Monday, December 21, 2009

God's Fault?

“Fruitfulness, therefore, is evidence of salvation and preservation, and fruitfulness is evidence of the opposite. So, ‘every branch that does not bear fruit’ is cut off, discarded, ‘thrown into the fire, and burned’ (John 15:2, 6). Fruitlessness reveals no eternal life, because God’s salvation is real and shows up in fruit (Rom. 8:13; Gal. 6:7-8). This is the problem in passage after passage in Paul’s condemnation of the false teachers in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. In a word, ‘they profess to know God, but deny him by their works’ (Titus 1:16). If professed Christians do not persevere, this is a very bad sign. IT MAY POINT TO THE FACT THAT GOD HAS NOT SAVED AND PRESERVED THEM” (Robert A. Peterson, “Our Secure Salvation: Preservation and Apostasy.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2009, page 203).

The sentence in the above quote (capitalized) is probably the most shocking statement I’ve read in any book in regards to the Calvinist-Arminian debate (second to the idea that God reprobates men and women to hell from before the foundation of the world). I think what is most shocking about the quote is that it blames God for the fact that some believers do not persevere.

Most Calvinists that I know will argue that God picks people; but they will then turn around and blame the person for not persevering. In fact, I engaged in a conversation with a Calvinist friend of mine once. She told me that if a person does not persevere, that they were not sincere about their faith. What I told her is, that if the person was saved at some point, and God chose the person to be saved (which is the Calvinist presupposition), then it is “God’s fault” that the person did not persevere. According to the Calvinist perspective, God “let the rug out from under” the person, and so stole their perseverance. Augustine argues in a work called “The Gift of Perseverance” that EVEN SOME OF THE ELECT do not get perseverance! In Augustine’s view, there are the non-elect, the elect with perseverance, and the elect without perseverance. So even if you’re part of the “elect,” you can still not be sure that you will finally reach eternal life.

Calvin follows this same train of thought in his “Institutes of the Christian Religion”:

“Perseverance is the gift of God, which he does not lavish promiscuously on all, but imparts to whom he pleases. If it is asked how the difference arises---why some steadily persevere, and others prove deficient in steadfastness, we can give no other reason than that the Lord, by his mighty power, strengthens and sustains the former, so that they perish not, while he does not furnish the same assistance to the latter, but leaves them to be monuments of instability” (Book 2, Chap. 5, Paragraph 3).

In another place, Calvin distinguishes the “superior grace” of the elect from the “inferior grace” of the non-elect:

“Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only forever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an INFERIOR OPERATION OF THE SPIRIT from taking its course in the reprobate...the reprobate NEVER HAVE ANY OTHER THAN A CONFUSED SENSE OF GRACE, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only...the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. HE ONLY GIVES THEM A MANIFESTATION OF HIS PRESENT MERCY...THUS WE DISPOSE OF THE OBJECTION THAT IF GOD TRULY DISPLAYS HIS GRACE, IT MUST ENDURE FOREVER. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterward proves evanescent” (Book 3, Chap. 2, paragraph 11).

Last but not least, this is probably the most well-known of Calvin’s shocking statements:

“There is a special call which, FOR THE MOST PART, God bestows on believers only, when by the internal illumination of the Spirit he causes the word preached to take deep root in their hearts. SOMETIMES, HOWEVER, HE COMMUNICATES IT ALSO TO THOSE WHOM HE ENLIGHTENS ONLY FOR A TIME, and whom afterwards, IN JUST PUNISHMENT FOR THEIR INGRATITUDE, HE ABANDONS AND SMITES WITH GREATER BLINDNESS” (Book 3, Chap. 14, Paragraph 8).

So even some of the non-elect receive the special call. Then, “in just punishment for their ingratitude” (whatever this means), the Lord ABANDONS THEM!
I wanted to quote Calvin here after Peterson to let you, the readers, see that Peterson is being a cold, but consistent Calvinist. Calvin himself explained away the soil that believed for a while (Luke 8) by saying that God removed his grace from the person. Remember his words above about grace? “Thus we dispose of the objection that if God truly displays His grace, it must endure forever.”

As hard as it is for most people to believe, Peterson is being consistent in his theology. If someone doesn’t persevere to the end, whose fault is it? God’s. Most people will respond and say, “well, it was that person’s fault”; but in the Calvinist system, people are picked by God to be saved...and, should they fall, they fall because God “lets the trampoline go from under them.” God “pulls out the rug from under them” and kicks them to destruction. In the Calvinist system, the person’s responsibility is absent from the scene altogether!

And this is what is so dangerous about Peterson’s conclusions regarding perseverance and apostasy. If God preserves a person no matter what he or she does (because He has handpicked him or her for salvation), then how does their choice work? How does man’s responsibility and action work? If man will infallibly persevere because God picked him, then man’s choices and responsibility play no role in the Bible whatsoever---or in man’s relationship with God. Peterson, like many Calvinists, cannot claim that divine sovereignty and human responsibility work (Peterson’s book “Election and Free Will”) and then turn around and argue that God necessarily keeps us to the end (which negates man’s responsibility of perseverance). If God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are actual and real BEFORE coming to faith (God completes the work of salvation and man believes in Christ), then divine sovereignty and human responsibility also matter AFTER a person is in the faith (God supplies the strength man needs, while man continues to have faith and perseverance until the end). In both the PRE- and POST- salvation states, God gives us what we need (faith and the fruit of the Spirit post-conversion) to please Him; and we use what He gives us for His glory, to live lives according to His Word.

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