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An Agnostic Asks About Calvinist Issues
Note: In the following correspondence, the e-mailer's comments are in black and enclosed in "greater than" and "lesser than" signs. My replies are in red.
A little background: I am 29 years old. I was raised Mormon. I went on a mission to South Africa. By chance, I ended up serving in only wealthy white areas that were upwards of 90% Evangelical or Charismatic Christian. On my mission, I made friends with quite a few Ministers and Christian intellectuals. Of course I’ve been to some pretty scary Christian services and witnessed the ultimate in brain washing techniques (they say the temple is bad..).<
Yes, there are many "scary" churches, which could qualify as a "cult" on sociological terms, even though their doctrine is correct. I refer to such churches as "aberrant" on my site. But, of course, there as also plenty of quality churches that don't use physiological manipulation. I have attended both types of churches, but have seen far more of the latter.
> I graduated from BYU in Economics. I may go back to school for an advanced degree in philosophy if I get too bored in life. Anyway, I am now agnostic.<
That's understandable given your background. But I'm pleased to read below that you're not completely "hardened" to the Christian faith.
>My doubts did not come from reading anti-Mormon literature (I’ve read thousands of pages of it), they came from studying the history of philosophy and Biblical commentaries. On this level, any doubts I have that call in to question the Mormon faith extend to Christianity. So I’m not saying that my study of the Bible led me see that Mormonism is wrong and Christianity has the correct interpretation.
I have been to many Christian services, watched TBN, listened to radio ministries, and as noted before, spent many hours listening to Christians one on one. I will say that most of it seems very unreasonable to me.<
Most of what is on Christian radio and TV is junk in my opinion. I can understand why someone would be turned off by it. I personally hardly ever watch it as it disgusts me too much.
> Now, God’s Truth does not need to conform to my “reason” that is a product of a certain non-Christian cultural context, I’m not looking here to have anything “proven” to me. What I am looking for, is simply to make sure I understand Christian theology. If I am to really have the chance to accept it, I need to actually understand it properly. If I am to be damned for not accepting Jesus, it would be a sad thing if my reluctance was entirely based on an incorrect understanding of what Christians really believe. Perhaps, there is a chance that my view of it all as unreasonable is only partly because of my culture, and partly because I don’t understand it.<
All of this is very reasonable. Before one rejects anything it is good to be sure you correctly understand it.
> The lengthy intro is an attempt to demonstrate a sincere inquiry. I have summarized below my understanding of the basics of Christian doctrine. I’m not quoting sources, because frankly, I haven’t kept track. In particular, the presentation of doctrine is often occluded by rhetoric, which makes it hard to really get the facts straight. So, I would be most appreciative, if someone would go through these couple of pages and correct any misunderstandings that I have.<
What you have below is a mixture of a correct Christian doctrine, somewhat false Christian doctrines, but most of all a mixture of Arminianism and Calvinism, along with a mixture of the two versions of Calvinism: high (or supralapsarian) Calvinism and low (or, sublapsarian) Calvinism.
Now to be clear, both Calvinism and Arminianism are Christian, along with either form of Calvinism. One can ascribe to any of these viewpoints and still be an orthodox Christian. They do not affect the "essentials" of the faith. So be sure your rejection of Christianity is not based on the rejection of the tenants of any one of these when you wouldn't disagree with another one of them.
And further, of course your viewpoint of Christianity will be that it is inconsistent if you are mixing different versions of it.
I will go through quickly your points . But I really don't have the time to do a detailed review. But I have already explained in detail the differences between these viewpoints on my site, along with discussing what is "essential" to the faith and what is not.
Please see the following section of my site for a discussion of Calvinism, it's two forms, and its differences from Arminianism: Calvinism. See the following pages for a list of the essential doctrines and a discussion thereof: DTL’s Confession of Faith and Essentials of the Faith.
For the record, I ascribe to a low-Calvinist position, so you'll see that view promoted in these pages. But again, it doesn't matter if you disagree with me in this area, only that you understand the differences.
Creation/purpose of life:
God desires to “show his glory” or “demonstrate his power” and so creates the Universe.<
This is a high-Calvinist view. An Arminian or low-Calvinist view would say God created to extend His love beyond the Trinity. The ultimate purpose of creation was the creation of human beings.
>The Universe, and any life there in “proves” the power of God and in its beauty confirms God’s power.<
Basically correct. But of course, the issue of creation vs. evolution would be a subject in itself.
>God creates Angels to worship him, and to “share” in his glory.<
And again, to extend His love. And this probably occurred before the physical universe was created.
> At least one of these Angels, Satan, becomes jealous of God’s power and is promptly kicked out of heaven.<
And because He tried to overthrow God from His throne.
>God creates man. Man is created specifically for the purpose of worshipping God and acknowledging God’s power.<
Again, and to receive God's love, and to love Him in return.
Satan tempts Adam and Eve, they fall, and are expelled from the garden. The sin they enter in specifically causes their posterity to be incapable of living “perfect” lives. In other words, the posterity is by NATURE sinful, and even the most valiant effort will leave them short of the capability to dwell with God in a perfect heaven. The only alternative is Hell fire for eternity.<
Correct. But there are differences in the three views in how far this "depravity" extends.
>While to us, it may seem like a technicality and “unfair” that we are doomed to hell, being that our very constitution is incapable of living up to perfection, God would be perfectly Just and diminished by nothing if he were to let nature take its course, i.e., we are born, we sin, we go to hell. While it isn’t my fault that Adam took the fruit thereby dooming my physical creation to imperfection, it isn’t God’s fault either, he is not constrained to take action.<
Correct that God is not constrained to take action. But note, Adam was our "federal" head. It's not so much that we are guilty because he sinned, but we are guilty because we would have done the same thing if we were in his position. IOW, Adam was chosen as the representative human, just as we choose people to represent us in congress. But the difference is, God in His infinite wisdom knew which candidate would best represent us. So Adam was not the "weakest" among us but the strongest. So if he sinned we most certainly would have.
Because God CHOOSES to be merciful, and once again, show his power, he decides to set up a plan to save.<
More correctly, to save those He loves.
> He institutes the Law of Moses. Sin can be wiped out through Animal sacrifice and observance of the law.<
Sin could not be wiped out by animal sacrifices. The Law was powerless to save as it could never actually remove sin. It only covered over it until Christ made the one and only perfect sacrifice. People were saved in OT times in the same way they are now, by recognizing they are sinners and trusting in God to forgive them. By offering sacrifices, one showed he was trusting God to forgive him. If he was trusting in his act of sacrifice then his trust would be misplaced.
The Book of Hebrews deals with this subject in detail. It is "by faith" that OT people performed their acts. And that is what mattered.
> Some of the earlier patriarchs like Abraham may have been saved by “faith” (Galatians 3) as Christians are saved today.<
The point of Paul's discussion is not that Abraham was saved in a different way than other OT saints, but that he showed what was the proper way to be saved: by faith, not by trusting in one's works.
>Jesus came and 1) explained the futility of the Law, how generally the point of living the law was missed and therefore would generally provide no salvation. He explained, such as in the Beatitudes, the ultimate way to live such that the law would work to ones salvation. Unfortunately, living this type of life is near impossible if not impossible.<
Keeping all aspects of the Law is impossible, except for the One Sinless One, Jesus. Jesus showed us what we would need to do and should ascribe to do. But we all fall short, hence the need for His sacrifice.
>2) Jesus having demonstrated our own helplessness very well, now provides a way of salvation where God’s mercy is invoked. Jesus’ sacrifice makes this possible. Our NATURE can now be changed through Jesus. The gift is free, we must just believe. If we REALLY believe, we acknowledge that its all through Jesus, we can be saved by saying a prayer such as “Lord Jesus, I’m a sinner, come into my heart and be my personal savior.”<
This is an Arminian viewpoint of salvation. A Calvinist would say God gives us the very ability to believe. We are too depraved to do so ourselves. And after He does so, we recognize we are saved by acknowledging was are sinners and what Christ has done for us. It is not the words that matter so much as an acknowledgement of our hearts. The words express the change in our hearts. But it is important to do as our confession demonstrates what is inside.
> After which, we enter into a personal relationship with Jesus not based on ritual or us doing “good works”. In fact, if we try to do good works, we are denying Jesus’ power. We can however, let God work through us. As Ed Decker said, “You don’t work to get saved, you work because you are saved.”<
Somewhat correct. But this gets into the sticky issue of the relationship of us working as a result of our changed nature and God working through us. We are to do good works; in fact, if we are saved it should begin to come "naturally" due to our new nature. But what is important is to recognize that the goods works do not change our standing before God.
>“Ye have not chosen me…”
I have not yet had a “orthodox” evangelical minister disagree with me here, but every “lay” Christian has denied this as part of Christian Doctrine. I’m very open to correction.<
If you referring to who choose whom, then the lay people you have talked to were probably Arminians. An Arminian would say a person chooses God; a Calvinist would say God first chooses who He is going to save.
>God calls the shots, not us, he decides who is saved and who remains damned. God fore knows the existence of all of us. God does not fail, he does not “try” and save some of us and fail. Some of us are “elect”, ones that God WILL save. To my knowledge, being elect, is a matter of random chance. Those that are elect, God will send the “gift’ of faith, such as Paul, these will come to a knowledge of Jesus, and be saved. Those that are not elect will not be sent the “gift” of faith, will not be saved. The non-elect may “become” Christian, these however will backslide, i.e., no one becomes saved, entered into a personal relationship with Jesus, and then abandoned to mess up by their own faulty nature. If a “Christian” completely backslides, say turns to homosexuality or becomes a Jehovah’s Witness, then this is because they were NEVER saved in the first place because they were NOT the elect of God.<
The above is basically a Calvinist viewpoint. An Arminian would disagree with all of it. However, a Calvinist would word things rather differently. Word like "random chance" would not be used. God does not throw dice in His decree of election. He has His reasons; we just are not privy to them.
A Calvinist would also emphasize that it is totally just for God to damn the non-elect for their sins, and he would fall on his knees in thanksgiving to God for not damning such an unworthy soul as himself who also rightly deserves to be damned.
>Without trying to get technical and define who is elect and is not, and to keep this part of Christian theology separate from what I put above in case that above is wrong…
A child who dies without having accepted Jesus is saved if his/her parents are Christian.<
This might be considered true in some Calvinist, pedeo-Baptist churches (i.e. churches that baptize infants), but it is not considered true in some other pedeo-Baptist churches and definitely not in Baptist Calvinist churches (which is my position). And it would not be true in any Arminian church.
The basic Calvinist position is seen in the Westminster Confession: "The elect who die in infancy are saved by the sacrifice of Christ." But only God knows which infant who dies is elect and which is not.
>A child who dies without having accepted Jesus is going to hell if his/her parents are not Christian.<
Not necessarily. Again, only God knows if an infant who dies is elect or not.
>Those who never hear about Christianity are going to hell (the heathen).<
Most likely, but not necessarily. This is a matter of debate among all Christians.
>Those who hear about Jesus but reject him go to hell.<
Correct if they understand what they are rejecting.
>Some say that any condition of ignorance will result in salvation, i.e. the afore mentioned hell-goers will all be saved provided they haven’t had the chance to hear the gospel. The only ones who go to hell are those that have heard about Jesus and who deny his gift.<
Some Arminians might hold this position. But it is rather inconsistent for the reasons you give below.
>If the latter is the way it really is, then I have just one question: If ignorance/ inopportunity translate to grace and salvation, why tell anyone about Jesus? Since this life is so short, what does it matter if we are miserable for 70 years or so because we don’t know the Lord in this life, if the trade off is salvation for ETERNITY?
Telling someone who doesn’t know about Jesus does not give someone the opportunity for salvation, since their ignorance will be sufficient for the grace, all you do is give the “heathen” the opportunity to go to hell. That’s not very nice.<
I agree, hence why I do not believe the "ignorant" are automatically saved (and neither do most other Christians). But I do hold out that *maybe* some of the ignorant are saved since God has chosen them. But the Bible is not clear here so I will simply obey the Great Commission and and preach the Gospel to all as best as I can.
In closing, I will say you have done what many Christians do, mix different Christians views. But I must emphasize that most of what you're asking about concerns issues about which Christians disagree. But Christians as united on the essentials, and that is what is important, and it is really in these areas you should focus your attention. Of course, if issues such as predestination are important to you, then by all means study them, but recognize you could accept any one of the three and still be a Christian, or do as most Christians do, and mix them up some. But if you want consistency in your belief system, then eventually you will need to make a decision on these issues.
To help focus on the essentials aspects of salvation, see the following section of my site: Forgiveness and Salvation.
bless you in your search,
>Thanks for your response. You qualified your answers by saying you didn't have time to go into detail, I felt that your answers were very clear and specific though. I can't say I misunderstood any of it. Ill go to the link and sort through that a bit.
For books on Calvinism, see Reformed Theology Books: Books-A-Million Recommendations.
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