Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Confession and Belief: Confirmatory or Essential?

It’s good once more to return to The Center for Theological Studies. I acknowledge that I haven’t posted in months and do apologize for this. A number of things have transpired this semester between work and school that have prevented this. All in all, it’s good to be back. I feel like this is a “Blog Reunion” of sorts J

I was submitting some work for one of my bosses today and got to thinking about Calvinism and Arminianism and the constant disagreement that goes on between these two soteriological camps. Of course, when you throw Molinism in the mix, it’s a battle of a time!

Today, though, I wanna focus on salvation itself and talk about confession and belief, components of the Gospel. I tackle this question here today because a lot of Calvinists who hold to irresistible grace do so because of “the sovereignty of God,” they often say. First off, they act sometimes as if Classical Arminians such as myself have no notion of the sovereignty of God...and they often cannot distinguish between Classical Arminians and Open Theists. Even the late Dr. Clark Pinnock, most renown five-point-Calvinist-turned-Open Theist, could distinguish the two camps.

So what happens in salvation, according to the Scriptures? More specifically, how does one become saved? What does the Bible specifically tell men and women to do in order to be saved? Calvinists believe that the Lord first regenerates a person, changes them from the inside out---and then, they confess and believe (as though confession and belief are merely confirmatory signs of a predetermined salvation that God has already done).

Let’s take a look at this, however: if the Calvinist ordo salutis (order of salvation) is correct, then why must the individual confess and believe? The Calvinist notion of salvation is the same thing as saying that a person must first go buy a chainsaw in the store to work on their yard and then, the store owner will let them in to buy the chain saw! Does this make sense? Not at all! How can someone buy a chain saw if he doesn’t first enter the store? If it is “necessary” to enter the store, how then, can entering the store be “merely confirmatory”? If something is confirmatory, it is significant but more optional than necessary. The words “necessary” and “optional” are opposites (not synonymous).

If we apply this to salvation, the question we must ask ourselves is, “If confession and belief are required for salvation,” are they necessary? Yes they are. I’m sure that many Christians would not disagree with that statement. The problem, however, comes when you tie in the necessity of confession and belief with the sovereignty of God. Calvinists, in their attempts to focus on the sovereignty of God, minimize the very salvation process that God’s sovereignty created. They give with one hand what they take away with the other.

Can we not find a solution that equally holds to both the sovereignty of God and the necessity of confession and belief---without sidelining either? Calvinists show through their minimization of confession and belief that they cannot find a solution that fits with their notions of irresistible grace and unconditional election. And this explains why they often have to appeal to mystery or say, “It’s all in the mind of God” as a defense mechanism to cope with the problems and contradictions of their own system. Molinists battle the same problem: their notion of unconditional election forces them to say that the individual in question would have been saved, had he never confessed and believed (because these are conditions and election is “unconditional”). 

“No, that’s not what Molinists would say!” some tell me. Molinists would say that confession and belief are necessary conditions for salvation; however, they would then turn around and say that God had already chosen the church (and those who make up the church) before the foundation of the world (appealing to Ephesians 1). How could God have chosen these individuals before they fulfilled the conditions? The Molinist answer would be that God foreknew who would choose Him (this is where they sound like a Classical Arminian)...but they would then veer left and say, “But God sovereignly chose the world in which these individuals ‘happened’ to choose Him”---and God foreknew all that would happen. This may suffice for the Christian who cares about his or her own election and takes no thought to the perishing and ungodly in the world; but this doesn’t suffice for me. I strongly believe in the sovereignty of God, such that God could have saved the entire world (and never granted freedom of choice to begin with). However---and this is where I draw the line---God did grant humans the freedom to choose to either be saved or be damned. God’s sovereignty is responsible for man’s freedom. I would say to any Calvinist that, if you think God’s sovereignty didn’t grant freedom, think again---it did!

Because God granted the freedom to choose whether one is saved or lost, the question becomes, “Why didn’t He choose that the entire world be saved?” What I mean by this is, if God is sovereign in the Calvinist sense (that He irresistibly saves whom He pleases), then God has an awful lot of explaining to do. Somewhere along the way, He only decided to save 18 people out of a pool of 50 people drowning (an example often used), while the other 32 perished. Why didn’t God save the others who were perishing? The answer? “Because God didn’t want to.” Now the question after this is: “If God didn’t want to save those other 32, who’s to say that God wants to save me?” I could be a member of the church and think I’m saved, but how do I know? What about if, in the end, I’m not one of the elect (due to some invisible election decree)? The sad reality is, if there is one person on earth that God does not want to save, who’s to say that God wants to save anybody?

Have any of us ever seen the invisible election decree? No. How then, can we believe God loves us, as opposed to the ungodly? This is where Calvinists would start to name things in their lives that have changed, their love for the things of God, how God is teaching them...experience then becomes the reason as to why they “know” God loves them. But this is a problem. Where does Ephesians 1 ever say anything about “God validating our election with experience” before the foundation of the world? Where does it say that the election decree will be confirmed by experience? Nowhere do the Scriptures teach this. If there is an invisible, unconditional election decree, then confession and belief are not needed for salvation---they are merely confirmatory signs of an eternal regeneration (that is, Christians were “born saved”).

I could go on, but I think Romans 10:9 can stand by itself. As I close, though, ask yourself: “What did Jesus spend the majority of His time teaching?” What pervaded Jesus’ gospel message while He was on earth? If you do the right kind of digging, you’ll find that He spent far more time on the conditions of confession and belief than He did the invisible election decree and irresistible grace. God bless. 


Bob Hadley said...

This is an excellent post and the basis for a question that I am asking on my site, www.bobhadley.com which says:

Is it possible for God in His sovereignty to create man with the responsibility of making choices that would not only determine the quality of his life but his eternal destiny as well?

Almost everyone I know, Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike, agree that sanctification is synergistic. Could God have made the conversion process synergistic as well? I am not asking for a theological dissertation on the ramifications or the Scriptural basis for such a possibility, but rather the plausibility of the possibility that God COULD have created man with the responsibility of choosing his own eternal destiny?

Would appreciate your thoughts and comments. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving! Your post here is outstanding and I am amazed that I found it; It is amazingly similar to some of the thougths that I had keeping me up tonight!

I welcome any thoughts of your readers as well!

Grateful to be in His Grip!


Deidre Richardson, B.A., M.Div. said...


So thankful for your work at your blog and for your comment here.

Yes, I think the question is a good one to ask: can God sovereignly create creatures with responsibility over their eternal destinies, without taking anything away from His own power? Yes, I think He can! And...I think He did.

The hardest problem I have with the Calvinist understanding of this issue is that Calvinists actually believe that God "regenerates" an individual (converts him or her), and then the person comes to Christ. Recently, I read a comment submitted here at the blog where a Calvinist told me that I did not understand the notion of irresistible grace. Then, he linked me to a John Piper article on irresistible grace...and I still found myself disagreeing with the position! The idea that God must "change a person" in order for them to get saved is rather ridiculous. If the Calvinist notion is true, man does not come to God because he is convicted; he comes because he is overwhelmed. Calvinists don't want to admit it, but they take the Holy Spirit's conviction out of the salvation process entirely. In their framework, the Holy Spirit does not convict, but regenerate. If an individual must be regenerate before getting saved, then why does the person need salvation? For them, the confession of faith is merely confirmatory (as I wrote here in the post).

As for me, confession and belief are more than that; to me, they are actions of an individual who has been convicted by God's Spirit, knows that he is a sinner, and knows that the only way he can be saved is by confessing and believing on the name of the Son of God.

Thanks again for writing. I had a great Thanksgiving and hope you did as well. Look forward to further dialogue and discussion with you soon.

Bob Hadley said...

You are correct as I see it where regeneration is concerned in the Calvinist camp. One of the questions that I am thinking through is "what is faith if regeneration precedes it?" When does the Holy spirit take residence in the heart of the unregenerate? Does He take residency at regeneration or after repentance and faith? I really do not see how faith can be post regeneration...

Here is my latest post... I am really liking this statement...

In speaking on the issue of God being the author of sin, Jonathan Edwards was credited as making the following statement: “God has established a world in which sin will indeed necessarily come to pass by God’s permission, but not by his “positive agency.” (Let me say this, I don’t care if Edwards really said this nor do I care what he or whoever said it may or may not have meant by the statement. I was simply giving credit to Edwards for saying it.) The point from my perspective and the reason for this post, is I really do like this statement.

I do not believe that God is the author of individual sin. Obviously God did create the world. He has allowed and certainly permitted sin. He was not and is not a “positive agent” of individual sin. So, it seems logical and Biblical to say, “God has established a world in which sin will indeed necessarily come to pass by God’s permission, but not by his “positive agency.”

In the same manner, I like the following statement, “God has willed that people be saved and has established a world whereby conversion WILL take place by His Divine will but not His “positive agency”?

Come visit!

Grateful to be in His Grip,