Neo-Calvinism: Abraham Kuyper, Criticisms, Part 2

Douma points out that the Hebrew verb abad means simply to cultivate a field. This labour is required of man if he is to eat (Gen.1:29; 2:5; 3:17ff.). What these verses seem to tell us is that there is a connection between working and eating and that sin has made work difficult.

Hmm … The passage under consideration is —

(Gen 2:15)  The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

And there are two commands: to “work” (‘abad) the Garden and to “take care” (shamar) of it. I’ll grant that ‘abad means to work the ground in the sense of tilling the ground — that is, to make it produce food. It’s a utilitarian verb. But shamar shows up in verses such as —

(Gen 3:24)  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard [shamar] the way to the tree of life.

(Gen 4:9)  Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper [shamar]?”

(Gen 6:19)  You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep [shamar] them alive with you.

(Gen 18:19)  For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep [shamar] the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

(Gen 28:15)  “I am with you and will watch over [shamar] you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Adam was commanded to care for the Garden in the sense of guarding it, protecting it, or honoring it. This is obviously quite different from a command merely to make it productive. It means to keep safe. Plainly, Kuyper’s critics aren’t being fair with the text.

Velema agrees with Douma and rejects the idea that Christians are under obligation to finish off a specific cultural program, for in that case such a program would first have to be drawn up, but for this we find no evidence at all in the NT, let alone that it prescribes a “mandate.” He warns against such a preoccupation with culture and social involvement that the Christian life loses its “pilgrim” character. We are first and foremost strangers and pilgrims on earth. Being a pilgrim is essential for the church of Christ. “The congregation of the NT knows that she is ‘on the way.’ She is not at home here. She has been loosed from her old environment and now looks for the future revelation of the Kingdom which Christ will establish, not man.

Now, I certainly agree that we are to live in this world as aliens. Peter and Paul both say it plainly–

(1 Pet 2:11-12)  Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

(Phil 3:20-21)  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Yes, we are to live as aliens and strangers, but one thing we do as aliens and strangers is “live such good lives among the pagans that … they … see []our good deeds and glorify God.” We must do good deeds that even pagans see as good deeds — and pagans don’t see evangelism as good deeds. However, they would see as good deeds such things as —

(James 1:27)  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

(Mat 25:35-36)  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

(1 John 3:17)  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?

And if we’ll take the trouble to notice that these passages and the Sermon on the Mount are references back to many Old Testament passages urging God’s people to help the poor, the widow, the fatherless, and the alien, we begin to understand —

(Eph 2:8-10)  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

The Calvinist churches teach the first part of this passage, but they often ignore the ending “to do good works.” And what good works? Well, it’s the sort of good works prepared in advance for us! This cannot be a reference to evangelism, as evangelism — preaching the gospel to the lost — hardly suits that description. Rather, it’s the good works urged by the Law of Moses and the prophets of old.

More precisely, it’s participating in the work of God to undo the Curse of Genesis 3, which divides man from God and man from fellow man and man from the Garden.

While it is our calling as Christians to try to have this kind of impact on the world [that is, salt and light], we should not entertain unrealistic hopes of success. We should certainly not expect the Kingdom of God to come through our efforts, be they cultural or missionary. The most we can look for in the way of visible results is that the Lord will graciously enable us to erect a few signs of the coming Kingdom. That Kingdom is basically and eschatological reality, i.e., as far as its fullness and visible manifestation is concerned, it is still a future reality. During this dispensation it is basically inward, spiritual and invisible. The kingdom of heaven, Jesus said, is within you. Christ now rules in the hearts of His people and He is King in His Church and acknowledged as such.

Now, if you’re a strict Calvinist, then you can certainly figure that most of the world is predestined to damnation and therefore beyond our ability to redeem. Calvinism can take on a defeatist mentality at times. And if you want to justify an inward, ineffective church life, it’ll get you there. But it doesn’t have to.

But I’m no Calvinist, and I don’t accept that God predestined anyone to damnation in that sense, and frankly find such pessimism offensive. We can’t do this — true — but our God is able, and he is able to change the world through us, if he so chooses.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink.My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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33 Responses to Neo-Calvinism: Abraham Kuyper, Criticisms, Part 2

  1. adam davis says:

    Well done. I have had much experience these past few years with Calvinist brethren and churches and you are right. You will hear little, if anything at all, about "good works." In fact, they usually look down their long theological nose at those stupid, scripture ignorant, idolatrous Arminians who do have a focus on doing good to others, helping the poor, etc., and even question their salvation. Now I want to make it clear that it's not just Calvinists, but many theologians who look down their long theological nose at "good works" projects. For example, T.A. McMahon, who works with Dave Hunt, a staunch opponent of Calvinism and theologian, although he affirms the scripture which says to be zealous unto good works, condemns most means of humanitarian efforts.

    It's what results in any form of theological elitism, one forgets what is most important, and that is yes, letting people know of the death of Christ on the cross for sin, but also doing good unto others and telling people the why, which is most important, because God loves us, and we need to tell of that love, as well as demonstrate that humble, self-sacrificial love.

    Every sermon preached in Calvinist churches, every book written by the Calvinist elite is always all about the five points of Calvinism, sometimes thinly disguised in a cover book title [i.e. Our Sufficiency in Christ, 50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, When I don't Desire God, Twelve Ordinary Men, etc.] There is a biblical word for such fixation, and that word is idolatry.

  2. Randall says:

    Interesting post Jay. Regrettably it seems someone's prejudice against Calvinism shows from time to time. Historically, Calvinists have been among the first in missionary efforts. And my impression is that they emphasize good works no less than Arminian and semi-Pelagian churches. The Presbyterians were involved in Stewpot when the CofC did next to nothing to help the homeless. However, anecdotal evidence carries little weight. My personal impression is that poor people tend to help the poor more than rich people do. That was a strong point of the CofC when we still lived on the wrong side of the tracks, but it seemed to decline as we became more respectable. I am happy to see a renewed interest in some CofCs in taking care of the poor.

    Towards the end of this post we find the following statement:
    "Now, if you’re a strict Calvinist, then you can certainly figure that most of the world is predestined to damnation and therefore beyond our ability to redeem. Calvinism can take on a defeatist mentality at times."
    Where did this come from? Are you suggesting that Calvinists think more of the world is damned than CofCers? How crazy an idea is that? Among most conservative evangelicals the belief is that those that come to true faith are saved and those that don't are damned. Calvinists don't see it any differently and we don't think God is less gracious than CofCers do. Quite the contrary is true – Amazing Grace was written by a Calvinist – not a semi-Pelagian, nor could it have been. And as to that phrase which said "beyond our ability to redeem." Wow, what's with that? Do WE have the ability to redeem anyone? No, we can preach but only God can redeem. Sometimes I wonder if you actually understand Calvinism at all – or simply caricatures of it. I remain amazed that a progresive church leader with a widely read blog would not take more care in describing the beliefs of those with who he disagrees. I have seen that done in the CofC, but not generally by the progressives.

    And as to the fatalism – that is nothing more than yet another caricature of Calvinism. Calvinists can have certainty that the preaching of the gospel will result in the conversion of the elect. The rest of the preachers can have confidence only that the preaching of the gospel may/may convert someone, if they are willing, but the possibility exists that none will be willing. I am disappointed that a false presumption/accusation is made regarding Calvinism by one who does not accept it and now puts this forth as the truth when it is not characteristic of any Calvinists that I know.

    As to the final sentence of this post which reads as follows:
    "We can’t do this — true — but our God is able, and he is able to change the world through us, if he so chooses."
    No one believes this more than a Calvinist. Your statement seems to suggest it is unique among semi-Pelagians.

    Wow, I am stunned and really don't know what to think.

  3. Terry says:

    I'm not sure that I follow all of your conclusions about neo-Calvinists, Jay. When I look at leaders like John Piper and Mark Driscoll, I see men who are trying to make a positive difference in the world. Piper has been a leader in calling for racial reconciliation and justice for preborn children. He lives in a poor neighborhood and reaches out to his neighbors in need. His church has a very active ministry to children with disabilities. Driscoll has been fairly aggressive in innovative ideas to help his community and the world both spiritually and physically. I'm not seeing a defeatist or passive attitude toward life in them. Perhaps it may be more common in others, but I don't see it in people like John Piper and Mark Driscoll.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    I readily concede that there have Calvinist missionaries. I don't know why it's true, but it's true. But it's logically inconsistent. If man cannot frustrate God's will and if God has chosen to save X people PERIOD, then why send missionaries except to obey a command? Certainly not to save those who would not be otherwise saved.

    Those Calvinists who send missionaries do right, well understanding God's instructions, but they contradict their Calvinism when they do it. And good that they do.

    I'm not alone. In today's Baptist Church, there are voices protesting the movement back to TULIP Calvinism for this very reason.

  5. Jay Guin says:

    I grant that many Calvinists, especially neo-Calvinists, manage to escape the logic of TULIP Calvinism. The point is that TULIP and imputed righteousness push us in the wrong direction — but it's just a push. Not all make the mistakes that their logical foundations push them toward. But some do.

    If you read the article I quote from criticizing neo-Calvinism, you can see the tendency to want to withdraw from engagement with the world into a cozy world of theology and church life. Where does this come from?

    The very notion of a cultural mandate has a legalistic connotation. It is a term that does not belong in the context of grace and the covenant of grace. When God gave this mandate, if you want to call it that, the fall had not yet taken place. When Adam sinned, however, he was no longer in a position to carry out this command. It was Christ, the second Adam, who took over this responsibility from the first Adam and fulfilled the task assigned to man at the beginning.

    Imputed righteousness is taught by both Arminians and Calvinists — and even in Churches of Christ. But it's not biblical, and it leads to the kind of logic Pronk displays in his speech.

    But (praise God) not everyone follows the logic of the doctrine. However, in some churches, it gets combined with the perseverance of the saints to create a once saved, always saved doctrine that promises salvation regardless of how one lives.

  6. Randall says:

    You make assumptions about Calvinism that are not accurate and then say that Calvinists are acting illogically. How wrong headed. Calvinists believe what THEY believe – not what YOU SAY they believe. It is no wonder it makes no sense to you as you apparently do not understand Calvinism at all – my only other conclusion would be that you do understand i5t and then deliberately misrepresent it – and I don't believe you would do that intentionally.

    Calvinists do not believe God is frustrated – You are the one that said you believe God is frustrated.

    Imagine if you were told by a very traditional CoCer what you belive and it wasn't true. It was just what the other person wanted to believe you believe and he wanted others to see it that way too, That is what you have been doing here in comment after comment.

    I remain stunned that you chose to do this on your blog. Where the attempt to understand the other point of view and discuss things reasonably? Is the topic just too emotional to deal with it fairly?

  7. Glenn Dowling says:

    "Every sermon preached in Calvinist churches, every book written by the Calvinist elite is always about the five points of Calvinism"…to which I say, brother, how do you know if your not there/

    Is the theology behind the five points of Calvinism taught in scripture? I think so. Then it follows that "Reformed" teaching would reflect truths which support Calvinism.

  8. Glenn Dowling says:

    Randall, A BIG AMEN, BROTHER!

  9. Royce says:


    I am disappointed that you would paint with such a broad brush, "Calvinists" with contempt. Francis Chan, a Calvinist pastor sold his nice, large, comfortable home, bought a much smaller, inexpensive home and give the money to the poor. And his church instead of building a grand new worship center opted to build an open air tabernacle and give the millions in savings to the poor. I have more true stories but I hope you get the point.

    While you talk in general about Calvinsits I remind you there would be no Restoration Movement had there not been Calvinsists.

    I agree that you should bone up on what Calvinsist teach and then make your criticisms. This is no more fair than when conservative coC guys talk about progressives in the same tone.

    I love you and respect you but you are wrong this time.


  10. Jay Guin says:

    I'm working on a series of posts dealing with TULIP Calvinism. The plan is to interact with John Piper's writings. In the meantime, I'll not be responding to most posts on the subject, as I don't want to burden the readers with reading me twice on the same subject.

    An interesting book to wade through is Five Views: Perspectives on Election, edited by Chad Owen Brand. There are chapters by Bruce A. Ware (Unconditional, Individual, and Infralapsarian), Jack W. Cottrell (Classical Arminian), Robert L. Reymond (Calvinist, Supralapsarian), Thomas B. Talbott (universalism), and Clark H. Pinnock (election is corporate and vocational).

    I challenge anyone read the Supralapsarian discussion. It's very revealing of the heart of Calvinism.

  11. Glenn Dowling says:

    Jay, Why are so driven to put down Calvinism? it's not perfect but it certainly aligns very closely with scripture. I don't recall Jesus saying, "Go forth into the world and put down all other Christian Church teaching" – and exhault he legalism of the "Church of Christ." My Bible says he commanded us to go and, in effect, make disciples (learners). Brother, you are truly, "wrapped are the axle" and need to come up for some air.

  12. Jay Guin says:

    Actually, I've tried for months to NOT talk about Calvinism. I've repeatedly asked here and at GraceConversation that the subject not be discussed. And yet many commenters incessantly advocate for 5-point Calvinism in the comments — often immediately following my request to please stop.

    When Calvinists repeatedly ask me what I think, at some point, I figure they want to know what I think. And I think it's wrong and the wrong direction for the church.

    I think it's closer to right than many Arminians and Semipelagians believe. And I've explained my views in detail in the "Searching for the Third Way" series — which the Calvinists have so far declined to engage with.

    And I'm about due to re-think some of that in light of narrative hermeneutics and the New Perspective. I was hoping for some thoughtful conversation.

    Now, in my view, Calvinism is a largely moot issue as to the Churches of Christ. Therefore, while I've studied it (yes, really), I've not posted much on it.

    And while I'm no fan of Calvinism, I thought neo-Calvinism offered some insights that would be helpful to my readership. I thought that would be seen as a deserved compliment to the Calvinist tradition. And yet, despite my plea to talk about the "neo-" not the "Calvinism," the comment boxes filled up with advocacy for 5-point Calvinism.

    If the readers want a consideration of the merits of Calvinism as taught by John Piper, I've already written the first three posts. But what I'm going to say is: this is wrong and here's why. I think his doctrine is obviously self-contradictory (but I'd be happy for someone to demonstrate why I'm wrong). But if the readers would rather discuss neo-Calvinism, so would I.

  13. Glenn Dowling says:

    Jay, Thanks for your response. Don't want to be too hard on you brother – but please tell me, "What's the root… of the moot?" To me, it's original sin – which ultimaletly means that, "God is sovereign …and God saves." Further, The cross and God's faithfulness is the basis for our eternal security. We serve (work) not for points or credits but because of our love for him… in reponse to his love for us. God gets the glory (e. g. "I will share my glory with no man'') It's what the Bible teaches – so what the beef with Calvinist?

  14. Randall says:

    If you really don't want to talk about Calvinism you don't have to do it. No one can force you to do so. There have been Calvinists around since Moses (he believed in the sovereignty of God too) and some of them are found in the CofC. Do you hope to purge the CofC of al of us? You banned any discussion of a Calvinistic understanding of grace from GraceConversation and it was generally complied with that once you announced the ban even though a few CofCers believe it is biblical.

    You say you understand Calvinism yet frequently misrepresent it. You place Arminians closer to semi-Pelagians than Calvinists. I dont think that is accurate unless we have very different understanding of Arminianism. Both Calvinists and Arminians accept the notion of total depravity and semi-Pelagians do not. The principle difference between Calvinists and Arminians is simply that the latter believe God's grace is resistible and Calvinists do not. Calvinism is largely a moot issue to the CofC b/c the CofC is largely Pelagian and semi-Pelagian and NOT Arminian. If you would acknowledge just that one thing I would happily and quietly go away. In fact, if you would simply prefer that I quietly go away I will accommodate your request, even if you do not acknowledge the CofC is largely Pelagian and semi-Pelagian. I recognize this is your blog and I do not wish to hijack it. I thought you invited discussion of your posts, which brings me to my next point.

    In your comment you wrote the following: "And while I’m no fan of Calvinism, I thought neo-Calvinism offered some insights that would be helpful to my readership. I thought that would be seen as a deserved compliment to the Calvinist tradition. And yet, despite my plea to talk about the “neo-” not the “Calvinism,” the comment boxes filled up with advocacy for 5-point Calvinism."

    Jay. I would point out that in your posts about neo-Calvinism you sprinkled caricatures and negative comments about Calvinism along the way – it was not simply about neo-Calvinism. They are not your central point, but you did make it a point to include them. Those jibes contributed next to nothing to your posts. It seems to me you simply took the opportunity to add them in. When you say Calvinists are illogical or they believe God is frustrated or believe that God behaves arbitrarily you misrepresent Calvinism. You may believe these things about Calvinism and it is your right to believe whatever you want, but your jibes are neither accurate nor fair. Thus your claim that you have tried NOT to talk about Calvinism rings a little hollow. And now you say that you challenge your readers to read a book about Calvinism/election (including the perspective or a universalist) and also tell us that you are "workng on a series of posts dealing with TULIP Calvinism. The plan is to interact with John Piper’s writings…" I believe you also said "If the readers want a consideration of the merits of Calvinism as taught by John Piper, I’ve already written the first three posts. But what I’m going to say is: this is wrong and here’s why. I think his doctrine is obviously self-contradictory…" — I think I am receiving a mixed message here – how can one believe that you really don't want to talk about this issue. If that is the truth, then you could simply stop talking about, or at least consider stopping provoking Calvinists by misrepresenting them. This is you blog and of course you can write anything you want, but some of your claims may lack credibility. It is my impression that you may/may be intent on finding a point of view connected to Calvinism so you can shoot it down and win the issue once and for all.

    Please tell me that I am wrong. Please tell me that really you want to understand Calvinism better then you do now, or that you simply are not interesting in discussing it, really not interested. Please tell me that you understand intelligent well studied people sometimes (frequently?) disagree, that some place a little more weight here than there or more emphasis on this scripture than another; but that you recognize we're all in this together and we all love God and want to serve him.


  15. Jay Guin says:


    I've come to realize that I'm predestined to do a series on election. It'll probably make everyone mad. Or bored.

    I mean, my experience is that those not enamored of Calvinism find a discussion of Pelagianism and Supralapsarianism tedious beyond words. And I understand. In fact, I agree. I'll try to go another direction.

  16. Jay Guin says:


    Series on election is percolating.

    Are the Churches of Christ Semipelagian?

    Tell me, first, are you infralapsarian or supralapsarian?

  17. Randall says:

    Hello Jay,
    Yes, I think that the CofC is mostly semi-Pelagian, but there are still some Pelagians in our midst. Don't you agree? I thought it was plain that I believed that, but I will accept your question at face value. I recall from high school Sunday School class many, many years ago an elder teaching us that when Adam fell only Adam fell – not the human race. I think he added that Adam did set a bad example for us, but it was so long ago I can't be sure I remember all those details correctly. I didn't even know what Pelagianism was at the time. Of course I did know Acts 2:38 and that IM was just plain wrong. As we were preparing for Operation Doorbell the same elder taught us polite ways to tell Baptists they were going to hell.

    As to Infra vs. supra I don't take a position (though I have contemplated the question and received a headache for my effort – and I suspect that even many Calvinists don't know the difference between the two perspectives. I never heard of them until a Church History class I had at ACU – under one of the finest professors that ever taught there – a Harvard guy. (I do recall him having to be out for surgery during a different class – and the substitute professor made it a point to make little jibes about Harvard educated people.)

    Back to supra vs. infra – I find the contemplation of God to leave me in awe of him. There is a real blessing to be found there. Human intellect is so puny that we will hit the wall before long as we try to grasp the depth of his mind. My own preference would be to hit the wall later rather than sooner, but I understand that some are big proponents of the Keep it Simple, Stupid (KISS) school of thought, though I am not one of them. I know some may feel that even wondering about the logical sequence of how things might have gone in the mind of God regarding his plan is useless speculation. In the CofC there have been more than a few that have quite literally said that that theology is a bad word and I find that disappointing, especially among those that would condemn others for disagreeing with them on relatively insignificant doctrinal issues.

    As I am sure you are aware, the Canons of the Synod of Dort is a lengthy read and not ever an easy one. Many, including myself, would be critical of the doctrinal minutiae addressed in the document. I suppose that might be the point of your asking me about infralapsarianism vs. suprlapsarianism to begin with. I am sure that you didn't bring it up with the intent to ridicule anyone whose thinking is associated with Calvinism. After all the utterly trivial things the CofC has spit over how would we ever ridicule anyone else for thinking about things we consider inane. No doubt we are much too gracious to do something like that. 😉

    — For the sake of your readers that may not be familiar with the 50 cent words they refer to whether in the mind of God (before there was such a thing as time) it is more logical to think that 1. God decreed that there would be Fall and then decreed that he would same some men from the Fall or 2. that God decreed that he would save some men and then decreed there would be a Fall. It is a which came first, the chicken or the egg, type question. —

    I hope it is OK that I never really fell off the fence on one side or the other regarding that issue. And as I have stated previously, Calvinism is the worst understanding of the sovereignty of God there is, except for all the other understandings of the sovereignty of God I am familiar with.


  18. Terry says:

    In the words of Pinky from the cartoon series "Pinky and the Brain": "Did you know that everytime you open your mouth, big sparkly words come out?"

  19. Glenn Dowling says:

    Randall, Why do you say Calvinism is the "worst" understanding of God's sovereignty?

  20. Royce says:


    Read his statement again and you will not be asking this question.


  21. Glenn Dowling says:

    Royce, Got it! Thanks.

  22. Jay Guin says:

    For readers who care (and no pressure from me) the infralapsarian vs. supralapsarian debate is well summarized at

    The discussion deals with a serious problem in Calvinist theology. If man's salvation is all God and has nothing to do with man's merit or choosing, how did Adam and Eve sin as to fall? Did God allow it? Or decree it?

    If you say God allowed the Fall, then God isn't really in control (how can he be sovereign and allow such a major event to chance?). If you say God decreed the Fall, then he made Adam and Eve sin (which some would say would make God the author of sin). And so the debate goes. (Hint: both sides are wrong.)

    The whole conversation is as foreign to CoC thought as the Laws of Generic and Specific Authority are to most denominations. We believe in free will.

    Pelagians believe that man can choose to be sinless and that Adam's sin was merely a bad example. I've never heard it taught in the Church of Christ. We are not Pelagian — but who knows what someone might say in a Sunday school class.

    Semi-Pelagians (a term usually used negatively by Calvinists of non-Calvinists, rather as some Baptists use "Campbellite") refers to those who deny the necessity for prevenient grace — that is, who teach that people can come to saving grace by the preaching of the word without any direct operation of the Spirit. However, definitions vary considerably.

    If this is the meaning one wishes to ascribe to the term, then by that definition, most in the CoC are Semi-Pelagian. Indeed, Campbell was adamantly so. But as I said, definitions vary, as does the atonement theology of CoC'ers.

    (I sorted through all this just to be sure I wasn't predestined to be a Calvinist. I'm pretty sure I'm not. There must be a better way to talk about God. Hint: there is.)

  23. Glenn Dowling says:

    Jay, You say, "We believe in free will." Well, brother, I believe in free choice – not free will. Consider this – if I say to you – " Jay, If I win the lottery (say $ 250 million), I can live anywhere I want to! Really? Can I live on Mars? No! Why not? I have a free choice… but not a free will – that is, I cannot will it…( i. e. make it happen) I can only chose it.

    Man's will has been tainted by Adam's sin – "by one man sin came into the world.." If you think man is born neurtral or good – then tell me brother – when did you teach you child to… throw a temper tantrum or lie? Right, you did not have to…it's inate. They are "vipers in diapers." 🙂 It does not take a theologian to see it.

  24. Larry Short says:

    Why are Calvin apologists so extreme? Free will is an old term never suggesting that free = omnipotence.
    Let me explain glory to God by common pets. Own a dog, and it will be very faithful. You can beat it, and it still will hang around. M istreat a cat, and at first opportunity it will go for greener pastures.
    Which has more glory? Which displays the sovernity of its owner? Robotic, predestined world will act just like designed. Where's the honor? Raise a child and see them grow to make their own choices well and you will talk like God to Satan about Job.
    God is so much more glorified by Man in free choice choosing Him. Calvin got the awesome God idea, but forgot the strong Bible fatherhood image, and especially the NT love.

  25. Kyle says:


    Isn't your first paragraph about the difference between free will and free choice really just an issue of semantics? Assuming of course that "will" and "choice" can have the same meaning.

    The counter to your arguement would be when a young child does something good, like sharing, without needing to be taught to. Or children who somehow grow up moral when their parents are not moral people.

    For me I struggle with the issue of what does it mean for our will to be "tainted." Using Calvin's terms are we totally depraved and uncapable of good outside of God's direct influence? Is that what Paul means by sin coming into the world? Or is there a better alternative? I'm not really sure.

  26. Randall says:

    Sorry this is long – there is no obligation to read any of it. Please excuse any typos, incomplete thoughts and the otehr things that go with the ramblings of an older person.

    Hi Jay,
    I hope you don't mind if I make a few comments regarding your comment. First, thanks for acknowledging that most in the CofC are semi-Pelagian. Regarding Alex. Campbell, John Mark Hicks has made a comment or two on his blog and I think he has indicated he may do a series on Campbell's soteriolgy (doctrine of salvation) someday. I have great respect for JMH and especially appreciate the way he works to understand what his bloggers say or meant to say in their comments. I do not/do not pretend to speak for JMH. I do think he has has indicated on his blog that with regard to salvation Campbell may have been a Pelagian rather than semi- Pelagian. And I think that even today we see more than a smidgen of Campbell's view in the CofC. I hope JMH will address this sooner rather than later, but I have found all of his series are edifying and trust he will do what he thinks is best.

    I also think you are correct that the term semi-Pelagian has been used, at times, in a pejorative sense – but not always and not (recently) by me. Following the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius, Pelagius was condemned as a heretic and exiled to the British Isles. Thereafter, there were many that called themselves Augustinian that were not really all that Augustinian e.g. Luther was an Augustinian monk. In fact they were somewhere between Augustinian and Pelagian and this all predated Arminius – and these folks were not Arminian either. So what does one call them or their perspective? Semi-Pelagian is/was an accurate term and that is the sense in which I hope I use the term. It is my understanding that semi-Pelagians do believe that man fell in Adam, but do not accept the concept of total depravity so they are not classic Arminians – i.e. they believe mankind fell, but not that far, so the difference may be how far man fell. I think a semi-Pelagian thinks man takes the first step unaided by God and then God helps him whereas an Arminian thinks that man fell so far that he is unable/unwilling to take the first step but God enables him (through prevailing/prevenient grace) to take it. So I think we agree that the great majority in the CofC are semi-Pelagian rather than Arminian. It would be interesting to know if I am the only one of your readers that has ever met a Pelagian in the CofC or if there are others. Most of the time we never know.

    I also agree 100% with your comment that "The whole conversation is as foreign to CoC thought as the Laws of Generic and Specific Authority are to most denominations. We believe in free will." I never heard any of this discussed in the CofC and I suspect most are not even very familiar with the terminology. We were quite successful in emphasizing baptism in order to obtain the remission of sins. Also, I learned a great deal about CENI, and its application to "important" issues like IM, cups, kitchens, orphans homes, Sunday Schools ad nauseum. Thus our reputation for "majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors." I really never heard any discussion of the sovereignty of God at all, not even a little bit. We did acknowledge that God is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient but we never followed that discussion further than the end of our nose. I knew Jesus was the son of God, but it was weird when I got to college and learned that some people in other denominations believe Jesus IS God. I was never really taught this growing up and I think I grew up in a normal, mainstream CofC with about 400 members in large metropolitan area. Eventually I came to agree with the criticism that our study could be a mile wide at times, but rarely more than an inch deep. In fact, usually it was not even a mile wide – it was just the five step plan over and over with nearly all the emphasis on what man does to get and stay saved rather than God saving me and completing in me the good work that he started. Perhaps you may think I have overreacted to that by moving too far in the other direction in my acceptance of the sovereignty of God and his grace in saving and preserving me.

    You also wrote the following: "If man’s salvation is all God and has nothing to do with man’s merit or choosing, how did Adam and Eve sin as to fall?" To be brief, I would simply emphasise that Calvinist do believe that salvation is ALL of God and that man does not merit salvation by his choosing God. Calvinists believe man chose God b/c God first chose the woman/man and that is important to us. My wife chose to marry me, but I did everything I could to make her willing. She has never been a robot but someone I was successful in wooing her and when I called she answered "yes." I believe that is what God does for women and men. He works in our lives to bring us to him. He loves us and reveals himself to us so that we see his loveliness and when he calls us we answer. And b/c he is infinite in all of his attributes he will not fail in making us to love him. He did not love us all equally, but he was so good to all of us that those that do not respond to the objective call are w/o excuse just as Paul says in Romans. From eternity past the lamb was slain. It has always been part of God's plan that some would be saved, but not all. Calvinists think the difference ultimately lies in God and others think the difference ultimately lies in man. Calvinist do NOT believe that fewer people are saved than semi-Pelagians and Calvinist do NOT think that the only reason people do not come to God is b/c God did not call them. We believe the lost are lost b/c they reject God and that the saved are saved b/c God gave us something that he did not give to the lost. Semi-Pelagians bristle at that as though God is obligated to give each person the same thing, but scripture does not support it. God always made choices – Abraham, Issac and Israel – apparently not Pharaoh, or Judas or the Amelekites. And as sovereign he knows what he is doing and I trust him to do it in the best of all possible ways.

    I also understand your point when you wrote the following: — "If you say God allowed the Fall, then God isn’t really in control (how can he be sovereign and allow such a major event to chance?). If you say God decreed the Fall, then he made Adam and Eve sin (which some would say would make God the author of sin)." — Of course I don't think God "made Adam and Eve sin" but I understand why you would write it that way. The really tough part about Calvinism is that logically God is the ultimate cause of ALL things and that would include the fall of Satan and subsequently Adam. Of course, Calvinists do NOT believe God is the author of sin and this is the charge that non Calvinists throw at them all the time. Satan fell b/c he chose to rebel, but God must have known that about Satan before he created him and chose to create him as he is/was anyway. The same is true of Adam.

    To explain how God could be the ultimate cause of all things, including sin, w/o being in any way tainted by sin defies explanation just as the concept of the Trinity defies explanation, or how Jesus could be fully human and fully God at the same time. How does one sleep well worshipping a God that would tell the Jews to utterly annihilate an entire group or people (man, woman, child and beast)? And yet we all believe God told Saul/the Jews to do this and not just to the Amelekites, but other as well. Is this the same God as the one we see revealed in Jesus. Marcion did not think so and thus he may speak of the OT God and the NT God possibly as you spoke of two different Gods in your most recent post. We simply accept this by faith. I am sure you are familiar with Habakkuk beseeching God as to how long he will wait before he judges Israel for their sin. God replies that he will judge Israel and he will do it by having the Chaldeans/Babylonians defeat them. Habakkuk asks how can this be since the Chaldeans are far more unrighteous than the Jews and you know God's answer: "The righteous will live by faith."

    So do I accept that God can/must be the ultimate cause of all things for nothing could have happened independent of his knowledge and plan? (Yet somehow without there being any damage done to his absolute holiness.) Or do I say that somehow the fall occurred independent of God's plan as though it happened behind his back and then he had to react to it and come up with plan B? Neither option is all that attractive and so I say again, Calvinism is the worst understanding of God's sovereignty there ever was, EXCEPT for all the other understandings I have heard. We all place more emphasis one place than the other and we all like one passage of scripture better than another. it does not mean one of is is stupid and the other bright, or that one of us is in someway better than another. It simply points out how puny our intellect is as we finite beings struggle to understand an infinite being. Do Calvinists engage in so much speculation about the mind and decrees of God that it amazes, even shocks others? Yes, of course we do. Do other sometimes dismiss things and limit their thinking to the concrete so to the point of driving me mad? You had better believe it. I am a little disturbed that so many do not seem to struggle with knowing God better and loving him more. He said that if we seek him will all our heart he will let us find him. He did not tell us to think of him in a shallow and inconsequential manner.

    There is so much that we can agree on w/o thinking ill of others. I think all of us, when we examine ourselves closely, are amazed that God could love us, that he would send his son to be tortured and die for us; that he is even interested in us at all. I do think it is possible for us to discuss differences w/o being so harsh on those with whom we disagree. It is imperative that we attempt to understand the other and refuse to misrepresent them. Thanks for making the effort.

  27. Glenn Dowling says:

    Larry, We praise God because of his great love and faithfulness toward us – his own. Consider, how can one have a "free will" when they are d-e-a-d?

    "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[ and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:1-8.

    You like dog stories? The next time you see a dead dog on the side of the road get out and call to him and see what does…that's us, brother – "free" to chose but quite unable.

    Is this not why God deserves or worship and serve?

    Ephesians 2:1-6

  28. Larry Short says:

    To Glenn & Randall please explain some verses. First Gn 2:7 TNIV "Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. "
    To me man was created of the stuff of earth (like the animals) but with a divine addition. The living being could just mean exist forever but could be more like a divine spark, maybe free will!
    Acts 17: 24 "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'

    I beleive Paul & his audience understood "live and move and have our being" as God created us as we know outselves. Even more special "we are his offspring" is a relationship. I don't beleive these words are a tease, instead just like our offspring, God's were given ability to make choices, even like our children to reject us. There is no loss of omnipotence here: we have what God gave us. Second, I don't beleive Paul or his audience thought they were totally, completely dead. While they "live and move and have our being" or in our & Genesis phrase "breathe" we have choice to accept & reject our parent. God the Father is perhaps the strongest Biblical image.
    Job 1: 8 Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil."
    9 "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. 10 "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face."
    12 The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger." Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
    Do you realize how silly this is in predestined world? Wouldn't Satan say "ofcourse Job likes you, you have chosen him for salvation" The only way these verses make any sense to me is God and Satan beleived in Job's free choice. They wished to see what he would do.
    One other thing from Job. The entire drama is an excellent example of fthe unity of faith and works. God blessed Job (work of God) because He was pleased by his faith, and Job offered extra sacrifices (Job work) because he beleived in Him. After the test, God extra blesses Job because he is pleased that he continued in faith.
    OK please explain for Calvin.

  29. Royce says:

    So…..what is your explanation of the scores of passages in both the OT and NT that precisely say that God chooses, God predestines?

    Let's see. We can ignore them. We can try to explain them away. Or we can try to understand how they fit into the whole story of God's redemptive purposes.

    I am not a Calvinist but I can't pretend what is there in black and white isn't there. I certainly don't claim to fully understand these grand themes of theology that tens of thousands of men much smarter than I have struggled with and disagreed about.

    I have noticed though that in the life of the Apostle Paul, each of the other apostles, and in my own personal story, it was God who took the initiative. It was God who did the seeking, the convicting and convincing, the drawing, granted repentance, opened hearts, gave faith, and made promises that are sure.

    Jesus Christ our Lord is himself the strength of the New Covenant which he purchased with his own blood. It is finished! Weak littlle guys like me and you can only trust what God has already accomplished. His complete salvation needs no help from mere mortals. Jesus saves, thank God Jesus saves!


  30. Larry Short says:

    Royce let me give you a partial answer. God surpasses time, space, the material universe, etc. However that doesn't mean He cannot designate a small portion of that. Our choices could be ours because God allowed them to be.
    Another thing that interfers here is foreknowledge is not fore control. I think that is the root of much of this. Let me give an example.
    One day you go on a mountain hike. After hours of climbing you reach the top, and go a bit down the other side. You stop to rest, drink, eat at a level, shady spot with a nice view. You can see a valley below and another mountain on the other side. The other mountain has a bulge closest to you, curving away on both sides. As you sit, you notice that a train track is carved into the other mountain's side.
    As you watch, as a train approaches from one side, then surprise another from the other. Taking out your binocs, you realize they are headed for a head on collison probably near the bulge. My foreknowledge is in no way any control of the trains actions.
    God can see the outcome of our lives. That doesn't mean He made the decisions to get us there. He still seems to respect our choices. God seems pleased with Solomon's choice of wisdom, but being omnipotent probably knew the choice. God probably knew that foreign wives would lead Solomon astray too. Even so, He gave wisdomand wealth. That's powerful! Just because of God's foreknowledge He didn't cancel the choice offered Solomon, even though He knew the only partially good outcome. (I use probably knew not limiting God's power but respecting 1-I have no divine inspiration 2-no written inspiration 3-and respect God's ability to limit Himself.)
    I take most of predestination passages as God has planned, especially for His own. I take the John "prepare a place for you" in this light. Its very possible those words were said to Judas. To take this to the longest time extreme: God knew all mankind would sin, and designed for His Son to come from the beginning, Personally, if I foreknew the future, I would have skipped redeemption, and killed off the human race in the Garden. Praise God for His longsuffering!
    Lastly, back to Job. My guess is Satan does not have foreknowledge, else the whole drama would make less sense. Obviously the friends of Job, and often Job have no clue why he is tested. Actually we have no clue why God allowed it. God's only explaination is that He sees more and knows more that us. Jesus says that the man born blind, was that way to show God's glory. Pharoh's heart was hardened (not changed) to more powerfully demonstrate leaving by God's power.
    Anyway the major point is, God's foreknowledge and perfect planning (because of that knowledge) does not mean He had to make all the choices. God is so mighty that He can plan for our sucess and redemption for our failure with a mechanism faith that we can do even in sin. Calvin's god is less powerful controlling everything like a kid playing with dolls rather than the independence of Father and child.

  31. Royce says:

    Yep, that is a partial answer.


  32. Glenn Dowling says:

    To:Larry Short, Brother, I have a few minutes so I will addess only one of your observations. The Genesis 2:7 passage – brother, you are "right on!" Adam WAS born with a free will…unecumbered…truly innocent. However, he made a choice to disobey God who had made it clear…"for on the day you eat of it you shall surely die"…and die he did – he ushered physical and spiritual death – othewise why would Jesus Christ need to come and "save us from our sins…?"

    Will continue later…

  33. Larry Short says:

    Reminder: "all have sinned" therefore we don't need original sin to cause God's redemption. Everyone kills Christ. On that same line, we need to get to an age ("accountability"} to need salvation, and accept God, therefore believer's baptism (gospels & Acts).
    Simply put, I think individual free will (choice is probably a better term, but go with history) very well explains the world. Calvin is very weak on the 4 gospels and Acts.
    Last note: God is very active in our world. Revelation is not full of events at the Throne, with an occasional world update. Iinstead Heaven is receiving prayers, lives, and sending beings into this world. No athiest in the foxhole, no Diest in heaven. Despite all the activity, He is never throwing darts at a board of souls to select for redemption, instead He is rejoicing at those "who overcome" and preparing for judgement.
    Free choice is a gift, and used well for faithfulness empowers a sinner to be a saint, by a payment none of us could ever pay. That to me is the gospel.

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