“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.”
- Luke 15:17-20
When I became a Presbyterian, I was introduced to Reformed Theology, the Calvinistic variety. This theology consists of the 5 points of Calvinism, commonly referred to as the acronym “TULIP” which stands for:
Perseverance of the Saints
These are listed as separate ideas but they really all build off the first one, “Total Depravity” or, as it is sometimes called, “Total Inability”. It is the idea that man is completely and utterly depraved and has no goodness in him apart from what God chooses to give. It is the idea that man, without the inspiration and even direct action of God, is completely given over to sin and that every thought, action, breath-breathed, word spoken, and deed done, apart from God, is 100% purely evil and self-serving.
It is this precept upon which the other four are built. I won’t go in depth here on each one, but just quickly lead you to through the thinking:
If a man is completely corrupt and incapable of choosing God on his own and he has no free will, then he is incapable of choosing to love God (henceforth called “Totally Depraved”), thus it logically follows that the ones who do love God, love God only because they were explicitly chosen, or hand-picked, by God himself (henceforth called “Unconditionally Elected”), and the ones who do not love God, were likewise, hand-picked, by God himself, to be damned to hell.
If man is “Totally Depraved” and “Unconditionally Elected” then it follows that Christ’s sacrifice was for the few whom are fortunate enough to be “Unconditionally Elected”. This requires us to say that the atonement for sins, made on Calvary, was “Limited” in that it was only for the Elect. This is what is called “Limited Atonement”.
If man is “Totally Depraved” and some are “Unconditionally Elected” and Christ’s atonement was for those few then it follows that Christ’s election is irresistible, meaning that the unconditionally elected man could not refuse to accept the atonement of Christ. To do so, would mean that they are not “Unconditionally Elected”. This is to say that man has no free-will. This is called “Irresistible Grace”.
Lastly, if man is “Totally Depraved”, yet “Unconditionally Elected”, and receives the “Limited Atonement” of Christ because of the “Irresistible Grace” then it is impossible for him to lose his salvation. For if he later rejects the teachings of Christ and his atonement, then he wasn’t truly elected and has chosen to remain in his “Totally Depraved” state. This is what is called the “Perseverance of the Saints”.
Why did I explain all of this? So that you would understand what you believe and understand why I no longer believe it to be true.
TULIP really stands on one idea that is not expressly enumerated but is implied in every single point and that idea is this: There is no free-will of men. And if there is no free-will for men then that logically says some very bad things about our God.
What do I mean? Let’s carry this idea out to its logical ends.
Logical End #1: If man, by his nature, has no free-will and some men are “elected” to salvation, then other men are necessarily “elected”, of no accord of their own, to Damnation.
I find this to be incredibly un-Merciful. It is Merciful for me, one of the elect, but to those who have never heard the gospel? Damned. To. Hell. All of those aborted babies? Damned to hell. Children euthanized at birth because they’re born the wrong sex? Damned to hell. People born in far away lands who have never heard the Gospel before death? You guessed it: damnation. Calvinist pastors would probably rarely, if ever, espouse this from the pulpit, but when pressed, they’ll site Roman’s 9:21 as scripture supportive of such a theology and in fact I was told this during P.C.A.(Presbyterian Church in America) leadership training.
“Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” - Romans 9:21
Logical End #2: If man has no free-will and thus I have no choice, then I am not a son, I am a slave.
A Christian Marriage is a covenantal arrangement of choice, whereby persons are exchanged. In a sacramental marriage you willingly give yourself, of your own free-will, to your spouse, and vice-versa. It is this example that the Bible tells us is how Christ loves the Church.
If I am forced into this arrangement, by having my free-will subverted, am I willingly entering a covenantal relationship? No. I am a would be a bride who is forced to marry, against her own wishes.
That makes me little more than a slave.
All Christians believe that we’re all adopted sons whereby we call God “Abba!, Father!” and thus we are co-heirs with Christ, but if I am forced to sit at the Lord’s table, then I am little more than a preferred servant and certainly not a Prodigal Son who has the choice to leave.
Logical End #3: If I have no free-will and I am a slave, then I am a slave to either God’s Good intentions or the Evil intentions of the World (our corporate Total Depravity). Thus, all Good and all Evil is sourced to God’s decision to Elect me or Damn me.
This pretty much stands on it’s own, but, to expound slightly: if I am “unelected” or “damned” and I am already capable of doing no good deeds apart from God, then God himself has chosen that I be one of the evil ones perpetuating all sorts of injustice through-out the world. This means that God is perpetuating both Good and Evil.
Logical End #4: If I have no free-will, then God planned and caused the Fall
We actually discussed this in the P.C.A. leadership class I was in. God planned and caused the Fall so that he could be the hero. Calvinists will point to Genesis 3:15 as evidence of this because God told the snake that he already had a plan to send a woman to crush him.
Logical End #5: If we have no free-will, then there is no point, for us mortals at least, to all of Salvation History.
If we have no free-will, then why did Christ come and die on the cross for us? It would have just been simpler for God to create a species of slaves, who were programmed to worship him than to build this big elaborate construct called humanity, make numerous covenants with it, only to watch us break them repeatedly, and then send his only son to die in the most excruciatingly painful way possible in order to save us. Right? It doesn’t make any sense.
I can say without a single doubt that I don’t agree with any of the Logical Ends above but that is where the doctrine of “Total Depravity” leads me. Now, I know that some Presbyterians will try and talk around this by saying “God still works through the unelected when he desires”. The problem with this is that it seems even more un-Merciful. It would be the characteristic of a God who deems some human life as precious, while other human life can be discarded as pawns on a chess board.
If you’re still with me, you may be wondering: “What does the Bible have to say about all of this?”
Well, this idea, that we don’t have free-will, is patently FALSE. The Bible is literally filled with hundreds if not thousands of people (both singular and corporate) making choices and important ones at that.
The verse at the beginning of this passage is from the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). In it, a man had two sons and the youngest asked for his inheritance early. He took it, set of for far away lands, and squandered it. He was living in poverty and realized that even his own Father’s servants lived better than he did. So he made the choice to go swallow his pride, go home, and ask his Father’s forgiveness. The son intends to ask for forgiveness and to be treated as a lowly servant (what he felt he deserved) but the Father sees him before he makes it all the way to him, runs out and greats him, throws a big festival and restores him to his place in the family.
Notice, in this story, what we don’t see: We don’t see the Father traveling to the far away land to rescue his son from his poverty. We don’t even see the Father sending a servant to look for him and pass on any sort of “come home!” message. No, what we do see is the son, deciding of his own free-will, to swallow his pride, make the journey home and ask his Father for mercy and forgiveness. The son, of his own free-will, chooses to go home.
In the book of James, James tells us that it was Abraham being willing to follow through and actually attempt to sacrifice Isaac, which God had commanded him to do, that made him righteous (James 2: 20-26). Do you think that if Abraham had chosen to disobey God he would still be righteous? NO. He was given a choice and he chose to obey.
In Joshua 24, we see Joshua assemble the tribes of Israel at Shechem and he charges them:
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
- Joshua 24:14-15
As you can see here, this command is filled with choices. He calls them to abandon the gods of their ancestors (a choice), to serve the Lord (a choice).
“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…”
In Mark 10, we see the story of Jesus and the Young Rich Man and it says:
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. - Mark 10:17-22
I could write an entire blog post on just this passage, especially the greek (maybe another day) but suffice it to say the young man here is presented with a choice: To Love Jesus more than his possessions.
Jesus knew that this man’s heart was filled with the desire for things, so how would a young man choose to rid himself of the love of material possessions? Give them away; which is what Jesus told him to do.
You see, in Calvinistic theology, Christ could have just willed that this young man’s heart be changed, but he didn’t.
So, if Calvin is correct, then Jesus didn’t love this young man enough to save him.
I can’t reconcile that theology with the teachings of Jesus.
Lastly, I can’t reconcile those teachings with the writings of Paul.
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, PROVIDED WE SHARE in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” - Romans 8:17
The word “provided” is a conditional. It means that the first part of the statement is true as long as the last part is true. Here, we are children of God, co-heirs with Christ, PROVIDED that we share in his sufferings.
The implication here is clear: We have a choice. We choose to suffer for Christ or we don’t.
We choose to deny ourselves or we don’t.
We choose to repent or we don’t.
We choose to accept the hard teachings of John 6 or we don’t.
Lastly, Paul tells us in Colossians that we do indeed have a part to play in our salvation, as he writes to the Colossians and says:
“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh WHAT IS STILL LACKING IN REGARD TO CHRIST’S AFFLICTIONS, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”
- Colossians 1:24
While Christ suffered and died for us, there is a still a part for us to play. There is something lacking. What is it? Our CHOICE to suffer and to offer that suffering up to God as our sacrifice.
The Prodigal Son was never a slave. He had a seat at the Father’s table. He chose to leave his place at that table, take his inheritance and squander it. And then He chose to come back.
I am a Prodigal Son. I have a seat at the Father’s table. I can choose to leave if I want. I chose to sit down at that table and I pray to God that I never choose to leave it.
You are also a Prodigal child and that means that you definitely have a choice and you are not a slave!
Peace Be With You!