects the others to go to hell. Without election, all people would be headed to hell (as all mankind is destined to do apart from God’s intervention), but God elects some, i.e., He chooses them out from among many, and appoints them for salvation. The other people are not “elected” to go to hell; rather, God allows their sin to carry them to hell.
Isn't this still God condemning people to go to hell?
To the critic of Calvinism, what is stated above is a distinction without a difference. But many Calvinists believe the distinction is very important. Consider the following example: I have to choose players for a softball team. I have a number of people from whom I can choose. If I choose 10 players at random from the crowd, I have “elected” the 10. Did I also “elect” not to choose the others? In a manner of speaking, yes, but not really. I have chosen who I choose, and left the others unchosen. That is not the same as saying that I “elected” the others to not be chosen.
To many, this doesn’t seem fair. “Why should God choose only some and not others?” seems to violate our American belief in everyone being treated equally. But God does not play by man’s rules. Consider Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God does not promise that we will understand all of his ways. And Jesus’ parables point out that God often surprises us with how He approaches things compared to how humanity approaches things. Consider the Parable of the Vineyard (Matt. 20); how many of us would think that is a fair solution? And when we consider that God is sovereign and can do what he wants, do we really have the right to complain that He is somehow unfair? Do we have the right to put God in the Dock? In Calvinist thinking, it is not unfair at all. Consider the following from gotquestions.org:
[God] is not being unfair to those who are not chosen, because they are receiving what they deserve. God’s choosing to be gracious to some is not unfair to the others. No one deserves anything from God; therefore, no one can object if he does not receive anything from God. An illustration would be a man randomly handing out money to five people in a crowd of twenty. Would the fifteen people who did not receive money be upset? Probably so. Do they have a right to be upset? No, they do not. Why? Because the man did not owe anyone money. He simply decided to be gracious to some.
John MacArthur’s Viewpoint
Since the individual in my class alleged that John MacArthur believes in Double Predestination and is therefore unbiblical, I thought it important to read what John MacArthur has actually said on the issue. John MacArthur did specifically address the question of Double Predestination in a sermon that is available on the Grace to You website (gty.org) appropriately entitled “Predestination.” In the sermon, MacArthur reviews Romans 9:18-23 as it applies to the doctrine of predestination and while he holds a Calvinistic predestination view, he doesn’t agree with the Wikipedia version of Double Predestination. With respect to Romans 9:22, MacArthur writes:
[Please] notice how verse 22 ends. It flips into passive verbs. It never says God created vessels prepared for destruction, that’s double predestination, and the Bible doesn’t teach that. It says he “endured with much patience vessels of wrath - ” passive “ - prepared for destruction.” Not that he prepared for destruction. God doesn’t go down the list of humans to come and say, “Okay, you go to heaven, and you go to hell, and you three go to hell, and you go to heaven, and you ten go to hell, you go to heaven.” The Bible doesn’t teach that. The Bible teaches that all men are on their way to hell. And God chose to rescue some and he endured the others who are headed that way not because of something God did, not because of a decree that God made individually for them, but because they continue in their sins and are fully guilty. God has every right to demonstrate his wrath, and he is as much glorified in his wrath as he is in his mercy.
Essentially, MacArthur rejects the Wikipedia definition of Double Predestination. He does believe that God elects those that go to heaven, but absolutely rejects the idea that God elects others to go to hell.
Let's not be Divided over Predestination
The point of this writing is not to make the case for the Calvinistic point of view over the Arminian understanding. I don’t know which is correct. While it may be my Lutheran upbringing coming out, I am what might be called agnostic about the issue. I believe that the Bible can fairly be read to be support both the idea that it is God's sovereign choice who is "chosen of God" (Titus 1:1) and that we are somehow involved in the process (otherwise, why call people to repentance as John did in Matthew 3:1-2?). Which understanding is correct? I don't know, and given that great Biblical scholars who are otherwise above reproach when it comes to being orthodox in their Biblical views have spent their lives studying such issues and have reasonably and responsibly come to different conclusions, I believe that God has not given us enough information to come to a single, firm answer. Thus, it strikes me as that, at a minimum, it is extremely silly and, at worst, destructive to faith to divide the church over such an issue.
When I quote John MacArthur or any other scholar on this blog, I quote that scholar because his or her point of view is studied and worthy of consideration on the point cited – not because I am advocating the full-fledged, all-in adoption of the scholar's entire theology. There are many variables, and if I only cited scholars with whom I agreed on every thought, I might be left quoting only myself -- and even that is questionable.
But most importantly, I believe it is wrong and even destructive to let this matter divide Christians. If people who can dedicate their lives to the study of the intricacies of Biblical teaching can differ on the matter, it takes chutzpah to claim that one viewpoint is so clearly correct that the other is contrary to the Bible. Moreover, both points of view lead to the same obligation: we are bondservants (Titus 1:1) called to proclaim the message that Jesus came to save the lost (1 Tim. 1:15). If Calvinism is correct, then we proclaim the message because, as bondservants to a sovereign God, we are commanded to do so. If Ariminism is correct, we proclaim the message because it is the means by which the lost come to God of their own will. Either way, the response by both Arminians and Calvinists to God's direction ends in the same place – preaching the Good News to those who are lost.
When we all have the same mission, why expend the energy calling others who are pulling the oars on the other side of the boat heretics for disagreeing about an understanding of the Bible that can legitimately be read both ways? Killing those rowing on one side of the boat doesn't help anyone get to the destination. It only results in the boat standing in place while we fight, and results in the boat going in circles if we succeed. Let's stop this nonsense.