Friday, August 24, 2007

Concerning the Doctrine of Election

One of the greatest sources of ongoing encouragement, edification, and positive challenge in my life is the relationship that I have been privileged to form with my brother-in-law. It has been a blessing for me to have been used by God, in some small way, in his conversion, and it is been an even bigger blessing for me to be built up and challenged in a wide variety of worthy areas.

Most recently he alerted me to an episode of the Bible Answer Man (8/13/07 broadcast) where Hank was asked a question concerning the doctrines of sovereign election and limited atonement and if holding these theological convictions has a negative impact on evangelism. It is no secret that Hank very strongly holds to an Arminian theology as well as to the idea that man has a libertarian freedom of the will. Both of these convictions stand starkly in contrast to what I believe and hold to as what is revealed in the Bible. So, I have transcribed Hank’s response, and I want to deal with what he brings up.

"The idea is that Christ died for the elect. And the basic idea has to do with what's known as circumstantial or compatibilistic freedom which is to say that God creates people in such a way that they cannot respond to the gospel, but the elect are…rewired, as it were, in such a way that they can respond to the gospel. And therefore it is only the elect that are saved because it is only the elect that can respond to the wooing of the Holy Spirit.

Now the polar opposite of that, within the pale of orthodoxy, would be what is known as libertarian freedom which is the ability to act or the ability to act otherwise. So that people are genuinely able to respond to the wooing of the Holy Spirit. Not just some, but everyone can respond to the wooing of the Holy Spirit, and thus they are genuinely culpable if they do not. And this is said to preserve both God's sovereignty, because He works through genuinely free creatures in order to affect His purposes (and doesn't have to work, as it were, with a stacked deck), and also it reserves the justice of God because people are morally held culpable for their sin because they choose to rebel."

Then the caller asks, basically, that if Christ died for all (non-limited atonement) and only some responded, didn't Christ die needlessly for some, and isn't it true that 'those lives were paid for in vain?'
"Well the lives of the elect, of course, demonstrate the sufficiency of Christ's atonement on the cross. You have an interesting debate here, and often times the debate is defined by way of analogy like the analogy of the Shakespearian play, Macbeth. Macbeth, in the analogy, murders King Duncan, however as various Calvinists will argue using that analogy, Shakespeare was fully, 100%, the cause of Duncan's death because Shakespeare authored Macbeth. And likewise, by way of the analogy, God is the author of evil even though we as agents carry out that evil, and as such we are morally culpable. I think that's kind of a dangerous analogy personally, because again it makes God, in this case, the author of evil. I would say that God created the potential for evil but God is not the author of evil as in this analogy. God created the potential of evil and we are the ones who created the reality of that evil the actual choices that we make.”1

I must say that even though Hank does not agree with the doctrines of grace (i.e. what is modernly known the Calvinistic sovereignty of God in the salvation of men), he does a fair job of articulating what the principles are. I characterize his articulation as “fair” as opposed to something better based on a few different reasons.

First of all, his way of describing the Christian’s freedom as “circumstantial or compatibilistic freedom” is not a fair representation of what we say. It is an unfair statement insofar as much that if the groundwork of the doctrine of original sin and man’s state as being dead in sin is not fit into place in order to illuminate what freedom in the will that men have, we cannot understand it properly. Even the view that Hank espouses has some limits on what man can choose, but I’ll deal with that later.

Secondly, his use of the term “rewired” as opposed using the language and concepts of regeneration or of being born again serves to, in my opinion, trivialize this grand stance of the reformed theology of salvation. This use of language, similar to my third concern, serves to paint the theology that he is opposed to in a negative light based more on the rhetoric and the words that are chosen as opposed to painting it in a negative light based on a correct and fair articulation of ideas themselves.

And thirdly, his characterization of the Calvinistic or reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty that He works “with a stacked deck” is actually quite offensive. It is not just a shot at our doctrine of salvation, but it is an offensive and evil characterization of God’s nature. Only cheaters, magicians (fakers), and hustlers work with stacked decks of cards, and to apply this idea same characterization to God in His dealings with humanity is very, very bad form.

Even though the two issues that Hank was asked to comment on were the doctrines of election and limited atonement, I think that the two issues that I would want Hank to address before coming to his conclusion are the issues of grace (i.e. sola gratia) and freedom of the will. It is primarily with these two interrelated issues that I want to focus on in my critique of Hank’s articulated position.

Hank’s overriding idea of his theological stance is, I think, understood with his repeated use of the word “genuine” when referring to man’s freedom to choose and therefore being “genuinely culpable” for the evil they commit, and they are equally “genuinely able to respond to the wooing of the Holy Spirit.” It is then implied that there is no genuine freedom in making choices and there is no genuine culpability for evil.

To understand why I differ with Hank and why I contend that man does not have a libertarian free will is that I don’t find that to be the position of man as articulated in the Bible. The Bible says that men are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), and the Bible says that there are no men who seek Him (Romans 3:11) because every intent of our heart is, naturally, wicked and evil continually (Genesis 6:5). Furthermore, Jesus, in John’s gospel, firmly declares that no one comes to Him unless God first draws that person (John 6:44) and all of the people that the father draws will come (John 6:37).

Hank’s understanding of libertarian free will contradicts both accounts. He would argue that man can seek and choose God which is contrary to Romans 3:11, and he would argue that man can reject the wooing by the Holy Spirit aimed at saving that person’s soul which is contrary to John 6:37. Hank would argue that the preservation of God’s justice and sovereignty, but if that is what this doctrine of libertarian freedom does, it does so at the cost of the doctrine of original sin, the depravity of man, and the fact that salvation is by grace alone and faith alone.

I know that saying that libertarian freedom is contrary to two pillars of the reformation may be viewed as inflammatory because any gospel other than one of complete grace based on faith alone apart from man’s works is a false gospel. I do not believe that Hank is intentionally advocating a works based salvation, but I think that his doctrine of libertarian freedom does if it is brought to its logical conclusion and ending. Let me state, for the record, that I am not saying that Hank is a heretic or someone who is advocating a false gospel. Some of his theology, I would argue, is wrong and this error could lead to heresy, but I am not laying that charge at his feet.

The reason why libertarian freedom is, at its core, contrary to a gospel of faith alone and grace alone is that the only difference between a condemned man and a man who is saved is not the work of Christ or the drawing of the Father, but it is that man’s own choice that he does on his own apart from any causative act of God. That would then make salvation contingent upon something that a man must do instead of something that was done for that man.

Let me offer an illustration to show that the end result of a libertarian freedom is contrary to the gospel of grace alone: There are two men, Joe Pagan and Doug Christian, but for this example we’ll refer to them as Pagan and Christian. Pagan grew up next door to Christian, and they had virtually carbon copies of the same life. Their parents were the same age, their families went to the same church, their dad’s had the same job, and on and on. Both Pagan and Christian were taught the exact same things by their Sunday school teacher named Mr. Harold O. Grace. Near the end of High School, both Christian and Pagan were sitting in church when they both heard the gospel preached and were exhorted to repent and believe in Christ. They both understood that this meant a life devoted to Christ and a casting off of the sins that they both loved. As it happened, Joe Pagan decided to reject the gospel while Doug Christian repented and placed his full faith in Christ.

In this example, as viewed from a Libertarian freedom stand point, the only difference between these two men was their individual choice at the end. Both had been under the same influence of grace that brought them to a point where they could choose to believe or not to believe. One man chose life, the other chose death. Make no mistake; there is no room for the advocate of libertarian freedom to say that there was any special work of God done on the part of Christian that was not done on the part of Pagan that influenced Christian to faith. For if that were so, it would no longer be libertarian free will, but a degree of what Hank called circumstantial free will. Both men must have had the same exact ability and opportunity to choose Christ as well as to reject Him, otherwise their choice was not, as Hank put it, a genuine one.

If this example is viewed from a position of sovereign grace, Christian was the one who was made new and given the faith to believe from God Himself. Pagan was not and so he did not want to choose to seek after God, nor could he, and so he freely rejected Christ. All men would be exactly like Joe Pagan if it were not for our Father drawing us and giving us the faith to believe. Even if proponents of libertarian freedom would argue that all men are given the faith to believe by God and still only some have faith, this still must place the determining factor in any man’s salvation squarely on that man and his choice apart from anything that God has specifically done.

The idea of libertarian freedom as it has been espoused and expounded upon by men like Hank Hanegraaff comes, I believe, from the pure motive of defending God from any implication in sin. However, he does this at the ultimate cost of the gospel of grace that he is so ardently trying to defend. There are ditches on all sides of an issue that one can fall into. We must be wary so that we do not try to fix one problem and at the same time create ten more.

Does God delight in the death of the wicked? No. Does God desire for all men to be saved? Yes. Does God elect that some are to be saved and not others? Yes. Does God save all people? No. Could He save all people? Yes. Could He have saved no one? Yes. If anyone believes in Christ and repents of their sin, will they be saved? Yes. Our job is not to reconcile seemingly contradictory and paradoxical statements of the Bible. We are called to believe what God has said in His word and to communicate that which He has said to others. While the Bible does give us information on how to understand and make sense out of these paradoxes, I believe, we must always be so careful about the answers that we give and what those answers imply.

“…while the truth of eternal punishment is the one most objectionable to non-professors, that of God’s sovereign election is the truth most loathed and reviled by the majority of those claiming to be believers.”2

1 Bible Answer Man Broadcast, 8/13/07

2 A.W. Pink “The Doctrine of Election” Chapter 1: Introduction


Abel Ramirez said...

Read a new article on the doctrine of election at:

See what you think.

God Bless!

EJ said...

I read through your article, and you seem to be addressing the wrong question for this issue. We would agree that anyone who truly has faith in Christ will be saved, the difference comes down to who will believe.

You quoted John 3.16 and say, "Jesus didn’t say, ‘that whoever I compel to believe or whoever the Father compels to believe shall not perish but have eternal life." He also didn't say "whoever believes - and by that I mean that all people are capable of believing...". Both sides can do that with many verses and it doesn't accomplish anything.

And I also don't agree with your summation that faith in God is not a choice for those who believe. I would say that it is a choice, but it is only a choice that the elect desire to do because of the Holy Spirit's work in their heart. The Bible says that all the thoughts and intents of our hearts are only evil continually (Gen 6 & 8) and that our hearts are deceitful and wicked (Is 64:6).

That is the way to address the question of "who" will believe. The answer is no one apart from the moving of God in their heart.

Using the robot idea is nothing new, but even if I accepted your description of "robots" in the way that you put it what? The Bible doesn't say robots don’t' have a genuine relationship with God. The problem with the robot defense is that it is an emotional reaction, not a Biblical one. Furthermore, if we are robots who believe, then He is our Father and we are God's children.

"True love only exists when there is a choice not to love." Interesting statement. Where does the Bible make this point? Again, this is an emotional argument based on presuppositions, not Scripture.

The Prodigal son is not teaching about the choice or lack thereof for those who believe anymore than the parable of the soils is. The prodigal son shows the right response to sin by the prodigal and the father's grace to him, and the wrong response to God on the part of the other son, and he's left in outer darkness. It doesn't deal with "choice"

"The same principle is true concerning belief. If man is compelled to believe, then he does not believe at all." Hebrews 11:1 doesn't use "compelled" or "choice" in describing what faith is.

"God does not compel us to believe." Even though I don't like the word compel, I'll use it for the sake of this discussion: John 6 may be tough to deal with to back up this statement. All the Father gives to the Son will come to Him and He loses none. No one comes to the Son unless He is drawn by the Father. It lays it out pretty clear - everyone who comes is drawn, and only those who are drawn come. And all of them are saved.

Your whole discourse on the rich young ruler is somewhat...troubling. You could say the same thing about Judas, but he was prophesied to do what he did. The whole point of Jesus' response to the young man was not to say that you can do something, it was to say that you can't. It also exposed the man's self righteous heart that was far from God anyway. Jesus asks him if he's kept the commandments and he responds, "yes". That is a false and self righteous answer, even if his deceitful heart truly believed it.

"then Jesus is a liar because He offered the young man a choice when no choice was available." First of all, he tells him what to do, he doesn't say "choose"...we must be careful with word use. Was God lying to Pharaoh when he was told to let the people go even though God raised him up and hardened his heart for the purpose of making His name great? All men everywhere are commanded to repent, but not all men everywhere hear the gospel of Christ - so is God a liar there? They can't hear the gospel to believe in it (ref Rom 10). No God is not a liar, He has made a command and men must obey it to be saved. The fact that no one would can or would without God's gracing them doesn't nullify the command.

"the phrase, ‘all who were appointed’ clearly refers to eternal life, not belief. In other words, the verse doesn’t read, ‘all who were appointed to belief believed’ because God does not appoint us to belief or compel us to believe. He appoints us to eternal life based on who He already knows will believe. Now if we apply a little common sense it becomes clear."

if by "clear" you mean that you twist the very Scripture, then yes...your answer is clear. The Scripture says that all who were appointed to eternal life believed. Some simple hermeneutics show that the appointing was the cause of the belief, not the other way around. And to try and insert "looking down the corridors of time" into this verse is tough, because that whole concept is based on the tradition that you are defending; somewhat of a pelagian free will.

"The Scriptures also teach us that we are not born saved." Those who believe in the doctrine of election (except for possibly hyper Calvinists, and that is false) agree. Men are born unregenerate, and we are justified at a point in time, and we go from darkness to light.

Adam is not a good place to go to defend free will. He was not dead because of sin when he chose - that happened afterwards. He did have the ability to chose, and he did.

Paul Little's quote "not that everything about him is totally bad" is tough to reconcile with Scriptures quoted before here - Gen 6&8, and Isa 64:6. Eph 2 says man is dead in sin...can a dead man do anything good?

The heart of the issue, and what the Lord used to change my heart and mind with regard to election is wrapped up in many of your comments (a few quoted below):
"Belief is our choice."

"it is something we must do. It is not something that is done for us. It is our decision. It is our choice, plain and simple."

First of all, Phil 1:29 says that faith is a gift from God. But furthermore, what we end up saying with your assertions is that there is something worth saving about those who end up being saved. IN other words, if you are a believer and your brother is not, then it comes down to the fact that you were smarter, wiser, or otherwise better in order to understand and believe the gospel whereas he was not. That gives you something to boast about – not that you would, necessarily, but it gives you the right to boast about something before God and men.

Furthermore, this idea that I’m saved based on my choice makes me the ultimate savior of my soul. Christ is the vehicle that makes it possible, but not the ultimate reason. The fastest car in the world that would crush any other car in a race needs a driver, and it can’t do it without the driver. The Driver then has some credit in the victory even if he just got in and pushed the button.

In your perspective, man’s mite that he adds to the scales of eternal grace is what tips the scales. And if it is my mite that gets it there, then it is no longer grace because “I” deserved it because of what I did.

I most respectfully disagree with your arguments and use of Scriptural support for free will, because John 6, Eph 1, Rom 8,9, and others clearly deal with these issues. Also, John 3 compares the Spirit of God to the wind and salvation to being born. How much choice did you have in being born the first time? I had none.

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