Why I am not a Calvinist

Note: This page was written some time ago, when I was still a Christian. I'm not any more, so it's likely that some material in here no longer reflects my current opinions.

The following is the (slightly edited) text of a mail message I sent to someone with whom I was engaged in a debate about Calvinism. (Shortly afterwards, he told me that he’d written a comprehensive reply and lost it in a disc crash. Sad.) Quotations in what follows (apart from Biblical ones!) are from an article someone wrote in a mailing list setting forth the Calvinist view. Biblical quotations are from the NIV.

I find myself with some time to kill, a computer terminal in front of me, and an NIV within 6 metres. This is an unusual combination, so I’ll make use of it and see what I can come up with on the general subject of Why I’m Not Completely Convinced By Calvinism. :-)

One thing before I start, though: I agree with someone who said that many of the disagreements are the result of trying to look at things from both our perspective and God’s, and getting confused. More of this later.

I shall use the abbreviation FPC for "5-point Calvinism"; I know that it would be more accurate to call it "Zero-point Arminianism" or something, but the term seems to be in common use. The abbreviation is just to save my fingers. As to exactly what it teaches, I can’t guarantee that I haven’t misunderstood something; if there are mistakes in my understanding of what Calvinists are supposed to believe, please let me know.

As well as the "Five Points", I shall cover a few other issues that seem to be closely related.

WARNING: This is going to be long. It’s the first time I’ve had a really concerted look at these problems, and I’m going to try to put down the arguments on both sides.

0. On method.

I don’t believe in proof-texts. By quoting single verses from the Bible one can "prove" all kinds of incompatible things; not because it’s inconsistent but because it’s frequently ambiguous.

To avoid this, I think it’s always necessary to look at a wide range of passages, and to consider carefully what the writers might have meant (which isn’t always as obvious as it seems). As well as straightforward teaching, the Bible contains exaggeration, poetry, metaphor, symbolism, sarcasm and so on, and we need to recognise this.

I don’t assume that the reader is an inerrantist, or even an evangelical; almost all Calvinists actually are, but someone who’s not a Calvinist might be interested in what I have to say too. I do assume a certain basic level of respect for the Bible; without that, we probably don’t have much basis for discussion of Christianity.

It seems obvious to me that there are ways of discovering truth other than by reading the Bible. We do it all the time. (The Bible doesn’t tell me how to program in C, or when Bach lived, or the boiling point of water.) Further, I think it’s possible to discover things about God from sources other than the Bible. Our own and other people’s direct experiences of him, for instance; and observation of the world he has made. (The first chapter of Romans gives some justification for using the world to get information about God.) And we can certainly discover things about human nature from looking around and within ourselves; this seems to be relevant to the debate on total depravity.

Anyway, enough preliminaries.

1. Total depravity.

FPC teaches that man is totally depraved, and that people are completely unable to make any sort of approach to God because of our sin. "His will is not free, it is in bondage to his evil nature, therefore he will not -- indeed he cannot -- choose good over evil in the spiritual realm".

The best justification for this is found in chapter 3 of Romans, in which Paul strings together a number of Old Testament passages, beginning with

There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have all together become worthless;
there is no one who does good, not even one.

This is from Psalm 14 (and also Psalm 53; the two passages are identical); I guess it to be from the Septuagint version of those psalms, because the version we have now is different, though it doesn’t differ much in content. It might be a paraphrase rather than a direct quotation, too.

I do not consider that this proves the case. The Psalms are full of hyperbole; the next verse of Psalm 14 refers to "those who devour my people as men eat bread"; Psalm 12 says that "the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men", but presumably the Psalmist isn’t entirely ungodly and faithless; in Psalm 18 David says he has "beaten [my enemies] as fine as dust borne on the wind"; Psalm 26 says "I have led a blameless life"; and so on. It seems likely that what the psalmist meant in this case was not so extreme as the doctrine of total depravity.

Of course, Paul might intend to imply total depravity even if the psalmist did not. But does he? Well, the context gives no unambiguous answer. Note, however, that in the same bunch of OT quotations we read

Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know. (Isaiah 59:7-8, altered)

That, taken with complete literalism, implies that all men are vicious murderers; which is not the case. I do not think we have any warrant to assert that in this passage of Romans every quotation is to be taken as completely literal and unexaggerated.

What, then, is Paul saying here? To this, the context does give an answer. He is pointing out the fact that living under the Law does not make Jews righteous in God’s sight; that "Jews and Gentiles alike are living under sin" (Romans 3:9b). He says immediately after that group of quotations:

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

In other words: the point of these quotations is to show that the Jews, despite having the Law, are not exempt from God’s judgement, and that the same Law in which they trust contains a declaration of their guilt.

Of course showing that Paul might not have meant to imply total depravity in that passage is nothing remotely like a proof that total depravity is a false doctrine. Since we’ve had a few quotations from psalms, here’s another one:

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

The psalmist is claiming to seek after God. Is he a liar? Of course, God’s ways of dealing with man have changed since the Old Testament, and perhaps it was possible then for someone to have God’s Spirit without being a Christian (we may be quite sure the psalmist was not a Christian (-: ).

Perhaps the claim is not that no one seeks to do God’s will before conversion but only that no one chooses to serve God before being regenerated by the work of the Spirit. This is a very hard position to argue against, because it is hard to imagine any evidence that could distinguish it from the other possibility. After all, conversion (in the sense of choosing to serve God) and regeneration always happen at about the same time; this could be because regeneration produces conversion, or it could be because regeneration follows after conversion (note: I did not say "is produced by". This is deliberate.)

The Bible does not appear to speak very clearly on this issue. One passage which is suggestive is Romans 3:21-22a, which runs thus:

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

This talks of "righteousness" and not of "regeneration", but it seems to me that the two go together, and that we are declared righteous by the Father at the same time as we are regenerated by the Spirit. In this case it is relevant that Paul says that the faith produces the righteousness.

There are some occasions in the Old Testament on which the word "choose" is used about precisely the sort of decision we are discussing. Joshua 24:14-15:

"Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose this day for yourselves whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, I will serve the Lord."

and 24:22:

Then Joshua said, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord." "Yes, we are witnesses", they replied.

There is an injunction to "choose life" in Deuteronomy 30:19b-20.

Perhaps the situation has changed since the Old Testament was written, though. Perhaps it was possible to choose then, but is not now. I don’t see any reason to believe this; if the effect of the Fall is so complete now, after the Atonement, that all are completely incapable of choosing God, then it surely was more so before the Atonement.

Another passage which might be quoted in favour of the doctrine that we cannot choose God is John 15:16a:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit -- fruit that will last.

But look at the context: Jesus is talking to his close disciples. Indeed, he chose who were to be his closest associates; but not all Christians are Apostles! We have no warrant for supposing that John 15:16a applies to us as it applied to the people actually being addressed by Jesus at the time.

Another argument against total depravity is this: if we are completely unable to choose to follow God, thn surely we are just as unable to choose to do anything good. Tom’s post said "The sinner is dead, blind and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt." But it is perfectly clear from the most cursory examination of the world that things just aren’t like that. We all have rot in our souls, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing but rot; the fact that it is possible for non-Christians to do many things which are clearly good proves this. I am not arguing for salvation by works here, by the way. Just saying that man is certainly fallen, but he is manifestly not Totally Depraved.

The idea that man can somehow choose to be saved appears to some as denying the grace of God and setting up some sort of justification by works, with the only difference being that in this case the "works" consist of believing in Jesus or something of the sort. One could just quote John 6:28-29, in which Jesus says that the work God desires is belief in the One whom he has sent; but more to the point is the following: The fundamental problem with the idea of salvation by works is that it supposes that we can somehow merit salvation; that we can be "good enough" that God is obliged to save us. That is, the trouble with salvation by works is that it denies the sovereignty of God. In this case this is not an issue; our salvation comes through God’s unmerited grace; but the claim is that God promises to save those who do certain things, not because those things are "enough" in themselves but because God has decided (out of the goodness of his heart) to grant salvation to those who do those things.

One last observation concerning this issue: the view I have suggested here is in line with many Christians’ experience. They chose to follow God, and only afterwards, if at all, were they aware of anything special happening. Those who have had dramatic "conversion experiences" sometimes report funny things happening before they took the final step, but not always; this suggests to me that sometimes, at least, the choice to follow God precedes the regeneration effected by the Spirit. (In less dramatic cases it is much harder to draw any conclusions from the evidence.)

2. Predestination, and perseverance.

This is intimately connected with the previous topic, of course. Here, more than anywhere else, I think that the problems arise from a confusion of viewpoints. Let me explain...

Consider a person. That person’s life (on earth) stretches over a period of something like 70 years, and "afterwards" they may or may not turn out to be (have been) saved. If we look at things from the standpoint of eternity, then obviously either they’re saved or they aren’t; and if they aren’t, then they never were and they never will be and so on, because from the standpoint of eternity their whole life lies before us "all at once". But if we stand, as you and I might do, in the middle of their life, and ask: Are they saved? the answer must be, We don’t know yet. Indeed it is not given to us to know just who is saved and who is not. And, from this perspective, it makes perfect sense to talk about people falling away from their faith and so on; but perhaps not of "losing their salvation", if we define salvation to be that which those who are going to be saved have -- for, if they are (in the end) going to be saved, then they are going to be saved, and that’s that.

But is talk of losing one’s salvation as unreasonable as all that? It is, if we use "salvation" to mean "that which those who are going to be saved have". But what I think most people mean by it is different: when they say someone is saved, they mean that (in some sense) if they were to die now they would be saved. With this meaning, there is no obvious reason why it should be impossible to "lose one’s salvation".

What, then, does Scripture say on the subject? There are various Biblical texts relating to it. The first is from Hebrews 6:4-6:

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

I’ve never liked this passage, actually. (Not because I intend to "fall away" or anything; it just seems very strange.) Still, there it is in the Bible, and it implies as clearly as you like that it is possible for someone to be "enlightened", to "share in the Holy Spirit", and then to fall away. I don’t see any way round this other than simply deciding that the writer is wrong, which is -- shall we say -- very much a last resort!

There are other passages like this one, by the way. For instance 2 Peter 10 seems to imply the possibility (for those who do not "make your calling and election sure") of falling, and 2 Peter 2:20-22, which is a bit like that passage from Hebrews, only less hard and fast about the impossibility of "re-redemption".

On the other side one may instance 1 Peter 1:3b-5:

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never spoil or fade -- kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

This seems to me to say only that our salvation, if we have it, is permanent and imperishable, by contrast with the riches of this world. I bet Peter was thinking of the words of Jesus recorded in Luke 12:33-34.

More to the point is Ephesians 1:13-14:

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession -- to the praise of his glory.

I confess that I don’t see any way to reconcile this with the passage from Hebrews, quoted above. Perhaps when the author of Hebrews writes of sharing in the Holy Spirit, he means it in some corporate and impersonal sense, but that seems unlikely. The existence of this passage from Ephesians makes me very reluctant to say categorically that it is possible to lose one’s salvation in any sense; the passages in Hebrews and 1 Peter make me just as reluctant to say categorically that it is not. I don’t believe we can go any further; quite independently of questions of inerrancy, which books should be in the canon, and other such controversial stuff, it would be very presumptuous indeed to try to pronounce on a subject where Peter and Paul appear to have disagreed!

3. Unconditional election.

In other words, do man’s actions determine who gets saved? I consider that I have shown in section 1 above that people are in theory capable of choosing to follow God before they are actually converted. Does this choice determine their salvation, then?

Some see blasphemy in this idea: If the saved are determined by the will of man, where is the sovereignty of God? I do not think this charge is justified; it is a perfectly orthodox Christian idea that God chose to give us some control over our own destinies. (A commonly seen reply to the problem of pain is that some pain and evil is inevitable in a world of creatures with the power of choice.) This does not deny the sovereignty of God; it merely suggests that, like a good human ruler or parent, he voluntarily limits the control he exercises.

There are many New Testament passages that speak of the connection between faith in Jesus and salvation. In most cases it seems clear that it is the faith which produces the salvation, rather than vice versa. The passage from Romans 3:21-22 which I quoted earlier is an example; but it seems sensible to go to the Gospels for this.

John 1:12-13:

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God -- children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The "nor of human decision", in context, seems to me to be contrasting with the case of naturally-born children, born because their parents decided to have a child.

John 3:16-18:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Here unbelief is shown as the cause of condemnation (i.e. of not being saved); in other words it is each person’s decision for or against Jesus which saves or condemns him.

John 5:24-27:

"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man."

Again, "whoever hears and believes will not be condemned" is the thrust of this passage.

On the other hand (still in John’s gospel, which is terrific for this sort of thing (and, more importantly, terrific for its stated purpose ("But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" -- hey, there’s another example of hearing-and-believing --> life!))) there is John 6:44:

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day."

Whether this supports the FPCist view depends entirely on what is meant by "drawing". Jesus does not say; the context gives no clear indication; all we can do is guess. A FPCist will of course guess that Jesus is talking about God somehow forcing his salvation on us irresistibly; an Arminian will of course guess that the word means something that can be fought against. Both views are just that; guesses.

There is plenty more in John’s gospel, but perhaps it’s time to look at what the Synoptics have to say. Mark is generally reckoned to be the earliest of the Synoptics, and some regard it as therefore most reliable, so we might as well look there.

The parable of the sower (the one with seed falling on different kinds of ground) seems to suggest that somehow factors outside the person’s control make all the difference to how they respond. But I think that is taking the analogy too far; the only thing we can say for certain about the parable is that it is describing how various groups of people react to the word of God. It says nothing about how a person comes to be in one group or another.

Actually the main teaching concerning salvation that I find in Mark’s gospel, and indeed in all the Synoptics, is something that looks worryingly like salvation by works. Jesus says, time and time again, that whoever would be saved must deny himself, take up his cross, feed the hungry, follow Jesus, and (in at least one case) sell all he has and give it to the poor. Mark portrays Jesus primarily as a teacher. About the only thing bearing directly on the present question in Mark’s gospel is in verses 15-16 of chapter 20; remember that most of the earliest and otherwise most reliable manuscripts do not have verses 9-20. Here it is, anyway:

He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."

Matthew is pretty similar; the famous passage in Matthew 25 about the sheep and the goats seems to say clearly that those who help the hungry, the homeless, the imprisoned, the lonely, the sick, are those who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps it’s less "salvation by works" than "damnation by works", though. Maybe we need to believe in Jesus and to do his will. ("Maybe"? ha ha. That idea is found throughout the Synoptic Gospels, and elsewhere in the New Testament too.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"

Terrifying stuff. Matthew 7:21-23, by the way.)

Still, there is the following, from Matthew 10:32-33:

"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven."

The Synoptics, then, don’t seem to say much about whether belief precedes salvation or follows it; in fact, they don’t seem to care. Seems fair enough to me; from our perspective it’s all the same; it feels like we are choosing for or against God.

4. Does God love everyone?

The answer to this question will of course be of relevance in examining the doctrine of "limited atonement". I hold that God does in fact love all people, even unregenerate sinners.

There are passages in the Old Testament that speak of God "hating" various people or classes of person. Most of these are in the Psalms, which (as I pointed out earlier) are absolutely full of hyperbole. Actually I think that passages like (Psalm 5:4-6)

You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil;
with you the wicked cannot dwell.
The arrogant cannot stand in your presence;
you hate all who do wrong.
You destroy those who tell lies;
bloodthirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors.

are not so much hyperbole as an expression of the intensity of God’s hatred for sin in terms of hatred for the sinner. After all, we know that God loved some particular sinners in OT times. David, for instance, who apparently wrote that psalm.

About the only mention I can find, outside the Psalms, of God being said to hate anyone is in Malachi 1:3, which says "Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated". Reading the context makes it completely clear, though, that we are dealing in nations rather than individuals here.

Anything in favour? Yes, certainly. The obvious passage is 1 John 4:7-9:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

If "God is love", the idea that there are people whom he does not love is strange, to say the least.

To those who argue that God loves only the elect, it is hard to make a reply on Biblical grounds because the Bible deals almost entirely with God’s dealings with the elect. I could instance Ephesians 2:4-5:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in transgressions -- it is by grace you have been saved.

But perhaps the reply would just be "But the people addressed are among the elect."; to this I can make no reply, except to say that I see no reason why God should love only the elect, and that the passages I have just cited seem to suggest that he loves all, and longs for all to be saved. And for more on this, we need another section.

5. Limited atonement.

FPC teaches that Christ’s work was intended only for the elect, and that it has no power to save anyone else. Here again, of course, we run into the usual difficulties arising from difference in viewpoints. Seen from eternity, as it were, it is clear that the only people who actually are saved by the death of Christ are ... those who are saved by the death of Christ! So what sense does it make to say that the others are helped by it? Seen from our finite perspective, though, the opposing claim is that the offer of salvation is open to all, and that anyone "can" be saved (though, to be sure, only some will be).

The borders between this one and section 4 are hazy, and indeed rather arbitrary. Indeed, it should be becoming clear by now that all the borders in this area are hazy; the "five points" are intimately connected one with another, and it would be difficult to take the Calvinist position on any two of them and the Arminian position on the others, for instance.

I do not know of any verse that says in so many words that Christ died only for some predetermined elect. The doctrine of limited atonement is more a logical deduction from the other doctrines of Calvinism than a conclusion drawn directly from the Bible. This is in no way a criticism of the doctrine; much the same holds for the doctrine of the Trinity. It does mean that my illustrations from Scripture will all be on the other side, as it were.

In 1 Timothy 4:9-10 we read:

This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labour and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.

At first glance this looks highly heterodox; surely, surely Christ is only the saviour of those who believe? It seems to me that the only way to interpret this is as saying: Christ is the Saviour of all men in that anyone can be saved by him; he is especially the Saviour of those who believe, for they have accepted that salvation. At any rate, I cannot see that this says anything less than that. It may say more (perhaps Paul is hinting that some may be saved without believing) but we cannot know, and we would be unwise to build any doctrine on conjecture as to what he might have meant; but he is obviously saying that somehow Christ is the Saviour even of those who do not believe.

In 1 Timothy 2:1-6 we read:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone -- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men -- the testimony given in its proper time.

"who wants all men to be saved", "as a ransom for all men"; you can’t get much plainer than that.

Is it, then, just 1 Timothy that takes this striking, almost-universalist view? The obvious next places to look are the Gospels. The Synoptics have little on this subject, again; in them Jesus doesn’t talk much about the purpose of his death (not at all, indeed, until very near the end). About the only thing I can find that bears on the scope of the atonement is from the Last Supper; the following is Matthew 26:27-28, and much the same can be found in Mark.

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

This is completely uninformative on the crucial question of whether the "many" refers to a predestined elect or what. Luke has "poured out for you", but Matthew and Mark agree against him, and were writing closer to the time; so I think we must go with them.

What about John’s gospel? The relevant passages are the ones I quoted in section 3 above, which have a common pattern: "All who hear and believe have life". The number of occurrences of words like "all" and "whoever" in the Gospel of John (and indeed in 1 John) is striking.

It seems, then, that there is substantial evidence for the idea of an unlimited atonement; that the only sense in which Christ died only for the elect is the trivial one mentioned in the first paragraph of this section.

6. Resisting the Spirit.

We have considered already the question of whether we can choose to be saved; the question now is: Can we choose not to be saved? It seems clear that there are some to whom God makes such unequivocal revelations of himself that they have little choice but to believe. But even here, I think, that choice is open to them.

Why? Well, the "philosophical" grounds are much the same as those for saying that we can choose to serve God; the same arguments have the same force in saying that we can choose to reject him. And the scriptural evidence is much the same; those passages which speak of believers in Christ being saved generally also speak in the same way of unbelievers being condemned. So, look again at the passages I cited in sections 1 and 3.

This does not mean that God cannot, should he so choose, force someone to believe. Of course God can do anything he pleases. However, I see no reason to believe that he forces himself on all believers, and I’m not sure that he forces himself on any. Rather than reiterating what I have already said, I merely refer you again to my earlier sections.

7. Free will.

I have been asked a couple of times, "Where does the Bible mention free will?". (By "free will" I mean the ability to make choices of some sort; to take a part in determining the future. This is a weaker notion than another I have seen, namely the ability to choose between salvation and damnation. That is a sort of combination of free will in my sense and the sort of thing discussed in sections 1 and 6 above.)

Firstly, it seems to me that this question reveals an unwise approach to Biblical exegesis; the Bible doesn’t mention cars either, but they still exist. The argument from silence is seldom any use.

In the present case, though, the argument from silence is stronger than usual. After all, if we have free will it would be surprising if the writers of the Bible always wrote as if we hadn’t.

Fortunately for my position, such is not the case. Over and over again, the language used in the Bible is exactly such as one expects from believers in free will of some sort. Indeed, many of the examples I have already given are of this kind; any talk of choice, of the possibility of doing one thing or another, is just what a believer in free will would expect.

Some will argue that any sort of human freedom is an insult to the sovereign power of God. This issue was discussed in section 3, near the beginning; the penultimate paragraph of section 1 is also relevant.

None of this proves that we do have free will. It could well be that we do not in fact have any freedom of choice; that what appear to us as choices are the predetermined choices of God alone. But surely the use of this kind of language implies a belief in some ability to make choices. The burden of proof is on those who say that, despite this sort of language being used in the Bible, we have no freedom.

8. Special cases.

I just want to reiterate something I said in section 6, namely that most of this has been concerned with the normal run of things. There is nothing to stop God "interfering" as much as he likes; all I am claiming is that he usually leaves us in considerable measure free to choose.

I can’t think of any very clear examples of this kind of thing, though. For instance, it might be thought that in John 17:12, where Jesus refers to (NIV) "the one doomed to destruction", we have a clear indication that Judas was in fact predestined to damnation. The Greek, however, has "son of destruction" and what seems to be meant here is that (perhaps because he was so destined, but perhaps through his own choice) his actions have consigned him to destruction. Jesus may perhaps be speaking here about predestination, but it seems more probable that he is not.


There is no solid scriptural evidence that compels me to believe in the doctrines of "five-point" Calvinism, and indeed some of its main points appear to be contrary to an intelligent reading of Scripture. In other cases there is no clear Scriptural teaching one way or the other, and in such cases surely we must accept that there is more than one doctrine which Christians may legitimately believe (where "legitimately" implies "without intellectual dishonesty or gross stupidity"). On the whole I find that Arminianism (at least on the "Five Points") is more firmly grounded in scripture, and more acceptable to my mind. (Of course the latter doesn’t prove it is right; what is foolishness to me may be crystal-clear common sense to God. But perhaps it’s a good sign.) More specifically:

This probably seems very combative; I wasn’t expecting to come out so strongly against four of the five points. Probably some of this is due to the facts that (i) I find the doctrines of FPC emotionally repugnant [which is of course absolutely irrelevant to the question of whether they are true, but is bound to colour my thinking], and (ii) it is four in the morning. If anything in here causes offence, I apologise; please try to read it just as an attempt to think through the very difficult issues at stake here -- which is, honestly, what it is meant to be.

It’s also taken me longer than I expected it would. I think this is a good thing; it’s meant that I’ve done more concentrated Bible study than I have in a while. I don’t claim that everything I’ve said is correct; I’m sure there are mistakes; please point them out. But even so, it’s been very good for me to have a good hack at such difficult questions, and I think I’ve learned a bit in the process. I hope you can find time to read through it all; I don’t expect you to agree with me, but at the very least it will do you good to write a careful, diligently-studied refutation, for the same reason as it’s done me good to write this. :-)

That’s it.