The Doctrine of Salvation (part 4)

June 08, 2009     Time: 00:33:35

[Opening prayer]

Romans 8:28-30:

We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

You will remember on the Calvinistic view there is a distinction between God’s general calling and his effectual call. God issues a sort of general call to all mankind to repent and believe in the Gospel and be saved. But in fact there is an effectual call that goes out only to the elect and they are the ones who are predestined to salvation.

The Arminian interprets this in a quite different way. The Arminian would say that the general call of God is not ultimately insincere. He would charge that on the Calvinistic view ultimately the general call of God to repent and be saved is an insincere call because God doesn’t give people the capacity to respond to it. Only those to whom he gives the capacity to respond can respond. Therefore the general call on the Calvinistic view is really ultimately a sort of charade. It is insincere. God doesn’t really intend that the non-elect should respond to it. The Arminian would say that this is quite mistaken.

A couple of scriptures come to mind here. 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The expression here is that God wants all persons to reach repentance. He wants all persons to come to know him. Also, 1 Timothy 2:4, we read that “[God our Savior] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God is not willing that any should perish. Rather he desires that all persons should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. That is incompatible with distinguishing between a sort of general call and an effectual call. Rather, the general call is God’s sincere call to repentance and salvation that goes out to everyone.

How should we understand Romans 8:28-30 in light of the fact that this general call of God is sincere and that God really wants people to respond to it? The Arminian will distinguish between election and predestination in a case like this. He will say that those who are the called according to God’s purpose – those who are the elect of God – is a corporate notion. God is going to work out everything good for those who are the called – who belong to this elect body. Predestination is the conformity to the image of Christ among those who are elect. So it is true that anybody who is part of the elect body is predestined to conformity to the image of his Son just as it says here. There is a distinction between being predestined to election which the Arminian would deny. He would say that is open. Whosoever will may come. You can be part of the elect body if you want. That is the sincere call of God. But predestination is that anybody who is in that elect body is ordained by God to glorification and conformity to the image of Christ.[1]

How then does the Arminian understand faith? You will remember we saw that on the Calvinistic view faith is logically preceded by regeneration. The person who is unregenerate cannot place his faith in Christ so that logically what comes first is regeneration unilaterally by God of the person. Then he places his faith in Christ and is converted. The Arminian would understand faith quite differently. The Arminian would understand faith as being simply the passive reception of the grace of God offered in the Gospel. It is not a meritorious work that one performs. Faith and works are always opposed by Paul in his letters. Faith is not a work that one does whereby one merits the grace of God. Faith is simply the grateful reception of the grace of God. Paul always opposes faith and works. The Arminian will disagree with the Calvinist that if you place your faith in Christ that you have done something meritorious that somehow earns your salvation. Rather, faith is simply the accepting of God’s grace.

Look at Romans 9:18, 22-24, 30-31. In Romans 9:18, Paul says, “So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills.” Paul’s argument up to this point is that God is sovereign. No one has any claim to the grace of God. No one deserves it. Therefore God is sovereignly free to have mercy upon whomever he wants, and to harden the heart of whomever he wants. Well, who is it that God has chosen to have mercy on? In verses 22-24 Paul goes on to explain,

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

So he is saying that salvation is not restricted just to the Jews, but it is also opened up to the Gentiles. On what principle? On the principle of faith. That is what he says in verses 30-33,

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall; and he who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Paul is saying here that it is not a matter of your ethnicity – whether you are Jew or Gentile – that makes you saved. Rather it is a matter of whether you have faith in Christ. That is what determines whether you are a part of the elect or not. It is whether or not you have placed your faith in Christ.

Who are the sons of Abraham who was justified by faith? The answer is: it is all those who have faith in Christ Jesus. This is what Paul says in Galatians 3:6-9, Paul says,

Thus Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” [This is the same passage he quotes in Romans]. So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith.

What determines whether or not you are a child of Abraham is your faith. It is those who are men of faith who are heirs of the covenant that God has made with Abraham and are his sons and daughters.[2]

This election of God is not something that is closing people out, narrowing it down to an elect few out of all the mass of humanity who have been passed over. Rather it is broadening out God’s election to include not only the Jews but also the Gentiles on the principle of faith. God is sovereign. He has the right to do this. Therefore, the Jews cannot complain and say, “We are the chosen people.” No, God has mercy upon whomever he wants, and if he wants to save the Gentiles, that is his prerogative. So God has chosen to save those who have faith in Christ Jesus, and they will be those who are elect.

That is why in Romans 10:12-13 Paul can go on to say,

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For, “every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

So the Arminian interpretation can make sense out of Romans 10 – this universal invitation. All – Jew and Gentile – who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Why? Because God has elected to save those who have faith in Christ Jesus.

Someone might say, But isn’t faith a gift of God? What about Ephesians 2:8 where it says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” As I mentioned before in the class, in fact the word “this” (where he says, “this is not your own doing”) does not refer back to “faith.” The word “faith” (pistis) in Greek is feminine and so is the word “grace” by the way. Both of those are in the feminine gender. But the word “this” is not in the feminine gender. It doesn’t agree with “faith” or with “grace.” What he is saying here is not that faith is the gift of God lest anyone should boast, but rather he is saying that this whole process of salvation by grace through faith is the gift of God, lest anyone should boast. It is the gift of God that we can be saved by grace through faith rather than through our own works.

On this basis, faith is not a meritorious work that we perform to earn salvation. It is simply the grateful reception of God’s gift of grace in response to the work of the Holy Spirit on our hearts.

While we are at it, we might note that on the Arminian interpretation, this grace of God (this work of the Holy Spirit) is not something that is irresistible. Remember in the Calvinistic interpretation the call of God and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is unilateral. It is irresistible. If God elects someone and regenerates him by the Holy Spirit, that person in effect has no possibility of resisting that. But the Arminian would say that grace is resistible. The Holy Spirit’s work is necessary. No one comes to Christ on his own initiative. It will only be in response to the convicting and drawing of the Holy Spirit. But this isn’t irresistible. Look, for example, at Acts 7:51. This is Stephen speaking to the people when he is on the verge of being stoned to death. They are just about to kill him. He says in verse 51, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.” So Stephen is saying there very clearly, You can resist the Holy Spirit, and you do! He calls them stiff-necked as a result because they will not bow in submission to God and receive the message of the Gospel.

You can see that the Arminian perspective on all of this is very different from the Calvinistic perspective.[3]

START DISCUSSION

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The question was: if election implies a sort of choice, what other options did God have? I think there are other options. Yes, certainly. God could have chosen to save nobody. He could have said, They’ve all sinned. They all deserve hell. Therefore, I am going to wash my hands of them and be done with them, and not sent Christ to die for anybody, and just let everybody get his just dessert. Or he could have chosen to save just the Jewish people. I think that was the problem in the book of Romans, especially Romans 9. The Jewish people thought they had some sort of a leg up on God’s grace and favor in virtue of their ethnic heritage. That could have been a choice that God might have had – just pass over the Gentiles in silence and let them all go to hell but save the Jewish people. But God didn’t choose to do that. Paul says in Romans 9 that he wants to have mercy upon all – Jew or Gentile – who believe in him. God could have done something entirely different. He could have created a new people for himself that was not of the Jewish race. I think that he had a lot of options. If we take seriously what Paul says in Romans 9, he wasn’t under obligation in any way to do what he did do. It was just of his goodness and mercy and grace that he chose to save those who place their faith in Christ. But he wasn’t obliged to do that.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Right. The corporate part of election, as the Arminian understands it . . . the Arminian would say that the New Testament, and the Old Testament, too, is filled with corporate images of God’s choosing. For example, in the Old Testament his election of Israel is corporate. He chooses a people for himself. But that didn’t mean that everybody who was an Israelite was therefore righteous before God or a recipient of his salvation. It was the corporate body – Israel, the nation, the group – that was the object of God’s election and choice. As you go into the New Testament, it would seem to be the church which is the object of God’s election. The church will be composed not only of ethnic Israel who believe in Christ, but also Gentiles who believe in Christ. He has chosen to bestow his grace upon all those who put their faith freely in Christ for salvation. Who is in that group is going to be a matter of people’s free choice.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The Calvinist view is election is primarily individual rather than corporate. What God does is before the foundations of the world he knows everybody that he is going to create by his foreknowledge and he knows they are going to fall into sin through Adam and therefore humanity is going to be under his condemnation, but he chooses to pick certain individuals out of there like Wayne and Joe and others. He picks them out and says, I’m going to save these but these other ones I’m not going to save. I’m going to pass over them and not give them my grace. But nevertheless I’ll issue this general call to everybody to repent, but only these select individuals that I’ve chosen in advance will be able to respond to the call and I will bring them to myself.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I’ve wondered about this. I’ve wrestled with this. I think there are two possibilities in terms of “if there is a crux issue.” One could certainly be the insincerity charge – that the Calvinist cannot really take seriously God’s love for the world as a whole. He can’t really take seriously God’s desire to save everyone. These passages that say he is not willing that any should perish but he wants all to reach salvation can’t really be taken at face value. Therefore there is a certain insincerity that is ascribed to God that seems unseemly – it seems inappropriate to ascribe that to God.[4] Indeed, it seems to contradict those verses. The other charge might just be the whole concern with freedom. If persons have no freedom vis-a-vis God, then it turns people into mannequins or puppets. Therefore, their decisions become trivial and indeed it seems impossible to judge them for making those decisions or to reward them because they are just mechanical outworkings of something that God does. It seems to me that either of those could be the crux in the Arminian thinking, or maybe they both are. Both of those would be essential elements to the Arminian view that wouldn’t be part of the Calvinistic view.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The question is: could we take Ephesians to be saying in verses 3 to 12 that God has predestined Jews to salvation. That is who Paul is speaking of when he says “us.” But then in 13 he switches to saying “you” and saying the Gentiles also share in this. To me, that just sounds a little bit too clever by half, I guess. I don’t see that there is anything to suggest in verses 3-12 that this is addressed only to Jews. I don’t see anything in the context to suggest that in verse 13 the word “you” is meant to be directed just to Gentiles. In fact, if you think about it, what you’ve suggested would not sit very well with Romans 9 where God says that the object of his election is not the Jews but rather it is all who have faith in Christ Jesus. So it would be hard to interpret verses 3 to 12 in terms of saying that God has chosen the Jews to be blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing, that he has destined the Jews in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, that we Jews have redemption through his blood, and so forth. That seems quite contrary to Romans 9 which is saying that it is not the Jews who are the object of God’s salvific election. Rather, it is all who have faith in Christ Jesus. I guess although both of these interpretations are on the same footing in terms of saying it is corporate primarily and only secondarily individual, the question is a sort of secondary one and that is who is the “us.” I’m more inclined, I guess, to think of the “us” as Christians. He is not differentiating between Jew and Gentile. That would seem to me to be more inline with Galatians and Romans 9 – that Paul wants to break down those distinctions now.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The question was: the Scriptures teach that God is not a God of partiality. Rather, he deals with people equally. But on the Calvinistic view it would seem that God is a God of partiality because he elects just to save some and he passes over others and leaves them to be damned without any real basis on discriminating between the two. I think the Calvinist would agree that there isn’t any basis for this discrimination. He wouldn’t want to use the word arbitrary. What he would want to say it is just God’s will. It is just God’s inscrutable, free, sovereign, mysterious will that he chooses A to be saved and passes over B and leaves him to be damned. I think it does leave you wondering – but if he could have saved B as well, why not? Doesn’t this in some way infringe upon God’s being all-loving. On what basis would he – well, there isn’t any basis for making this decision. It does seem arbitrary and therefore, in that sense, partial. I do think that you are expressing something that does make one feel uncomfortable with the Calvinistic view.

Student: [inaudible][5]

Dr. Craig: He said: the passage in Romans 9 says, I will have mercy upon whom I have mercy, and nobody can gainsay God. That is certainly true. When you look at then whom is it that God has chosen to have mercy on, then he does it without partiality. Jew and Gentile alike can come and be saved. God has the sovereign ability to do this, but then it seems that his character is such that he opens it to whosoever will may be saved.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The question is on the Calvinistic view, is it emphasizing primarily his sovereignty but not his character? The Calvinist, in all fairness to the Calvinist, will want to emphasize the love of God that nobody deserves to be saved. If God gave us all what we deserved, everyone would be damned. So the fact that he saves even a few is an expression of his mercy and grace. Those who aren’t saved can’t complain about that because they didn’t deserve it in the first place. I’m reminded of a scene in the novel by Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Christo, where there are two men being led to the executioner’s block to be beheaded. Both of them are guilty. They both deserve to die. They both have been sentenced to have their heads chopped off. Yet, at the last minute as they are being led to the block, the Count secures the pardon of one of these prisoners. As he is pardoned and taken away to live, the other prisoner who was left to die all of a sudden begins to scream and yell and protest. Finally he says, Why should he be let go and not me? Why should he be saved and not me? What has he done? He shouldn't be allowed to go free! Why not me? Why not me? He is led kicking and struggling to the block where they chop off his head. The funny thing is about this passage that the Count points out, he says as long as the other man was being executed with him, he was quite content to go passively to the executioner’s block. He knew he was getting what he deserved. But the minute mercy was shown to the other fellow, all of a sudden he began to complain and felt as though he was being short-changed. I think the Calvinist could say something like that about the damned or the reprobate. They are getting what they deserve. The fact that God shows mercy upon even a few is an act of grace. He isn’t under any obligation to pardon all of them. I think that that would show that the charge that sometimes is made against Calvinism – that this is unjust or unfair – that charge, I don’t think, doesn’t stick any more than it would stick against the Count for getting one of the condemned murderers freed and not the other.

But your charge does still seem to stick. It does still seem that God is showing partiality in that he could have pardoned both. He could show love to both whereas God chooses not to do that. Why would he not give grace to be saved to some when he could have saved all. That sits very ill with these passages that God is not willing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance. The charge wouldn’t be that it makes God out to be unfair – I don’t think it does. Perhaps it impunes God’s being all-loving or impartial or something of that sort. I think that charge still tends to stick.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: He points out that the charge of unfairness might still stick because even before the foundations of the world God knew that Adam would fall into sin and therefore his progeny would be condemned to hell and damnation and yet he went ahead and did that anyway. I think that here you get into the real problem for the Calvinist – was the fall itself predestined to occur? If you say it wasn’t then it would seem that human beings do have some sort of freedom vis-a-vis God and to act outside of his all-determining will. But on the other hand if you say, no, it was God who determined that the fall should occur and that therefore everyone should be condemned, then you seem to make God the author of evil and sin.[6] Because he was the one who moved Adam’s will or moved Eve’s will to choose sin rather than to choose righteousness. That, I think, is very problematic in making God the author of sin. Then I think unfairness is going to stick because if the reason that they fell into sin is because God made them do it then it is very difficult to understand how he can judge them for that given that he is the one who determined that he should do that.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: The question of federal headship of Adam is a different question that we’ve already talked about before. There the Calvinistic system has to be treated as a system. You have to grant all of the tenets of the system in order for it to present a coherent view. You can’t pull out a part and say, Now it makes God unfair. You have to keep in that Adam is the federal head of the human race.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: How would that be different from what I was trying to say?

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: You are emphasizing that God doesn’t pick people, say, of stature and prominence that in the world’s sight would look like appropriate objects of salvation. Is that right? He says in Corinthians, There were not many wise. Not many noble. Not many of good report. But God chose what is humble in the world to shame the proud. He chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. He chose what is naught in the world to shame those who think that they are. God specializes in having mercy upon those who bring nothing in their hand.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: OK, good question. That is a nice segue for our lesson next time. How would I describe the difference between Molinism and Arminianism?

END DISCUSSION

What I want to do next time is give some evaluation of these two views because so far we’ve just basically exposited them, although it is obvious my sympathies lie more with the Arminian direction. Nevertheless I don’t think the Arminian view is entirely unproblematic. I think that there are certain passages in the Scripture where God’s election certainly looks primarily individual and it doesn’t look like its a corporate thing. The Arminian attempt to interpret or explain away these passages isn’t exactly convincing. So I am going to argue that a Molinist perspective will help us to have a kind of modified Arminian view that will make sense of all the data better than just simply saying election is corporate primarily and only secondarily individual. In other words, I don’t think that is the whole story. I think that, while that is true, it only goes so far and the rest of the story, I think, is what you need Molinism for. That is what we’ll talk about next time. See you then.[7]



[1] 5:03

[2] 10:02

[3] 15:03

[4] 20:11

[5] 25:09

[6] 30:06

[7] Total Running Time: 33:35 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)