Monday, August 21, 2006

Responsible for damnation but not for being saved? ...or, "thoughts on the post 'why some are lost'"

Through a recommendation from a blog whose author I respect (while disagreeing with him on certain aspects of ecclesiology), I ran across this post, which attempts to sidestep the implications of the "third point" of Calvinism - Limited Atonement. Laying aside for the sake of succinct analysis the point that the "Five Points of Calvinism" hardly do justice to that particular system, were formulated in response to the five-point summary of the Remonstrants, and are only a handy (if woefully inadequate) summary of "Reformed" soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), the doctrine of Limited Atonement essentially states that Jesus didn't die for everyone - only for those lucky enough to be the elect (usually other Calvinists at least implicitly, possibly others given an endearingly Reformed version of the doctrine of Invincible Ignorance). This doctrine has been the one that's caused the most headaches for those who think of themselves as being Calvinists, and has lead to several claiming to be "Four-Point Calvinists," which as this handy little book points out, doesn't work; Calvinism is a tightly integrated (if not completely Scriptural) theological system that stands or falls as an organic whole.

The main sticking point in the doctrine of Limited Atonement is the direct implication of "double predestination." That is, if Jesus died only for the elect, then it necessarily follows that He did not die for the "non-elect." And thus, if you are unfortunate enough to be non-elect, there's no more hope for you than for the devil himself. You're lost, and there's nothing you can do about it - and what's worse, you are utterly incapable of caring. So sorry; hope you like
very - ahem - warm climes.

This blog post tries to sidestep the issue with the following logic:

"Election alone accounts for the saved, but non-election does not account for the lost... No one would be saved were it not that God in a sovereign manner has chosen him, as we have seen abundantly from verses 6 to 29. It is God’s action alone that saves someone. So why is anybody lost? Is it because they are not elected? No! What accounts for the lost is their rejection of the gospel...We are not responsible for our acceptance of the gospel, but we are responsible for our rejection of it."
{Note: Yes, I'm aware that the blogger is only quoting from another commentator.}

Here's the point of cognitive dissonance in this: If you are saved because God elected you (which, incidentally, the Bible does teach), and only that election can possibly save you, then if you are not elected, you are not saved (which, again, the Bible actually does teach). But since in Calvinism you have utterly, absolutely, and without hope or remedy any say in the matter (i.e., you cannot choose to surrender your life to Jesus and appropriate His atonement for yourself - which the Bible also tells us to do, incidentally), that means that the very act of failing to elect someone necessarily and irredeemably "elects" them by that nonaction to damnation. In an attempt to get God "off the hook" for this (since such a thing is monstrous in the extreme), Lloyd-Jones makes the contra-rational leap to "we are not responsible for our acceptance of the gospel, but we are responsible for our rejection of it."


If I cannot accept the gospel unless I am elect, and I have no power over my election, then if God does not elect me, knowing that I have no power to accept the gospel, then it is by His very inaction that I am unable to accept that gospel, and so by direct and inescapable extension my damnation is His responsibility. Remember, this is the same God who states, "for him who knows to do good, and does not do it, for him it is sin." I fail to see how He would hold His creatures to a higher standard than He holds Himself to. After all, He is Jehovah - not the capricious Allah.

And herein lies the primary problem with either Calvinism or Arminianism - or any man-made theological system, for that matter. It fails to grasp that the Bible states many things without explaining them fully or "tying up the knots" in a nice, neat, systematic fashion - but simply
states for us things which we could never arrive at on our own, but had to be given to us by revelation. On the subject of salvation, the Bible does clearly teach election. That election is in conjunction with foreknowledge, but it is insufficient to say that it is predicated upon God's foreknowledge (otherwise it's not election, but "rubber-stamping-in-advance"). God elects without any input from ourselves. However, the Bible also teaches that man is responsible and able to choose for himself. I'm sorry, but it's nonsensical in the extreme to imagine that God commands man to do that which he is incapable of doing.

I don't know how the two sides of this particular coin mesh, and honestly I'm not too worried about it. I'm quite certain that it's way beyond me - or anyone else, for that matter. I'm sure that if it could be explained to man, then God would have put it in His Word in such a way that it's unambiguous - especially if it's such a vital, important, the-world's-going-to-end-aah-aah-aaaaaaah sort of doctrine the way our Calvinist friends make it out to be - much like any other truly primary, vital doctrine (like, oh, say, the Trinity, or salvation by grace, for instance). Apparently, both are true without contradiction. I don't understand it, but I don't sweat about that, and thus when I come across passages in Scripture dealing with God's election of me in eternity past, I rejoice in that and teach it; when, however, I run across those passages dealing with man's responsibility and those passages warning Christians, I don't try to interpret them in such a way that they no longer say what they say (like the classic Calvinistic explanation of "well, it says 'all,' but it really means 'all the elect.' The Holy Spirit must have just forgotten that
little clarifying word there, is all..."); I take them for what they are, and teach them, too.

In other words, just let the Word say what it says where it says it without trying to shoehorn it into a preconceived (and entirely human in origin) systematic theology. Don't know about you, but I'd rather my theology be proven wrong than impute any perceived shortcoming on the Word.

But that's just me.

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