Total Depravity vs Free Will: Questions For Calvinists – Part 2

Disclaimer: this post is not meant to put any believer down for his/her interpretation of the Bible. This is a result of searching God’s heart about John Calvin’s doctrine/teachings through Scripture and prayer over the course of two years. I decided to break this theme/issue into parts, this post being “Part 2.” The main intent of these posts is to provoke thought and discussion and to speak the truth and love – with gentleness and respect – towards my brothers and sisters who disagree. Above all, may God’s name be glorified!

Why Calvinism?

Many of you may be wondering why I am touching such a controversial and painful issue within Christianity.

I do not deny the fact that this topic has been debated for hundreds of years, by learned scholars, who devoted their entire lives to either defending Calvinism or arguing against it.

So, is my intent to stir up more debate and create more division?

That is not my intent. Far from it.

These posts are a result of being obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit to write on this topic.

And so, I pray that He will continue His work in my heart and the hearts of those reading these posts.

Let me get back to the core doctrine of Calvinism: total depravity.

All the five points of Calvinism build upon the first TULIP point – total depravity of men, or inability to choose God. Because man is incapable of choosing God, God is the one who chooses to save some and not others.

From the Scriptures, I see a sovereign God who chose, by His sovereign will, to make men free agents who have free will to follow Him or not. As Michael L. Brown puts it in his debate with James White on Predestination, Election and the Will of God, “Choices are presented throughout the Bible. Just read the Scriptures without theological presuppositions and you will see that the Bible presupposes that there is an ability to choose life, or death or to receive the offer of grace or to reject it.”

Paul’s address towards men in Athens speaks volumes on free will. Read Acts 17:22-34, where a perfectly just God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).

If God knows that this command is impossible to follow for a man who is incapable of heeding this command, why would He give that command in the first place?

Steve Jones, a former Calvinist, further makes this statement (cited from “Calvinism Critique From a Former Calvinist“):

That puts the Calvinist in a conundrum. Man is so corrupt, he will not and cannot obey even the slightest spiritual command – nor can he appreciate or even understand it. Yet, God orders him to believe; He punishes him for not believing. As Judge of the Universe, he justly condemns the sinner for not doing what he from birth cannot do. This seems to many of us to be at loggerheads with God’s revealed character.

The Old Testament is full of God’s commands to choose between life and death, blessings and curses.

Deuteronomy chapter 30 paints a clear picture of humanity’s ability to choose. There is nothing in this chapter to suggest total depravity or inability to make a choice.

In fact, Moses says, “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off” (Deut. 30:11).

Do you see any reference to total inability here?

Moses further calls the nation of Israel to consider their choice – life or death. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (v.19).

Joshua, who became the leader of Israel after Moses, makes the same call to choose: “Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Even the passage that likens God to a potter who molds clay vessels as he pleases, breaking the ones he is displeased with and making new ones, follows with God stating that He will change His mind about destroying a nation if it turns to Him and deal severely with a nation that walks away from Him (Jeremiah 18:1-11).

In no way am I saying that a man can save himself.

Man has the ability (free will) to choose to follow Christ and gets saved by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9) offered to all men, not just to a chosen population. Men have no reason to boast in their salvation because none of men deserved it.

The Calvinist accusation towards those who believe that men have free will to choose is that “God doesn’t get all the glory,” as if a man’s responsibility for his choice takes away from God’s glory.

That cannot be further from the truth!

Imagine this: You are drowning. A lifeguard throws you a rope to save you. You choose to grab the rope and your life is spared. Do you even think of shouting, “I grabbed the rope! I grabbed the rope!” No! You give all glory to the lifeguard, thanking the lifeguard for saving you!

Same with salvation. God’s plan of salvation was designed for all people (1 Timothy 4:10) and His will or His desire is for all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9). Jesus died for the entire world (Isaiah 53:6, John 3:16, and 1 John 2:2), not just for those who get saved. The rope is offered to all. There are those who choose to grab it and those who choose not to –  (Irresistible Grace? Acts 7:51, Matthew 23:37),  believeing they don’t need a lifeguard to save them (or that they can save themselves). In fact, the Calvinistic God is a lifeguard that only throws a rope to those He chooses to save out of the drowning waters… What a grievous misrepresentation of God’s nature and His character! God is willing to save all. His desire is that no one would perish but that all would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). God “shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11). However, there are those who are not willing to be saved by God. Because of free will. Period.

A. W. Tozer said this on free will:

“Here is my view: God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What dost thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon his creatures. He would be afraid to do so…

We must choose whether we will obey the gospel or turn away in unbelief and reject its authority. Our choice is our own, but the consequences of the choice have already been determined by the sovereign will of God, and from this there is no appeal.”

And this is precisely the reason why I believe the Holy Spirit led me to write about Calvinism.

While Calvinists argue that they are the ones who teach the true character of God, they are the ones who misrepresent God’s character and His nature to the unbelieving world.

I am not saying that Calvinists do this deliberately. They truly believe that their interpretation of the Bible is the truth!

But do their claims measure up against God’s Word?

I’ve been searching God’s heart about this doctrine for over two years, fearful of making the wrong conclusion and open to accepting Calvinism if that is what God’s heart is.

Searching the Scriptures, I would come upon passages often cited by Calvinists in defense of Calvinism.

However, reading these passages in prayer with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in context, of not just those distinct passages but the entire Bible – from Genesis to Revelation – I clearly see that John Calvin was deceived and that many of his followers are also deceived.

I can certainly understand your negative feelings if your are a staunch Calvinist, reading the above statement. I was deceived with an erroneous doctrine before and it was extremely humbling to recognize my deception. However, I wanted the truth at any cost!

May I challenge you to consider the following?

How did you come to your understanding of the doctrines of grace?

Did you happen to come to this understanding by a simple reading of the Bible by yourself, or was it taught to you by teachers who used arguments like “this is the solid meat Paul was talking about. Enough with the simple milk meant for babies. Grow up and mature.”

I ask this, because it is my firm belief that one will not come to this understanding by reading the Scriptures with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. One has to be taught how to interpret certain passages with a Calvinistic thought, or through Calvin’s lens.

Not only does the Bible not support Calvinism, but there are other important reasons why Calvinism is a deception.

Some of these reasons were revealed to me out of talking to Calvinists and listening to (or reading) sermons of prominent Calvinist teachers.

  1. Circular Reasoning and Spiritual Gymnastics. Calvinists who hold the belief of the final perseverance of saints are forced to resort to circular reasoning and spiritual gymnastics when presented with passages such as Ezekiel 18:24-26, Hebrews 6:4-6, Hebrews 10:26-28, 2 Peter 2:20-22, James 5:19-20. These passages are clear that one can lose his salvation after being born again. To explain these passages away, Calvinists use circular reasoning, saying, “those who walked away were never truly saved in the first place.” Circular reasoning is a sure way of wiggling yourself out of an obvious predicament, but it is a cheap cop out. Moreover, the above passages leave no room for any interpretation other than that the people described in these passages knew the Lord personally, i.e. were truly born-again/saved.
  2. Many verses cited in support of Calvinism, are taken out of context. Here are some examples I came across. One young woman was defending her view that God preordained everything, including individual choices. She cited Malachi 3:6 in support of her view that God predetermined/predestined everything. A pretty solid point at first glance, is it not? Not after one reads the following verses which make the meaning clear. God is actually calling the nation of Israel to repentance, saying, it is only because He will not go back on His word (His covenant) with this nation that He will not destroy them. He is calling them to repentance! The entire passage (Malachi 3:6-18) is actually an argument against Calvinism! Another passage taken out of context is frequently cited verses from Romans 8:7-8. These two verses are often presented in support of man’s total depravity (inability to choose). Man does not have the ability to choose God because “a mind that is set on flesh is hostile to God for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” I agree! But in what context? Romans 8:1-17 talks about living life in the Spirit! Here Paul is painting a stark contrast between those who are being led by God’s Spirit vs those who are led by their flesh (Romans 8:5-6).
  3. Effect on Evangelism. Why would Jesus even give a commandment to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19-20) if God already chose to save some and not others? I have read several responses to this question and the simple answer is obedience. OK… I can see that… Those who love the Lord want to obey His commandments. However, who do you think would take this commandment more seriously, one who believes that Jesus died for everyone and that the offer of grace is extended to every human being or the one who believes that in the end those whom God chose to be saved will be saved no matter what? The latter one won’t go the extra mile…
  4. Pride. Honestly, I have never met a humble Calvinist. Sadly, I can see how this special “knowledge” puffs up a believer. So many who were saved without any knowledge of this doctrine, now became puffed up in their “true interpretation of the Bible.” It’s as if pride creeps in without any notice. You are within that special number of those God elected to be saved. And now that you have this special knowledge of election (or the “true” interpretation of God’s Word) you feel “lucky” and above those who are either not chosen or those believers don’t have the ability to “chew the solid meat.”  I know I may be taking this too far, but that is how many Calvinists appear.
  5. Lack of Love. This relates to pride as well. If God loved only those whom He chose to be saved, why should you love everyone, right? Calvinism creates a wall between the saved and the unsaved. The most powerful prayer that revolutionized my life was for me to love all people the way God loves them and to see everyone I come in contact through His eyes. God’s heart is overwhelmingly loving. May God break our hearts for what breaks His…
  6. Calvinism takes away man’s responsibility, allowing sin. This is by far, one of the most dangerous things in Calvinism. Some Calvinists go so far as to say that everything is out of their hands, including their sinful desires. If everything is preordained by God, and if God already chose those who are saved, why strive to live a holy life? Even living in habitual sin is looked upon as God’s will because God predetermined everything. Can you see the clear and present danger of this view? Again, I am not saying that all Calvinists think like this. Only that the view that God already predestined and preordained everything, can lead a believer to sin.
  7. When philosophy takes over the simplicity of the Gospel, there is no room for Jesus. The Gospel is simple. It is simple enough that even a child can understand it. Men have always tried to make it complicated. Recently, one friend sent me a link to Jeff Durbin’s sermon on The Doctrines Of Grace. I have never heard of Jeff Durbin before, but since I was in the process of writing on Calvinism, I decided to watch the entire sermon. This teacher actually made a case on “recovering the Evangelical Gospel,” stating that those who are not Calvinists have “weak theology.” I actually take that as a compliment! Jesus and His Gospel is not “synergism vs. monergism,” whatever that is. The beauty of the Gospel and its uniqueness is in its simplicity. John 3:16. So simple that even the people from the isolated and uncontacted ancient Amazon tribe would have the ability to understand it and make the choice to follow God or not.
  8. Many Calvinists revere their teachers, putting man’s teaching above studying God’s Word on their own. Truly, it has become a sad phenomenon to observe. Calvinist teachers are held to such high esteem that those who put them on a pedestal, get their feelings hurt if anyone dares to criticize their teachers’ teachings. What’s even more grievous is the fact that such reverence for men sets believers up for disappointment. Jesus never disappoints!

So, is Calvinism a biblical doctrine that was preached by Jesus’ first disciples, apostles and the early church fathers?

No. Because “Calvinism is as false as atheism is, and for the same reason: both Calvinism and atheism deny self-evident truths, truths that all sane men know from conscience and from nature” (“Refuting What Calvinists Believe With What Calvinists Know“). This is a very strong statement but one that I can agree with. I want to encourage you to read the article, even if the author’s statement stirred up some very unpleasant negative feelings in your heart.

The early church fathers never taught Calvinism. In fact, the earliest writings resembling Calvinistic doctrine are from Augustine (354-430 AD). John Calvin expanded on those writings. The church fathers prior to Augustine, those like Ignatius of Antioch who died between 98 – 100 AD, Polycarp c.69 AD – c. 155AD, and Irenaeus c. 130-202, all believed that God created men with free will. (“Predestined for Free Will“)

And finally, one of my big questions in regards to Calvinism was: How can believers who claim to have the same Holy Spirit come to different interpretations of the Bible?

For instance, is there any way for us to examine whether John Calvin, the father of Calvinism was guided by the Holy Spirit? Well, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” Galatians 5:22-23.

Examining John Calvin’s biography, one cannot see these fruits…

Calvin most likely believed that Michael Servetus was not predestined by God for salvation and advocated for his death sentence, simply because Servetus denied the Trinity and infant baptism… Servetus burned for one hour only because of his theological views…

Jacques Gruet was gruesomely tortured and killed by beheading simply for disagreeing with John Calvin, all with Calvin’s stamp of approval…

Calvin had an intense hatred for his critics, calling them “pigs,” “dogs,” “idiots,” “asses,” “stinking beasts,” etc.

I am not going to go into all the other horrendous actions and beliefs of John Calvin… You can learn more about “Shocking Beliefs of John Calvin,” written by Frank Viola.

Just a thought: if you believe that God predestined some to be saved and others to go to hell, that Jesus died only for some and not all, and that God loves only some and not all, then why should YOU love ALL, right?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

If I have no love, I am nothing…

If I have failed to write in truth and love, then I am open to hearing any admonishing and/or corrections from my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Liked this post? Follow this blog to get more. 

3 thoughts on “Total Depravity vs Free Will: Questions For Calvinists – Part 2

  1. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Johnathan Edwards, George Whitfield, John Newton, John Bunyan and the list goes on. These and many more were Calvinistic in their preaching and teaching. Yet, contrary to your claim, they ministered in and within the greatest times of reformation and christian depth in history. John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress is filled with Calvinism and has blessed an ministered millions. CH Spurgeon was known as the prince of preachers, spearheaded revival in England, unapologetically Calvinist. Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”, New England flooded with the Gospel of life. Amazing Grace, (Im sure you have sung it) a poor, prideful and unloving Calvinist, John Newton, who, through his ministry inspired William Wilberforce, England’s champion for emancipation, another prideful Calvinist. In other words, your description of Calvinists is flawed. These men were not exceptions, they lived consistently and faithfully to the creed of Christ and the doctrines of Grace.
    You may have had some experience with prideful calvinists, but that is no proof of the truth or falsity of their positions. I can just as easily say I have met lazy, uninformed, prideful free will arminians. That means nothing. I have also met faithful, sweet, learned free will arminians whom I hold dear. That proves nothing either. Are the arguments they pose to defend their position consistent and exegetically sound? That is of merit.
    Calvinism, contrary to your description, opposes the pride of men. A prideful Calvinist is a fool and a hypocrite. A Calvinist who has seen that only Christ is a perfect savior and saves a wretch like himself, cannot in the same breath say “oh how princely I am because I am elect!” Nay! They would say “Why, oh God would you choose a prince of sinners like me?” A resurrected man does not lord it over the dead, he rejoices in life, as Bunyan wrote of Christian “Life! life! Eternal life”
    A Calvinist knows only the Jesus who saves. A person convinced of the doctrines of Grace preaches Christ to all without exception, trusting the work of God to make dead sinners live. “No room for Jesus” indeed, There is no Gospel without Christ, and Calvinism holds up the Sovereign King as they proclaim the Gospel. John MacArthur had the temerity to write a book called “The Gospel According To Jesus”. A foolish thing to do if he has no room in his theology for Jesus.
    I refer to Dr. MacArthur by way of example not by way of admiration as you have slandered. I can say the same of Free will Arminians as the hold their teachers in, sometimes too high regard. I would be willing to bet a dollar that Joel Olsteen books are read more religiously by many Arminians. Most of the more popular writers in modern day Christian book stores lean free-will arminian by far than the opposite. I can point to rabid defenders of the likes of TD Jakes, Benny Hinn, etc. Though I have no issue with admiring and looking to those who have done the hard work of study for insight, however, to refer to a “sad phenomena” and point to Calvinists to the exclusion of Arminians is as prideful a statement as any.
    It is my worthless opinion that you have not given Reformed theology a fair hearing. I based this on the reading of your article and the shallowness of the questions you asked in the first article.
    I do not posit this as a challenge, but offer this as an opportunity to interact:
    I would happily discuss any of the alleged passages you cite as being taken out of context and offer “show my work” as it were to demonstrate how I come to the conclusions for them. I am fully aware of traditions that can cloud the mind when interpreting texts, I freely admit to having them.
    I submit this to you respectfully.

  2. I think that one main reason for the spread of Calvinism among certain populations has to do with the fact that it is yet one more confirmation of their own belief that they are “special” and that they are above everyone else. This then gives them the right to look down on others, to call others subhuman, and even to use political or economic means to persecute or oppress those who are not considered to be “the elect.” Sadly, the only thing that seems to be able to reach such people is their own personal encounter with hard times that strip away the material evidence of their “blessedness.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *