“Although the accent of the judgment passages is on sinners’ abuse of freedom, a few passages teach that God is sovereign over the destiny of the lost. OVERWHELMINGLY, THE GOSPEL OF JOHN POINTS TO PEOPLE’S EVIL AND UNBELIEF AS THE REASONS FOR THEIR CONDEMNATION (e.g., John 3:18-20; 5:28-29). BUT A FEW TIMES IT REVEALS THAT GOD IS IN CHARGE OF THE FATE OF THE LOST. In his Good Shepherd Discourse, Jesus utters startling words:
‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, BUT YOU DO NOT BELIEVE BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT MY SHEEP. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish’ (John 10:25-28 NIV)” (Robert A. Peterson, “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007, page 139).
I realize that the post title may throw some of my readers off-guard. That’s right: “Even a goat can be saved.” As I get into Peterson’s material, you’ll see why the post title is given the label it has received. For now, I want to dive right in to the madness of Calvinist theology.
First, before attacking Peterson’s proof-text, let’s read his analysis of John’s Gospel:
“OVERWHELMINGLY, THE GOSPEL OF JOHN POINTS TO PEOPLE’S EVIL AND UNBELIEF AS THE REASONS FOR THEIR CONDEMNATION (e.g., John 3:18-20; 5:28-29). BUT A FEW TIMES IT REVEALS THAT GOD IS IN CHARGE OF THE FATE OF THE LOST.”
Peterson notes here that “people’s evil and unbelief” are the reasons for eternal damnation in John’s Gospel. What is fascinating is that Peterson would even make such a statement!
But what is then most disappointing is when he says the exact opposite thing in the next sentence: “but a few times it reveals that GOD IS IN CHARGE OF THE FATE OF THE LOST.”
Let’s think through this: either God is RESPONSIBLE for the lost, or He is not. Using a valid hermeneutic, we understand that there are NO CONTRADICTIONS in the Bible. In other words, two opposing things cannot exist. For example, election to salvation cannot be both conditional and unconditional at the same time. Either God gives salvation by faith, or He picks and chooses who He wants to be saved. Both of these things cannot co-exist in the same way at the same time (like the adjectives “short and tall”). So when Peterson says that the unbelief of THE PERSON is responsible for their damnation, but then turns around and says that GOD is responsible, we now have a contradiction. Both God and the person cannot be responsible for the damnation of human souls. If God has damned any human souls at all, then their unbelief doesn’t matter. If, however, unbelief is what leads to damnation, then God can honor their choice (since He provides a genuine choice to all) by sentencing them to eternal damnation. But the person and God cannot be responsible for the soul’s damnation. So which one will be responsible: God or the person?
Having said all this, we understand that if John’s Gospel “overwhelmingly” points to unbelief as the cause of damnation (Peterson says this in his quote), then the passages that “seem” to contradict this statement must conform to the “overwhelming” message of John’s Gospel. In other words, the passage that we are getting ready to examine must conform to the consistent message of John’s Gospel and the biblical canon itself...otherwise, we content ourselves with a blatant contradiction.
Henry Virkler writes regarding John Calvin:
“ ‘SCRIPTURE INTERPRETS SCRIPTURE’ was a favorite phrase of Calvin, which alluded to the importance Calvin placed on studying the context, grammar, words, and parallel passages rather than importing one’s own meaning onto the text. In a famous sentence he stated that ‘it is the first business of an interpreter to let the author say what he does say, instead of attributing to him what we think he ought to say’” (Henry A. Virkler, “Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation.” Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000, page 67).
I think Calvin was right in his view of “Scripture interprets Scripture.” And I think we would do well to employ Calvin’s belief. But go back to what I quoted about Peterson earlier: if John’s Gospel “overwhelmingly” (I’m gonna keep using this word that Peterson wrote) attests to unbelief as the cause of damnation, then how could he turn around and give the other side (the Lord being responsible) an equal opportunity? If Peterson were using a proper hermeneutic, he would clearly have employed such a hermeneutical rule before he examined the “seemingly contradictory” passages. The fact that he doesn’t testifies to his willingness to turn the Bible into a Calvinist propaganda tract instead of maintaining the Bible’s coherency and faithfulness as the Word of God.
Now, on to the passage itself:
‘I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, BUT YOU DO NOT BELIEVE BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT MY SHEEP. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish’ (John 10:25-28 NIV).
Here’s what Peterson writes regarding the passage:
“Jesus says the opposite of what we might expect. He does not say, ‘You are not my sheep because you do not believe.’ Rather, he says, ‘You do not believe because you are not my sheep.’ One of John’s election themes is THE PRIOR IDENTITY OF THOSE WHO ARE GOD’S PEOPLE AND OF THOSE WHO ARE NOT. God’s people, HAVING BEEN CHOSEN BY GOD, FAVORABLY RESPOND to Jesus’ messages and miracles. Others, who are not God’s people, reject the Son of God. We will call the two groups SHEEP AND GOATS, respectively” (Peterson, 140).
Regarding the words, ‘You do not believe because you are not my sheep’ (John 10:26), Peterson writes:
“These are strong words indeed. People are goats BEFORE they respond to Jesus, and they reject him BECAUSE THEY ARE GOATS. THIS IS REPROBATION----GOD’S PASSING OVER THOSE WHOM HE ALLOWS TO PAY THE PENALTY FOR THEIR OWN SINS” (140).
Peterson’s comments regarding John 10, as bad as they are, are not as horrible as the implications at which he arrives: that God “allows [some]...to pay the penalty for their own sins” is as bad as it gets!
Using Calvin’s rule that “Scripture interprets Scripture,” let’s see if Peterson’s implications hold up. What passage in the Bible demonstrates that God passes over some and leaves them in their sins? Where does it show me that Hell was prepared for people? In Matthew 25:41, Jesus tells the goats, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire PREPARED FOR THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS” (NKJV). Jesus never says that Hell was prepared for one person; so I continue to ask Calvinists, SHOW ME A PASSAGE WHERE THIS OCCURS! Where’s the passage to support your opinion?
If God deliberately leaves some in their sins, then there should be a passage demonstrating this. Calvinists, however, have NEVER found such a passage...and this casts huge doubt on their exegesis. Even though I’ve yet to examine John 10, we are already suspicious of Peterson’s claims. I’ll show us the reason to be when I examine John 10 in my next post.