07 – Danger, Will Robinson!

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If you’re running a CalvinShield Systematic Theology Protection System®, pop-ups already have warned you about possible infection by the Arminius1610 worm. Your CPU has been locked down and main memory quarantined. The handful of you running CalvinShield Pro® also have been warned about the older but more malicious Caelestius411 virus.

False positives, I assure you. Implementation of the Oldenbarnevelt Technique is unnecessary. Let’s all keep our heads, shall we?

Enough geeky church history humor … such as it was.

Theological conflict over “predestination” and “free will” dates back at least 1,600 years. The undercurrent of secular political intrigue beneath centuries of arguments and church trials casts a pall over the whole discussion, right up to the 18th-century debates between John Wesley and George Whitefield. Not everyone, however, has been oppressed as badly as Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt, who was beheaded for his convictions on May 13, 1619, in (ironically) The Hague.

It is customary, of course, to choose sides in theological debates. I refuse to do that in this case, despite my feelings about the zealotry that forced Dale Moody into early retirement almost 25 years ago.

One faction in this argument wants you to swear allegiance to the concept that Jesus only died for the people God already had chosen to save. They want you to further swear you will not consort with heretics who say such a view is contrary to both the Bible and what John Calvin actually believed.

For their part, the opposition wants to tattoo “Live Free Or Die” on your forearm and requires you to sign a petition asking the American Psychiatric Association to list Hyper-Calvinism as a mental disorder. (I hear the odds are pretty good that will happen at the next APA convention.)

I don’t want to play that game, not for either side.

Yes, the Bible clearly teaches that, before the foundation of the world, “God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son.” (Romans 8:29 NLT) No one should shrink back from teachings that may not sit well with popular opinion, like “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14 NLT) or even the scandalous declaration about “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” (Romans 9:22 NAS)

At the same time, the Bible also clearly teaches that all people have a choice about honoring God and following Jesus – and that God holds us responsible for our choices. God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9 KJV) “Whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16b NAS) If choices did not matter, why did Jesus preach, “Repent and believe the Gospel?” If salvation is only a matter of God’s election, why is it “through faith” that we are saved by grace? (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I’m not fond of clubs that require prospective members to ignore entire themes of Scripture in order to be accepted. I’m skeptical of people who insist on forcing the mysteries of God’s ways into the neat little categories of human logic. Twenty centuries have not resolved paradoxes like the doctrine of the Trinity or the teaching that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. If the election/free will debate has lasted 1,600 years, maybe we ought to classify it as paradox too.

I believe Scripture says apostasy is a real danger to genuine believers. I contend the teaching doesn’t contradict the equally biblical truths of election and eternal security. In fact, I believe a biblical teaching on apostasy heightens the significance of those doctrines and sheds light on many Scripture passages previously regarded as puzzling.

If you’re even the least bit curious about how the parts of this puzzle fit together, hang around and we’ll talk.

Next installment

Chapter 8
Security is for believers

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Copyright © 2007, Kainos Press. All rights reserved.

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