Category Archives: questions

Does Our Choosing of God Take Away from His Glory?

I recently received an email from a reader asking this question.  I thought it would be worth sharing, as it comes up occasionally.  I’ve received permission to share our correspondence, but have removed the specifics for privacy.

[From the reader]
Hello was really hoping for some help.

I fell down the Calvinist rabbit hole and have been trying to get out. I sometimes sway back and forth between unconditional election and conditional. I have a question which has been really tough for me. How does us freely choosing God apart from his sovereign election not take away from his glory? Or doesn’t us choosing Christ and therefore choosing correctly give us something to boast about? Like we chose right everyone else chose wrong?

I’ve really been struggling with this and it seems safer to see salvation as a monergistic work of God, and I’m fearful to believe anything else is to steal glory that is owed to him. Please I would really appreciate some insight or help you could offer.

In our dear Lord and Savior,
[name redacted]

[My Reply]
Thanks for the email.  To specifically answer your question, I don’t think God allowing us to believe or not believe steals from his glory or causes boasting.

First, I think God deliberately created a world where people can make choices.  This is by his sovereign design.  He prefers to have genuine relationships – where people choose him.  CS Lewis said it like this:

“God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force. He can and will alter them – but only if the people will let Him. In that way He has really and truly limited His power. Sometimes we wonder why He has done so, or even wish that He hadn’t. But apparently He thinks it worth doing. He would rather have a world of free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else.”

Second, the very nature of faith precludes boasting about it.  Faith is knowing that I’m a sinner, and that my only hope is to trust in Jesus to save me.  The minute I start bragging it’s no longer faith.  It’s like the parable of the prayers of Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18).  The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like the tax collector, while the tax collector prayed “God have mercy on me a sinner.”  Jesus said the tax collector was the one who was justified.

In reality, I think holding to Limited Atonement can cause boasting.  Because the nature of monergistic election puts one in a special class where others are excluded. And this can cause pride.  Wesley said in describing the Calvinistic concept of grace that it naturally inspires contempt and coldness to those whom we suppose to be outcast from God.  I’ve seen this in some Calvinists (though certainly not all), and you probably have too.

I leaned towards Calvinism for a while too, but what brought me to Arminianism is that I think it best represents the character and heart of God.  If God loves the world and Jesus died for all, and monergism were true, then everyone would believe, because God would ensure it.

But since not everyone does believe, we must settle between God loving everyone and allowing people to to reject him, or that God doesn’t love all in a meaningful and eternal way.  To me, the most scriptural position and the position that best represents God’s character, is to believe that he loves everyone yet allows people to reject him.

Hope that helps and blessings!

 

 

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Answers to Common Calvinist Questions

Some answers to common Calvinist questions:

Q: Why does one person believe in Jesus and not another?
Q: Man is dead. How can a dead person believe or do anything?
Q: If man is dead in sin, how can he believe outside of the grace of God?
Q: If man can make choices, doesn’t that weaken God’s sovereignty?
Q: If man can make choices, how can God have exhaustive knowledge of the future?
Q: Here are [insert list of scriptures] to prove that Calvinism is true.
Q: Doesn’t Arminian Theology leads to boasting because man contributed to his salvation?

Q: Why does one person believe in Jesus and not another?
This question assumes a deterministic framework. Each person is a unique being who has the God given capability to make his own choices ex nihilio. One person believes and not another because one chose to believe, and the other did not.

Q: Man is dead. How can a dead person believe or do anything?
A: This is a non-scriptural definition of death. Death does not mean “unable to respond”, rather, it means “separated from God”. In the parable of the lost son (Luke 15), the father states “my son was dead, but now is alive. He was lost, and now is found.” The son was able make decisions, including the decision to go home. Yet, he was separated from relationship with his father, and dependent on his father for reconciliation. To be dead is to be separated from Christ. To be alive is to be in relationship with Christ. Making choices does not give one the ability to be reconciled to Christ absent his consent.

Q: If man is dead in sin, how can he believe outside of the grace of God?
This is a statement that Arminians fully agree with! Arminians believe in prevenient grace, that God is in the process of drawing non-believers to himself. It is God’s drawing that enables the sinner to believe. We differ with Calvinists in that 1)We believe scripture teaches that God gives a measure of genuine grace to everyone (Titus 2:11), and 2)We believe that grace is resistible (John 5:34,39-40).

Q: If man can make choices, doesn’t that weaken God’s sovereignty?
Sovereignty is not synonymous with determinism or meticulous control. Rather, it means that God does what he pleases (Psalms 115:3). It pleases God to endow mankind with a measure of genuine freedom. A.W. Tozer stated it like this: “God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so. “(1)

Q: If man can make choices, how can God have exhaustive knowledge of the future?
Arminians believe that God can know our choices without causing them. Some Arminians believe that God exists outside of time and sees the future as present (The Eternal Now theory). Others believe that God exists in the present but can see into the future. In this case, man’s actions are the cause of God’s foreknowledge, not the other way around. All man’s actions are certain but not necessary.(2)

Q: Here are [insert list of scriptures] to prove that Calvinism is true!
A: This is a debate tactic. While it may result in a Calvinist winning an argument, it is not a reasonable or contextual approach to reading and understanding the Bible. For a detailed and funny description of this tactic, check out The Machine Gun Hermeneutic, by Martin Glynn.

Q: Doesn’t Arminian Theology leads to boasting because man contributed to his salvation?
Arminian Theology is an entirely grace centered theology. We are saved by the work of Jesus Christ. By grace through faith. In order to be saved one must believe in Jesus and accept his sacrifice on his behalf. Since Jesus died for everyone, we have no grounds for boasting. Rather, we are motivated to share the gospel with everyone, so that they can also believe. On the other hand, Calvinism can easily lead to a haughty attitude. Calvinism teaches adherents that there are two classes of people: those who will be saved and those who cannot be saved. John Wesley correctly stated: “As directly does this doctrine [Calvinism] tend to destroy several particular branches of holiness. Such are meekness and love, — love, I mean, of our enemies, — of the evil and unthankful. I say not, that none who hold it have meekness and love (for as is the power of God, so is his mercy;) but that it naturally tends to inspire, or increase, a sharpness or eagerness of temper, which is quite contrary to the meekness of Christ; as then especially appears, when they are opposed on this head. And it as naturally inspires contempt or coldness towards those whom we suppose outcast from God.”(3)

(1) A.W. Tozer, The Sovereignty of God
(2) See Thomas Ralston, Elements of Divinity
(3) John Wesley, Free Grace, Section II

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