For many years not knowing what an Arminian was, this was my belief. I come from Pentecostal and Charismatic circles, which typically tend to be Arminian. After suffering for years under this school of thought, there was finally a changing of my theology. I’ve now come to a different understanding, more scriptural, transcending this general polarization of Calvinism and Arminianism.
Before I divulge my own views, here’s a brief comparison between the two schools of thought:
Total Depravity: This is the belief that sin controls every part of man. He is spiritually dead and blind, and unable to obey, believe, or repent. He continually sins, for his nature is completely evil. This is based on verses such as Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:3, and 53:3.
Unconditional Election: God chose the elect solely based on His free grace, not anything in them. He has a special love for the elect. God left the rest to be damned for their sins.
Limited Atonement: Christ died especially for the elect, and paid a definite price for them that guaranteed their salvation.
Irresistible Grace: Saving grace is irresistible, for the Holy Spirit is invincible and intervenes in man’s heart. He sovereignly gives the new birth, faith, and repentance to the elect.
Perseverance of the Saints: God preserves all the elect and causes them to persevere in faith and obedience to the end. None are continually backslidden or finally lost.
To summarize a very basic picture of the Calvinistic viewpoint would go something like this: Man’s heart is depraved. If left to himself, he would only do selfish, sinful things. However, God arbitrarily decided, before time began, which people would be saved and which would be lost. Jesus Christ came to earth and died on the cross for the sins of those God had decided would be saved. The Holy Spirit comes upon a person’s heart in an irresistible way, so the person will choose to be saved. The saved person can never become unsaved, no matter what.
Free Will: Sin does not control man’s will. He is sick and near-sighted, but still able to obey, believe, and repent. He does not continually sin, for his nature is not completely evil.
Conditional Election: God chose the elect based on their foreseen faith. He loves all men equally. God passed over no one; He gives everyone an equal chance to be saved. This is gleaned from I Timothy 2:4; II Peter 3:9; Matthew 18:14.
Universal Atonement: Christ died equally for all men, and paid a provisional price that made salvation possible for all, but guaranteed it for none.
Resistible Grace: Saving grace is resistible, for God does not overrule man’s free will. Man is born again after he believes, for faith and repentance are not gifts of God.
Falling from grace: Believers may turn from grace and lose their salvation.
To summarize a very basic picture of the Arminian viewpoint would go something like this: Man’s spirit is damaged, but still somewhat good. God, able to see all things past and future, knowing who would say ‘yes’ to the Gospel, elected those people to salvation. Jesus died on the cross giving everyone the opportunity to repent and turn to Him, excluding no one from the possibility of salvation. The call of God can be resisted and, ultimately, rejected. A Christian can turn from God and no longer be saved.
– The preceding definitions and summaries of Arminianism and Calvinism are by Robert Driskell, from the web, ‘What Christians Want to Know’ (slightly edited).
Both views commented on:
There are both good points and bad points in both schools of thought. Calvinists see that salvation is not dependent on human will, but on God’s sovereignty. And because of that, we’re completely dependent on grace. Yet, they consign all the non-elect (the reprobate), based on unknowable and arbitrary determinations, to an eternal hell.
The Arminians rightly see that Christ’s atonement was universal, and that the possibility of salvation is open to all. However, they exalt human will to such a height that God cannot effectively save without violating it. We might as well say that people save themselves, by an act of their will. It’s a works-oriented and behavior-focused salvation.
What is woefully lacking in each school is Christ Himself. In Calvinism God is unwilling to save all humanity; in Arminianism God is unable to save all humanity. We see that without a Christ-centered focus, a distortion of perception occurs.
Rather than trying to choose between each school of thought, we must return to a Christ-oriented revelation in the scriptures to discover what is the Gospel. We now touch on seven areas of concern shared by both Calvinists and Arminians.
Calvinist and Arminian concerns:
A Christ Centered View:
While God’s will is absolute, it is never arbitrary. It is based on His inscrutable character in conformity to the divine nature, which is Love.
His sovereign will was the salvation of all humanity, which He accomplished without either violating human will (Universalism); nor in depending on human will (Arminianism).
(Ps 115:3; Mt 10:29; Rom 9:13-16; 1Jn 4:8, 16; Mt 22:36-40; Gen 18:25; Ps 129:4; 2Pet 3:9; Dt 8:2; 2Chron 32:31; Ps 139:23-24; Prov 17:3; Lam 3:36; Rev 3:20; Rom 10:9-10; Jn 12:32; Lk 3:6; Rom 5:18; 1Tim 4:10; 1Cor 15:22).
Adam did not pass down moral depravity. Neither did we inherit a sin-nature from him, nor from the fall. Moral depravity is a result of each one’s personal immoral decisions. And each learned immorality through example and environment.
Inherited from Adam are the results of sin: a fallen world, war, sickness, poverty and death. The Second Adam (Christ) reversed the fall and it’s consequences, inaugurating a new humanity.
(Ps 139:13-14; Dt 24:16; Ezek 18:4, 20; Rom 5:12-19; 1Cor 15:45-49; 2Cor 5:14-17)
God elected Christ, and in Him elected each individual. We were all included by virtue of Christ incarnating as humanity itself. This is a double-predestination, not in the sense of hyper Calvinism. The rejection of all in Christ’s death, and the election of all in His resurrection.
(Eph 1:4-12; 1Cor 15:22; Rom 9:13-16; 11:1-7, 11-12, 15, 23-33)
This is universal and all inclusive, effectively saving all humanity by an imputation of righteousness toward them. Christ’s faith saved us, but the individual must come to personal faith in Christ to appropriate it. This faith in Christ may be explicit or implicit in terms of personal knowledge as to the particulars of salvation. The finished work is metaphysical, but our enjoyment of it is our choice.
(Jn 3:16-17; Rom 3:21-31; 2Cor 5:19-21; Ga 2:16; Acts 10:34-35; 1Tim 4:10)
God’s grace has appeared to all humanity in Christ, sovereignly giving salvation to all. Grace itself is neither resistible (Arminian) nor yet irresistible (Calvinist). Instead, it’s God resisting human pride in relation to grace. One thus may fall from grace in law-keeping, or fail [fall short] of the grace of God by lawlessness, both of which are conditions of pride.
(Tit 2:11; 3:4-5; Eph 2:4-5; Col 1:21; Rom 8:6-8; 1Pet 5:5; Jam 4:6; Ga 5:4; Heb 12:15).
Man’s will is free [or able] to choose and yet powerless through the flesh to perform what is chosen in terms of righteousness. The will however reveals the contents of the heart, whether as selfishness or benevolence, and is therefore of great interest to God. We must consider human will only in the shadow of the divine will, and this then necessitates grace.
Will-worship is the bane of humanity. Pride brought about all works oriented and legalistic religious systems. Yet under submission to God, the human will unlocks the door to the divine will, the heart opening up like the pedals of a rose.
(Mt 26:41; Rom 7:15-25; 8:3; 2Chron 32:31; Mk 7:21-23; Rom 10:9-10; Ezek 36:26; Heb 3:12-13; Col 2:23; Mk 14:36).
Perseverance of the saints is a foregone conclusion, remembering the One Who saves and preserves us. And we know that Christ reveals our ultimate state as being one of felicity and glory.
However this fact does not exclude the possibility of an individual choosing unbelief with its consequences. Our state in the afterlife, as in heaven or hell, is related to the state of our heart at death. Yet even an unfavorable condition such as hell does not mean one has abrogated their salvation. It may be rather that in the afterlife the enjoyment of salvation awaits repentance.
God’s relating with the impenitent in the afterlife is a mystery, and not an either-or scenario. However, God as Love and His intent to save all of humanity, is not a mystery.
(Jn 10:27-30; Phil 1:6; Jude v.v. 1, 24; Phil 2:10-11; Rev 5:13; Mt 22:11-13; Lk 15:28; 18:17, 24; Rev 2:11; Mt 5:21-22)
Scriptures on a postmortem salvation: Ps 86:13; 88:1-13; 139:7-10; Hos 13:14; Jon 2:2-6; Rom 8:38-39; 1Cor 5:5; 1Tim 2:4; 1Pet 4:6.
Christ-centered view summarized:
God elected all humanity as a sovereign act, by His love and wisdom, in His Son before the creation of the worlds.
This election, foreseeing mankind’s depravity, included a double-predestination. The death of the cross was the fate of all that is sinful in us. Likewise, His resurrection is the awakening of all our foreknown perfection.
Jesus Christ was crucified for all, reconciling humanity to God; no longer imputing unto us our sin, but instead giving us righteousness. Faith alone accesses the righteousness of God, which each individual exercises in repentance.
The unbelieving or impenitent wicked, will be pursued by God postmortem, albeit in hell. This may continue until they freely repent and believe the Gospel. But this is not dogmatic Universalism, where human and divine lose their freedom. We may thus be hopeful toward a universal reconciliation- even if it takes unto The Age of Ages. We thus opt for mystery, rather than the dogmatic positions of either school of thought. Whether that of Arminianism, Calvinism, or even Universalism, we refuse to put either God or man in a delimiting box.
In Christ we see hope for all humanity, as the salvation of all is in Him. But this metaphysical reality is not forced on any, even as God was not compelled to save. Rather each must existentially reconcile themselves to this free gift, either now or in eternity.
6 thoughts on “Neither Calvinist nor Arminian”
Thank you so much!
Preamble: Thanks for spending the time to review this with me earlier this week. I think we still have a lot of ground to cover but it was a start. Here is the posting of my commentary.
Blessings All Around.
I have finally set aside the time to wander through your website. I selected this particular Blog because it covers a lot of subject matter. This is a first time experience and endeavored for me. I have gone way overboard with my comments and I’m sure you will nod and say, ‘yup, I used to think that too’ but it is where I am in my faith and walk with God. I am certainly not very well versed in Apologetics nor am I an established Theologian but I do love God and I do love the Truth. I depend heavily on the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to guide me in all Truth as I am able to receive it. Some of the theology you espouse here resonates with me, some does not. To the extent that it does not, my commentary is to help establish where I am and why. Because our paths have crossed so many times over the years and we have enjoyed the fellowship of His word and Spirit, I feel a liberty to be very candid in my commentary. I have immense respect for your insight into God’s word so please receive these comments as inquisitive more than confrontational, some may seem to be. I am, after all, a Non-denominational, Pentecostal, Evangelical Christian with Calvinistic tendencies. Just sayin’. Labels are effective to the extent that they identify a group, doctrine, or theology but few accurately define who we are as individual believers. A true Christian World View is a rare thing. “The Truth Project” helped put that into perspective for me. We all develop a World View as a synergy of life experiences and it is as individual as we are but, to the extent our views have similarities to the labels, the applications are appropriate. I actually prefer your label in this Blog of “A Christ Centered View.” Being a ‘Christ Centered Christian’ just sounds right.
It has taken weeks for me to get this put together and I’m hoping to be able continue a dialog. I’ll see how well this goes before I endeavor to approach the other subjects in your Blog.
I suppose the paradox of God’s Will (to save humanity) vs man’s will (to save himself) has been and will be a source of debate and theological differences until (1Cor 13:12) we fully know. There is enough Scriptural support for both sides of the debate to indicate to me that the true application must be a combination of both. What is similarly paradoxical is when a man aligns his will with the Will of God. (Jn 8:31-32) That seems to be the “Truth” that sets us free, (Jn 14:12-14) the power to petition God for “anything,” and (Act 17:6) to turn “the world upside down.”
This may be semantics but Adam is the example we have of what we all would do, have done, given the same circumstances. (Rom 5:8 “…sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”) In Adam, the character of humanity was revealed. So, man’s depravity may not be “inherited” from Adam but he revealed what the nature of man is just as Eve has revealed what the nature of women is. You make the same application under “Election” about Christ. As Christ was “incarnating as humanity itself”, so, necessarily, was Adam.
You tread on thin ice when you imply that immorality is a “learned” behavior. Where did Cain learn to be a covetous, murdering, liar? While moral depravity may be nurtured through example and experience, the innate capacity is already there or else the influence would have no resonance for expression. (Jn 14:30) Christ reveals this fact in that “the prince of this world… hath nothing in me.” The implication being that “the prince of this world” does have something in us. (Rom 7:18) Paul seems to identify with the fact that “in my flesh” dwells nothing good. Passed down or not we cannot discount the fact that (1 Cor 1:29) “no flesh (will) glory in his presence.”
I’m having a thought: This is a great application of Christ’s gift to humanity (Rom 5:17-21). In the same sense that Adam has revealed the character of man “in the flesh,” Christ has revealed the character of God, by the power of the Spirt, in the flesh. This gives me hope that the Spirit can express the character of God in me (Rom 8:13-18, 2Pet 1:3-4).
The most amazing thing about the Gospel of Christ is that it is all inclusive. Those who say that ‘Christians are narrow minded, they think that theirs is the only way’ really don’t comprehend the length and breadth and depth of Christ’s Love. (Mat 11:28-30, John 1:12-13) These indicate that “all” are included in the invitation. Albeit, it is an invitation and, (Mat 22:2-14) if you don’t accept, you will miss the Wedding Feast.
I do not doubt the power of the death and resurrection of Christ to provide an all-inclusive atonement and eternal life for all humanity, past, present, and future. However, the implication that all humanity has been given categorical salvation doesn’t set quite right with me either. At the very least, repentance is a basic condition that must be met and you make that point in “Perseverance.” There is an indication even in the references listed that some are rejected by profaning God (Esau) or unbelief (Israel’s branches cut off). Not to mention, all the admonitions of scripture about the narrow path, 10 virgins, wicked servants, ‘depart from me you workers of iniquity’, ‘unless you repent you will likewise perish.’ And the great commission (Mar 16:15-18) that implies a need to establish Christ’s “new humanity” through the endeavors of believers empowered by the Holy Spirit. This commission was given after “it is finished.”
Christ provided atonement and resurrection for all but, seems like, not all will be beneficiaries of those gifts.
The notes on Election apply here too.
Christ reveals something interesting regarding those who do not have an inclusive understanding. (Jn 18:37) Here Christ uses the term, “(e)very one who is of the truth,” that indicates that those who have not yet “heard” the Gospel of Christ will gladly receive it (Cornelius) because the work of redemption is being manifest in their lives already. Conversely, those who are not “of the truth” will not receive it. It is a great litmus test for those who say they are ‘just seeking truth.’ Paul refers to a ‘ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Cor 5:18-20). Why would we need to implore anyone to “be reconciled to God” if they already are? You reference (Jn 3:16-17) that Christ was sent not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. That is because (Jn 3:18) the world is condemned already “because (they have) not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Again, Christ provided atonement and resurrection for all but, seems like, not all will be beneficiaries of those gifts.
(Eph 2:8) Grace is the ultimate Gift of God. As a gift, it can be received or rejected. The most grievous thing to watch is people who have received His Grace in vain (2 Cor 6:1) and (Heb 10:29) “outraged the Spirit of grace.” The most thrilling thing is to watch people who have received His Grace to the newness of life (2 Cor 5:17). It is unconscionable that God’s Grace has become a ‘doctrine of permissiveness’ for sin; especially, when Peter gives us the insight that God’s Grace is how we access God’s Divine Nature (2Pet 1:2-4) and the power to escape the “lust of the world.” It is truly an Amazing Grace!!!
I’m not sure about the “receptive to grace” after death statement. Sounds a bit ‘Purgatory -ish’ if you know what I mean. While I appreciate your references to “Sheol,” they don’t refer to a place of physical death. David is referring to real life experiences where God had showed Himself a faithful Savior because he lived to write about it. The word can also refer to a ‘pit’; a place of despair (I have been there and I thank God He was there and He “raised up” me from that place). (Psa 88:10-12) The Psalmist confirms the same thing. It is a prayer for God to provide deliverance from His Judgement. In hopes of moving the hand of God, the Psalmist rationally asks, does God “work wonders for the dead…. Is (His) steadfast love declared in the Grave?” The implication is that, if God waits until after they’ve died, it will be too late for their benefit; unless you answer the questions in the affirmative. In that case, Psalms 88 would be a cornerstone for your “receptive to grace” after death theology.
There are enough references to hell or ‘a place of torment’ by Jesus to indicate it is a real place or condition and, as the story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luk 16:19-26), there is no changing the destination once you’ve arrived. As is the ultimate resting place of the Devil and his angles, so also for those not found in the Lambs Book of Life. All are cast into that same place, the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:10 &15).
As great as His Grace is, so is His Judgement (Heb 10:26-31). Jesus alludes to this as well (Mat 12:31-32) in stating that blaspheming the Holy Spirit “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
Again, Christ provided atonement and resurrection for all but, seems like, not all will be beneficiaries of those gifts.
Side note: I’m surprised you have not listed Psa 88, 1 Pet 3:18-19, and 4:6 to help support the “after death” application of Grace.
This reiterates my statements under Man’s Depravity. We are powerless through the flesh as characterized by Adam but we are empowered by Grace through faith as characterized by Abraham. Yielding our will to God’s Will is where the power of the ‘Christ Centered’ life is. There is no better place to be than voluntarily in the Will of God.
The most humbling thing to realize is that we are all in the Will of God; whether we cooperate or not, is a matter of our will. (Rom 9:20-25)
I’m a little concerned about the statement ‘foregone conclusion’. I thank God for the confidence I can have in Christ’s ability to preserve me. (Heb 12:2) The fact that Christ is the “Author and Finisher” of our faith and that (Rom 12:3) He even gives us the measure of faith to get started is of great consolation; however, these are in a context of struggle, endurance, and discipline. The powerful insight of Paul (Rom 8:28-39) tells me that nothing can separate us from ‘the Love of God’ but that Love does not preclude us from God’s conditions or judgements. Some of your references substantiate that as well. (Mat 22:11-14) Without a Wedding Garment, the guest is ‘cast into outer darkness.’ (Luk 18:17) We must be ‘child-like’ to enter into the Kingdom. (Rev 2:10-11) “Faithful unto death” and “one who conquers” sounds conditional to me. (Mat 5:21-22) Even the wrong attitude of heart and speech earns a harsh response from Christ Himself. These are a few you reference; there are many more that convey the message that the Christian faith, and perseverance of it, is not a “foregone conclusion.” (Phil 2:12-13) Work out your own salvation. (1Cor 9:24-27) Paul expresses the need for self-control lest he “should be disqualified.” Virtually all the Churches in Revelations 2&3 are admonished to repent because, in their current condition, they had become disqualified.
These are a few of the scriptures that come to mind that do not seem to validate the statement “foregone conclusion.” As with all scripture, there needs to be a balance of “truths” (2 Tim 2:15). (2 Pet 1:19-21) Scripture needs to confirm and help interpret scripture. A doctrine is built (Isa 28:10) “precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little, there a little.” You know that much better than I and have done much more study, research, and writing than I will ever do. I do not see the balance.
While I do not fully understand how your references establish the scriptural basis of the concept of ‘repentance after death,’ the practical application leaves uneasiness in my spirit. As a pragmatist, I guess, I see the end game, the fruit of it. Given this theology, why bother with the Christian message at all? Given this theology, why would God bother to reveal Himself to us through His Word or to guide us by His spirit if we are all going to eventually be in His presence to dwell with Him forever anyway? Why would God bother getting involved with our earthly existence at all? In the scope of eternity, all of temporal existence isn’t even the length of a sigh or a blink of an eye. And given this principle, I cannot comprehend why anyone would spend more than a nanosecond in the “hellish-realms,” especially as described in scripture, before a “change of mind” would be an obvious response. In one sense, this seems a bit like a modification of reincarnation: You get as many “lives” as you need to figure it out and, depending on how well you do, the next life will be more or less “hellish” until you arrive at the ultimate ‘nirvanic’ destination. No matter how long it takes, in this life or the next, you will eventually repent. It actually does have a ‘hyper Calvinistic’ feel to it; we are all ‘predestinated’ to repent. There is even something here that seems contradictory to God’s Grace as I understand it. (Rom 5:7-9) Indicates that we are “saved… from the wrath of God.” (Rom 1:18, 2:5-8) The Wrath of God is a real response of a Loving God toward “all ungodliness.” The ‘“hellish-realm” repentance concept’ seems to mean that those there will suffer God’s wrath until they come to their senses. That seems contrary to God’s character.
I do not emphatically state that God will not, or cannot, apply His Grace in this manner. I certainly do not presume to dictate how God applies His Grace now or in eternity; however, to propose that He would violate some of the basic principles of His character found in His Word seems risky at best, heretical at worst.
I’ve spent a lot of time on this last point. It is a theology that really doesn’t resonate with me for the reasons I’ve listed and these are just a few. You have come to embrace it though so I’m looking for some more scriptural support that will help tie together the inconsistencies that I see.
I have been very candid with my thoughts here and I hope you are able to receive them without being insulted by them. To the extent you are willing; I would invite your response.
I still attend a Christian Fellowship Ministries Church; it is a lay movement that is gaining serious momentum. As such, there is very little Institutional Theology espoused. Most of the ministry is based on the Great Commission and all of the Discipleship is based on relationships with believers, headship, and “heathens” in real life situations, helping real people, deal with real problems, with the help of The Living God. “Where Jesus Christ is still changing lives.” The preaching can be subjective at times so it requires one to be alert; to “test” the spirits; to “spit out the bones” (if you remember that) but it can also be so insightful as to qualify as Manna from Heaven.
We are all accountable for the truth we receive (Mat 7:24-29) and (Heb 8:10-13) He is faithful to make Himself known to us individually as well as (Eph 4:11-16) corporately.
Hope to hear from you soon,
You’re welcome to respond by email,
Humbly and respectfully,
Thank you, JRK for your reply- and that we were able to discuss these things in person the other week.
My forthcoming reply to your commentary- which was posted here, will also be posted in this comment section as well. This will give the reader a fair and balanced juxtaposition of our views, given their contrasts and subtle (as well as not-so-subtle) differences.
Afterward, in which ever direction we may wish to continue the conversation, we can do so via email.
P.S. My reply will appear, Lord willing, sometime this weekend.
JRK, thank you for your candid and thoughtful commentary on my blog. I appreciate where you are in your faith and walk with God. I neither demean nor diminish where someone is at a particular time in their walk, as Lord knows- God’s overturned the apple-cart of my theology multiple times in as many years. It is therefore in the spirit of ongoing dialogue (which we may continue via email if you wish) and continuous development and learning that I answer your comments systematically below.
I understand that this would seem to represent a complex doctrinal morass especially in relation to human will. However, it seems to be an evasion to run toward the enigmatic nature of phenomenon (seeing through a glass darkly).
We cannot deny that God’s will is sovereign- that He does what He will, without any need to consult with mankind, nor answer for what He does (Rom 9:13-21; Job 9:12; Dan 4:35).
In a Christ-centered theology, it’s not a question as to which side of a debate we fall on, whether toward God’s sovereignty (Calvinism), nor man’s free will (Arminianism). Rather in Christ we see that both are true simultaneously. In Christ, God sovereignly saved all of mankind through the redemption of the cross (1Tim 4:10; Jn 12:32; 1:7; Rom 5:18; 1Tim 2:6; Heb 2:9; 1Jn 2:2; 1Tim 2:4; Isa 45:22; Jn 1:29; 3:17; 1Jn 4:14; Rom 5:6-10).
At the same time, the individual soul may disbelieve, and set themselves at naught against the Gospel of the grace of God. This ability to reject coming at the price of being on the wrong side of God’s judgment (Jn 3:36; Rom 2:8-9; Jn 12:48; 3:18-20; Mt 10:33; Lk 12:9; 9:24-26; Mt 5:29-30; Rev 14:9-11; 20:15).
The answer, not that it’s a ‘combination’ of the two sides of the debate, but that both are parallel truths. All mankind is saved, while not all individuals enjoy this. God sovereignly saved all, and yet does not violate free will. Therefore, God’s judgment is not necessarily the final word on a soul’s eternal destiny, but rather takes on a redemptive or hopeful tone, centered of course on the finished work of the cross.
You make an interesting point concerning Adam revealing man’s character through his actions, as far as it goes. However, none of that matters except to emphasize what it was exactly that Christ performed in His taking on humanity. He was obedient for you, He believed for you, He was good and acceptable to God for you, on your behalf (Rom 5:18-19; 2Cor 5:21; Eph 1:6).
Again, the nature and character of man was not revealed when he fell, but rather before he fell, by virtue of being made in the divine Image (Gen 1:26), otherwise this is to say that God authored sin, or intended for mankind’s depravity. It would be true, Adam revealing mankind’s moral depravity through his fall- if mankind was intended to be, and created as evil on day 1, which cannot be the case (Gen 1:31; Jas 1:13).
Notwithstanding, Christ stands as the Last Man Adam (1Cor 15:45; Rom 5:14), head of a new humanity.
The fact that immorality is learned behavior is well supported in scripture (Mt 5:19; Mal 2:8-9; Rom 2:17-24; Rev 2:14-15, 20; Prov 6:12-14). Therefore, not on thin ice at all here.
Again, that Cain was an envious murdering liar was indeed a learned behavior, when he learned it from the serpent, who was a murderer from the beginning (Gen 3:1-5; Jn 8:44).
Again, if the innate capacity toward evil is already present, we’re forced to ask ourselves, from whence did it come? From Adam? Well, God created Adam perfect. From whence did it come in the angels that fell? For they, too, were perfect in the day they were created.
That the prince of this world had nothing in Christ does not necessarily imply that there’s something in us. The proof of this is in that if anyone is sinless, the wicked one touches us not, too (1Jn 5:18). Rom 7:18 deals with ability to perform the righteousness of the law. This is similar to, “…the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”. It does not imply an evil inclination. Our flesh, however, has been conditioned toward sin, through our wrong choices, we’ve acclimated our members toward self-gratification, as opposed to selfless love. 1Cor 1:29, and similar texts, speak of our inability- that we won’t pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, but are wholly dependent on the Lord. This is true of us even to exist, let alone to do what is morally right. However, God’s sovereignly saving us is quite independent of our will to choose, as stated in Rom 9:16.
It is evident in scriptures already referenced above that Christ, as head of humanity (the Last Adam), that all of humanity has been elected in Him. God’s view was/is all inclusive concerning humanity. You state this in terms of the applicability of the Gospel, the invitation, however- not all will be saved in your view, but that there will be those who are damned.
Yet the fact that there will be those who disbelieve, those who willfully reject Christ as Savior and are recipients of the sanctions of moral law (as in hell), does not negate the fact that in Christ, they’re yet the Elect. This is a point, as covered above, of hopefulness even concerning those lost souls:
“Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” – Rom 5:18;
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” – 1Cor 15:22
Though only a remnant is saved [now], yet shall all Israel be saved [ultimately] (Rom 9:27; 11:5-12, 23-36).
The bad choices of others, even their eventual judgment, does not do away with their being elected in Christ- and, the importance of the Great Commission, and of preaching the Gospel is by no means in vain, or for naught. If my believing now causes me to avoid having to endure judgment then- ultimate status notwithstanding (which is still a question of free will), it is good news that I don’t have to undergo punitive consequences of being on the ‘wrong side’ of the cross.
Regarding being ‘of the truth’- exactly what does this mean? It means that we are coming from the right ‘source’, as ‘of’ also means ‘from’ in Greek. It means origin. We are of-from-out of the truth insofar as we’ve also emerged out of the tomb with/in Christ 2000 years ago. We emerged from and out of God in our being created, being thought of by God, and also in our being born again- in the sense that Peter preached it (corresponding with John 3), that this event occurred in Christ’s resurrection, and not at some altar call somewhere (1Pet 1:3, 23; Jn 3:3, 5). In the sense of the all-inclusive gospel, all are of the truth- at least as far as God’s concerned. However, in one’s mind we may qualify [ourselves] as not being of the truth, as being children of the devil (Col 1:21-22; 1Jn 3:8-10) through wicked works.
It’s interesting that you mention this particular text on reconciliation- and that you stated it as you did, that if one were already reconciled, why would there need to be a ministry of reconciliation? The text states in part,
“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” – 2Cor 5:18-20.
Yet, your very reason you stated is actually the true situation: that because we’re already reconciled to God, there’s a ministry of reconciliation by which we implore others to be reconciled to God- it’s precisely because two things are simultaneously at play: 1) The sovereignty of God, Who reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ; and 2) the ‘sovereignty’ of our free will, by which we must choose to believe, choose to be reconciled or not to God. Our ministry is to implore the non-believer in hopes that he/she will come to faith in Christ, trusting that they are indeed forgiven, indeed reconciled to God. “You’re reconciled to God, but we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God”- in this sense, reconciliation is a two-way street, He did His [and your] part, now all you have to do is believe.
You’re here postulating that God’s grace is resistible (Arminian), which is to say that despite God’s sovereignty as to His grace, one may override His will by an act of their will. Yes, His grace can be received in vain- but it is received nonetheless, or not- but His grace is still freely and sovereignly given. If God’s grace waited until one’s will was receptive, in a sense it would no longer be grace- as one would merit it by receiving it. No. He freely poured out His grace upon all, even before we were ever born. Our receptivity to that, our belief in the gospel enables us to enjoy what has already been given to us- quite without our permission. The Spirit of grace is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to communicate to us what has already been freely given. To do despite is to insult the Spirit of grace, which is toward the Agent of grace, but grace itself is not necessarily abrogated- though certainly not enjoyed. In other words- yes, grace is a gift that may be either received or rejected, but as far as God’s concerned, His grace is never rescinded. Hence as it is written,
“For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” – Rom 11:29.
This leads us to your next concern, the receptivity of grace after death. It may appear similar to the concept of Purgatory on the surface, but is quite different when analyzed as we’ve discussed. In Purgatory, there’s a ‘purgation’ or cleansing of one’s sins postmortem. But as we know, all cleansing, all payment for sins occurred at the cross of Christ. Nor is it necessarily known at what point a given soul can be released from hell, as there’s a question of hell/s plural- hence my use of the term ‘hell-realms’. Sheol (Heb.) or Hades (Gk.) are a holding place where an unbeliever inhabits prior to the Great White Throne judgment (Rev 20:11-13; cp. Lk 16:23). It may or may not be possible to be extricated from there before the time. There seems to be a process that must take place, a difference between the resurrection of life versus the resurrection of damnation (Jn 5:29), between the first resurrection versus the second death (Rev 20:4-6, 11-15). They who are cast into Gehenna- the lake of fire- are tormented day and night ‘forever and ever’- or, (Gk. aionas aionon) unto the age of ages. ‘Unto’ intimates a terminus. ‘Forever and ever’- speaks of two ever’s, a finite number (?). Grant it, there’s mystery here- as there is concerning God’s overall economy toward the redemption of humankind (Rom 11:25-26, 33).
My references to Sheol (or Hades) are with the understanding that ‘the grave’ is only part of it’s meaning- but that the biblical definition includes a spiritual realm where the disembodied spirits of the deceased inhabit until the Great White Throne judgment.
In the 88th Psalm David is speaking poetically concerning the finality of death, that God should redeem him while he’s yet alive, and can render praises to God- as beyond the grave, it’d be too late in the sense of physical death. David is not trying to be philosophical nor doctrinal concerning the spiritual/psychic state of the deceased. Given my answer here, I would not refer to Psalms 88 as a ‘corner stone’ for the possibility of a postmortem repentance. Though, as is said of other texts, the fact that David can postulate the question may imply a possibility- but in this case, David asks rhetorically, expecting a ‘no’ for an answer.
Nothing in my blog is intended to imply that hell or hells are not real places of torment, they are. But, it is a tradition of presumption to state that there’s no change in status, or that they are ‘ultimate resting places’. There is a time called ‘the restitution of all things’ (Acts 3:21), or a time when God is All in All (1Cor 15:28). This is not meant to be stated dogmatically, but to at least open it up for the possibility of mystery- that maybe we don’t know it all concerning what’s to happen postmortem.
You almost equate together grace and judgment as being both great. But we must keep in mind that, “mercy rejoices against judgment” (Jas 2:13). His judgment is fearful, but God’s grace is His heart toward humanity, not judgement. “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” – Jn 3:17.
Concerning the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, while blasphemy against the Son of Man is forgivable, but toward the Spirit is not is that the Spirit of God is the agency whereby we receive the grace and forgiveness of God already given- even toward blasphemy against the Son of Man (Who along with the Spirit is God- God is One). In other words, forgiveness is ours- even if blasphemy against the Son is committed. However, this forgiveness can never be received- in this world, nor in the world to come- if the Holy Spirit- the very Agent of this good news- is blasphemed. While we’re born again in His resurrection, being born of water and of the Spirit is necessary in order to enter the Kingdom (see Jn 3:3,5; 1Pet 1:3). There is grace (even for blasphemers!), but again there is the Spirit of grace, Who can be insulted and vilified.
1Pet 4:6, of those you listed, seems to be the most promising concerning explication of this doctrine.
Concerning what you say here (I treated the issue of depravity differently and more thoroughly above), there’s not much difference from what I said. We certainly have power of free will, and yet are powerless to execute those things chosen through the flesh- however our reasons for this will differ as treated above.
I will say, however, that there’s a contradiction here in that while the will is denied the power of execution due to the flesh, yet it is given greater power than the sovereignty of God. Human will was an issue between the Arminians and the Calvinists because of the question of whether grace could be resisted or not, or concerning the perseverance of the saints. This is why I state above that man’s will is relative to God’s absolute (and sovereign) Will.
The statement, ‘foregone conclusion’ was an apt one, insofar as Christ Himself shall neither falter nor fail in His own state or status as living, as resurrected from the dead. Christ will never ‘fall-back’ into His pre-resurrection state, and so neither should the individual. This however does not preclude the individual postponing his/her own enjoyment of salvation (a forgone conclusion in Christ- as His work cannot fail), and that postponement could perhaps be indefinite, perpetual (?). Salvation never was our doing, neither can it be our undoing. Salvation is an eternal fact- in Christ. However, given our free will, one may perhaps abide in a state of perpetual rebellion or unbelief for millennium, failing to enjoy the grace that is their’s in Him. But this possible state does not exclude God, Who is always the pursuing Lover, from wooing us, even if one were an inhabitant of Gehenna (the Lake of Fire).
You mentioned that although nothing can separate us from the love of God, that this inseparability does not preclude us from God’s conditions nor judgments. I agree, and would add that His ‘conditions’ (which are simply to believe) and judgments are themselves attributes of His love. We also discussed (in person, and mentioned above) that there will be some necessary outworking of the resurrection of damnation and also the second death, where those who arise in their old earthly bodies to stand judgment (different and apart from the Saint’s judgment at Christ’s ‘bema seat’), will have to ‘die again’ as they are cast into the Lake of Fire if not found in the Lamb’s book of life. Prior to this judgment (of the ‘wicked dead’), the disembodied spirits inhabit Sheol or Hades (‘the grave’), which is a holding place before this judgment. It’s almost like, when one here receives a citation or a summons, certain legal processes have ensued, which must work their way through the courts prior to completion (forgive the gross analogy). In like fashion, they who die ‘in their sins’ must go through this process. At what point can they be extricated from it? Must they pay, as Christ said, the ‘uttermost farthing’ (Mt 5:25-26). In fact, that reference describes what I’m trying to say. Undergoing the judgment of God, while a terrible and awesome thing in-and-of itself, does not in itself abrogate the powerful love and mercy of God, and the eventual (if not hopeful) outworking of grace- but again, it all depends on the individual response. On earth, even hardcore prisoners may get paroled, or complete their lengthy sentences, come out, and live as far as possible, a normal life.
Again, our salvation in Christ is a foregone conclusion- but our responses are not necessarily so. You mention rightly conditions- the Kingdom parables are full of them. Even tasting the powers of the age to come (Hebrews) does not guarantee that one may not their self ‘fall from grace’, or come unto a place of unbelief and hardness of heart. Is their salvation secured? In Christ- definitely! Does that mean they can just waltz into heaven in the afterlife having cast the Bible behind their back, and pursuing a life of immorality? The Bible teaches a thousand times- NO! They will have to deal with the sanctions of moral law, but none of this abrogates the salvation and grace that is their’s in Christ. How this will all work out eventually, given free will, and God incessant love- that is the mystery.
You’re implying an imbalance here, or a failure to rightly divide the Word. The assumption here, on your part, may be that in it being said that ‘salvation is a forgone conclusion’ means that one is to experience and enjoy salvation, even if they live like the devil. No. Christ Himself, having finished and accomplished the perfect work of the Father, dying on the cross in atoning for us, is the guarantee of the salvation of every man, woman and child ever born, or yet to be born. However, God does not violate free will, and so the experience and enjoyment of that may be postponed, perhaps indefinitely by the individual postmortem.
What may be at stake here is our view of God Himself, does He take pleasure and delight in the idea of eternal conscious torment? Does He not respond to every heart, no matter how previously wicked, who would turn to Him in search of mercy? Or, do we have a God that ‘gives up’ on the individual (and yet, so many of them!), washing His hands of them, as they burn like chicken in hell for eternity after eternity? Our hearts move if our child cries from a whooping or punishment received by us, are we better than God? Perhaps our hearts are moved at the suffering of even hardened prisoners, do we imagine that God is indifferent to what we’re sensitive toward? Did God create us more compassionate than Himself?
Toward the pragmatist statement, there is a truth of this life being lived in the body. The compassion and love experienced within human interaction, especially in preaching the gospel, means something in eternity. God judges us (not saves us), as scripture teaches, based on our works done in the body- good or bad. It matters that we preach the gospel, as physically expressing God’s love- but also because of human will. As long as we are free moral agents, there is a necessity to preach the gospel. Salvation, as a forgone conclusion, notwithstanding. Just because I’m saved in God’s eyes does not mean that I necessarily believe that- and He will judge me out of my own mouth (Job 15:6; Lk 19:22).
Your pragmatism assumes Universalism on my part. I am not a Universalist, a ‘hopeful Universalist’ perhaps. Dogmatic Universalism cannot get around free will, or runs right over it. I’ve read those who even deny human will. But will is the key to understanding this.
The ‘nano-second’ that temporal life is in relation to eternity, while true, matters to God much more than you’re acknowledging here. So important is this physical life, however brief on paper, is a very basis of judgment before an Eternal God. And, why would anyone endure hell for a single moment, if all they had to do was pull the right lever in order to escape it? Indeed. There’s mystery here as far as what this will entail- but we do know that God inhabits hell, as He does every other place in His omnipresence (Ps 139:6-10). And we know that God is not fooled. We know that salvation (in an experiential sense) does not depend on one responding out of selfishness, which is what one would do if they could- unable to endure the fire, they say anything to escape it. God, however, sees the heart- is there true compunction? Is there actual belief in the finished work of Christ? God’s wooing of them, will it get through to them? Let’s consider the rich man in Hades (Lk 16), tormented in flames, and yet instead of seeking extrication, he only sought that his tongue be cooled- why? Because he knew that he deserved to be there. So it is in Gehenna. Yeah, there’s desire to be relieved of suffering, but one knows better than to try and escape it- deserving to be there. However, even if one rose from the dead- they will still not believe. That’s what God’s looking for. Either one misidentifies with a false-self, or else seeks to save themselves, nothing but faith in the finished work of Christ saves us.
The comparison with reincarnation, too, is untenable. It is not as was stated, that one gets innumerable chances at life until they ‘get it right’. And this with a fluctuation of hellish suffering, lessening as one gets themselves better- No. Again, there’s a mystery- but this is not similar to the transmigration of the soul- as taught by Origen. We don’t know what it is- exactly. All we know is that God’s work is perfect, and mankind has free will. Again, there is no supposition on my part that all will eventually repent- one only hopes, knowing that God will never give up extending His loving mercy and compassion toward the individual soul postmortem. There is also a terminus- “forever and ever”- or, unto the Age of Ages- and we don’t know exactly what that will be- only to say that, even in the new heavens and the new earth, the gates of the city will always be open (Rev 21:25).
Toward a ‘hyper-Calvinist’ feel, I do mention a ‘double predestination’- but my take on it is not about who’s destined to salvation versus who’s destined to damnation, but that in Christ- we’re all predestined to either judgment (at the cross), or eternal life (in His resurrection)- each and everyone of us- but it’s our choice which side of the cross we fall on, and there’s no eventuality that is dogmatically asserted.
Finally, that you see this as contradictory to God’s grace and contrary to God’s character. The main point of this perception seems to circle around the concept that God would rescind His punishment toward the wicked. All one can do is point to the cross- that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, while we were under judgment- He prayed, ‘Father, forgive them- for they know not what they do’. He tasted death for every man, including the most horrible sinner. This was after they spit on Him, mocked Him, beat and scourged Him. Enemies, in every sense of the word- from godless Romans to hyper-religious legalists of the Pharisees- all were included in His prayer for forgiveness, as were you and I- as were those who now inhabit Hades, awaiting a probable Gehenna. His cross exemplifies both His grace and His character, yea I say, more clearly than does His judgments- for it was the ultimate expression of His judgments in terms of both severity and compassion. I thus end with the only two references in scripture for the term ‘the lowest hell’-
“For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.” – Dt 32:22;
“For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.” – Ps 86:13.
This He did at the cross, when He said to the very man who just earlier mocked Him (Mt 27:44), ‘This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise’ as soon as he repented (Lk 23:39-43). Christ and Him crucified should ever be the focus of our views concerning God’s grace and character- perfectly exemplified thereat.
Thank you, JRK, for this opportunity to dig deeper in relation to the things that I’ve come to believe, and to explore the implications theologically with yourself. I am ever more gladdened as I see the beauty of the gospel, not only in this world, but in that which is to come. If you wish to respond further, we can do so via email.
I like your theology.
Thank you. It has certainly been a journey from where I started to where I am today in terms of learning.