Why I’m Not a Calvinist

Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’– The Interview, Part 2
Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’– The Interview Part 3
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Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’– The Interview Part 4
  • Andrew Holt

    Thank you! I, too, graduated from Gordon-Conwell (2006) and am not a Calvinist. While I know there’s so much to say about this, I appreciate what you’ve shared here in brief.

  • Tertullian2009

    Ben, I am a Fuller grad and of mixed theological breed yet I do lean toward a mixture of Anabaptism and Reformed. My reservation to Wesleyan theology is exactly what you quoted, namely, the “shipwrecked” faith. If God is faithful (even if we are faithless) this is an insuperable quandry. This God, it seems to me, is schizophrenic. That Paul indicates our “choseness” before the foundation of the earth is clear–something that can’t be dismissed exegetically. It may be trite, but a God who would deceive me about the eternality of my salvation does not seem worthy of worshipping.

  • BenW3

    Hi: Consider the conditional nature of such statements as— ‘if my words abide in you and you abide in me…’ Now the Greek is pretty clear if you ask me: 1) these are conditional statements. A better translation of the verb would be ‘if you go on abiding’ or ‘if you continue to abide’, and the assumption is, it is possible to do otherwise. Remember these words were even said to Judas! 2) there are, all over the place in the NT, conditions for maintaining the gift of everlasting life, though of course not without the aid of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God; 3)the fact that everlasting life is everlasting tells us nothing about whether I will be. I see no evidence of deception in such statements. They assume that salvation involves a relationship on an ongoing basis. And in any relationship it takes two to tango. Paul indicates the chosenness of Christ as the elect one, and we are only elect insofar as we are ‘in Christ’ as Paul puts it. This does not guarantee the salvation of any particular person, especially if they fail ‘to abide in Him’…. BW3

  • Tertullian2009

    So do you not believe in the “sealing” of the believer with the Holy Spirit that Paul discusses in 2 Cor 1:22, Eph 4:13,14? The concept of sealing includes the ideas of ownership, authority, and security, does it not? If God has sealed us, are we not His possession, secure (unless there were someone with greater power than God Himself!) until the day of redemption?

  • BenW3

    Not in the sense you mean, which is not how the early church fathers interpreted those Pauline verses. If you want to press the analogy (because it is an analogy) we have been sealed with the charism of God, his Spirit. But seals, as every ancient person knew, could be broken, even royal seals. The notion of seals should never be taken in isolation from, for instance the discussion about: 1) quenching the Spirit (which is possible); 2) grieving the Spirit; 3) commiting the blasphemy of the Spirit, 4) apostasy as described in Heb.6 and so on. Eternal security doesn’t show up until you are in eternity. BW3

  • pastordt

    Love the last line. (and the rest, too.) Thanks.

  • Kelly C.

    I assume Tetullian2009 you mean Ephesians 1:13-14? We are sealed until something occurs capable of breaking the seal – like our decision to no longer walk in the light.

  • JohnC

    Ben, a distinction which has cleared it up for me is that God desires for us to have security about being one of His, but that He only offers that security in the present not the future. In other words we can know by the Spirit that we are currently ‘sealed’, but we can never be sure of that tomorrow. What do you think about that?

  • Mike Crow

    Brilliant Dr. Witherington! Although I was raised in a Calvinist tradition, once I had a personal faith, the framework of TULIP never made sense to me. Wouldn’t you agree that defining “sovereignty” makes a huge difference hermeneutically?

  • Rick

    Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed has recently done a series on a new book about Calvin and Wesley. One of the interesting things pointed out in the review (and comments) is the idea that Calvin emphasized God’s sovereignty, while Wesley emphasized God’s love.

  • Rick

    Please say more (I ask that as a fellow G-C grad, who is not a Calvinist).

  • David Westfall

    You argue that TULIP does not accurately summarize (1) the nature of god, (2) the character of salvation, or (3) the way we should approach these issues. I get that that’s the big debate, but may I perhaps insert the plea that TULIP itself does not accurately (or at least adequately) summarize *John Calvin’s own* theology?

    One may argue, of course, (and many have done so) that Calvin’s views of divine sovereignty commit him to the whole picture of TULIP, logically speaking. But frankly, the five points leave out what mattered most for Calvin: namely, what God has done *in Christ* for the sake of our salvation. We can debate how this all gets applied to individuals and talk about whether or not Calvin was “right” about those aspects; we can debate what he even thought about them himself (as many debate whether or not Calvin actually believed in a “limited” atonement in the standard Reformed sense). But I wish that more Christians in general—and more Calvinists in particular!—could see that the thing really gripping Calvin and centering his vision of God and the gospel was the amazing truth of what happened *in the very person of Jesus Christ himself*—the undoing of sin and death, the raising up of new life, and the offering of this new life, in Christ, to the world. To use the language of the Torrance brothers, what gripped Calvin was not the doctrinal constellation that later became TULIP—it was the “vicarious humanity” of Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead for us, and made our own intimate possession through faith, in union with him.

  • Ryan Farrell

    The very notion that someone posits that they can refute reformed theology in a simple 6 minute and 4 second video is intellectual nonsense, meant for the consumption of the ignorant masses who would like confirmation in their ignorant theological structure without performing any work themselves.

    The main glaring mistake (for there are a few here) that popped out to me was that BW3 misinterprets the function of the genitive nature in of “of the Saints” in his consideration of Perseverance of the Saints (although yes we are using English not Greek)!

    The reformed position that Calvin and his followers have put forward is that “of the saints” is a subjective genitive, that is, it is up to the saint/believer to persevere in their faith throughout their life. If they persevere, then they have salvation, if not, well, they never had it.

    BW3′s mistake here is understandable, this position has historically been misconstrued as an objective genitive by those outside of reformed theology because they have some domineering concept of “predestination” in mind when considering all aspects of reformed theology. Interpreting this phrase as an objective genitive would mean that is the saint/believer passively receives perseverance throughout their life, no matter who has Lordship over them. This has led to the “once saved always saved” position that is NOT the theological concept of “Perseverance of the Saints,” which was refuted in the video but a deceiving caricature.

  • BenW3

    Sorry Ryan but this won’t do. It won’t do for Calvin, whose Institutes I have read, nor will it do for latter day Calvinists. It won’t do because the very phrase eternal security and being sealed in the Spirit is all about the means by which the saints are said to persevere, namely by God’s grace alone. This doesn’t exclude human effort but since grace is said to be irresistible it is God in the Calvinistic system who is making sure of the perseverance, not us. But secondly, and more crucially, exegetically it is absolutely incorrect to say that ‘if someone doesn’t persevere, they were never saved in the first place.’ Now this, truly is exegetical nonsense, and makes a total nonsense of numerous passages about apostasy, believers committing the sin unto death, believers making shipwreck of their faith, and so on. Sorry Ryan, but your dismissal won’t do. BW3

  • Guest

    We could sit here all day and put each other to the various proof texts as if Calvin and Arminius/Wesley had never read them (which is absurd) but the basic fact is that you have caricatured Perseverance of the Saints, and continue to do so as I outlined above.

  • http://www.facebook.com/haggios haggios

    And the word for apostasy is the same word as the word for adultery, “apostakia,” so we know that apostasy is spiritual adultery, or wandering away from your “Husband.”

  • Jeff Martin

    I found when I want to give a short answer regarding Total Depravity I say that Arminians and Calvinists both believe in it, but that what Calvinists call “Common Grace” Arminains call “Prevenient Grace”

  • dperiodfreshcomma

    Although, remember, they certainly are different concepts with different implications!

  • Alex Strohschein

    Thank you for the video. I would identify myself as Arminian/Wesleyan (the differences between the two are a little confusing to me). The one thing that makes me scratch my head is how prevenient grace refutes total depravity. Are you referring to the traditional definition of total depravity (not that we are the worst we can be, but that every facet of Creation is tainted by sin)? Can total depravity and prevenient grace not both be believed together?

  • Tertullian2009

    Yes 1:13-14 and Ephesians 4:30. See also BDAG p.980 3. “to mark with a seal as a means of identification, mark, seal” Is there something greater than God? It is He who put the seal upon us.

    William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 980.

  • BenW3

    This is quite irrelevant. Obviously there is nothing greater than God. That’s hardly the point. The point is— what is the nature of the seal? There were seals which were simply identity markers, and quite easy to break. There were seals on documents only an official person was supposed to break, but they were breakable. There were seals on tombs, also breakable. Indeed, in the Greco-Roman world I know of no seal which was not breakable… and those who read Ephesians would know this. You seem to assume that because God is involved this inherently tells us that nothing could possibly go wrong. But the Bible is littered with tales that make very clear this is not so. BW3

  • Tertullian2009

    Eternal security show up once the person believes. (Jn 3:16,17, and before if we believe 2 Tim 1:9,). Jesus, if I am to believe him (no pun intended) does not “qualify” eternal life, just as he does not qualify “eternal death/separation” from God. It is one thing to “quench the Spirit” or “grieve” the Spirit (as we all must do from time to time–unless you also believe in sinless perfection) but it is quite another to commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as that was clearly something which Jesus said with respect to his own ministry–namely to attribute the working of the King in the presence of the Kingdom to Beelzebub.” (See Ladd, “The Presence of the Future”, Kummell “Promise and Fulfillment”) Thus my reading of that passage is that it is impossible for a post-Jesus-ministry-believer to blaspheme the Holy Spirit–ever. As for Hebrews 6, you have lifted that passage from the rest of the argument of the book which is clearly scripture twisting to make an otherwise hortatory example into something which the full argument of the book does not support since the writer says at Hebrews 6:9 “Even though we speak in this way, beloved, we are confident of better things in your case , things that belong to salvation.” And “we want each one of you to show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope to the very end, 12 so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” That does not sound like losing one’s salvation except by one who selectively chooses certain scriptures (a form of eisegesis, since rather than use the complete argument of the author, it superimposes one’s own theology upon what s/he has said). In other words, the only way you can get “apostasy” out of Hebrews 6 is if you don’t read the whole chapter which is apparently what you have done.

  • Tertullian2009

    Ben, I do not know to what early church fathers you are referring to. Consider, for example, what Irenaeus wrote concerning being “sealed” by the Holy Spirit:

    “1. But we do now receive a certain portion of His Spirit, tending towards perfection, and preparing us for incorruption, being little by little accustomed to receive and bear God; which also the apostle terms “an earnest,” that is, a part of the honour which has been promised us by God, where he says in the Epistle to the Ephesians, “In which ye also, having heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, believing in which we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance.” This earnest, therefore, thus dwelling in us, renders us spiritual even now, and the mortal is swallowed up by immortality.” Against Heresies, 5.8.1

    (Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus Against Heresies,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe; vol. 1; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 1533.)

    Ben, the biggest problem I have with your difficulty with the seal analogy is that it seems to make one member of the Trinity (the Spirit) weaker than the Father or Son.

  • BenW3

    Aha! Now I see why we are having trouble communicating. You are assuming the Spirit is the seal. Nope, that would be the least likely grammatical construal of that phrase– ‘the seal of the Spirit’ can either be an objective or a subjective genitive. Either way the seal is NOT the Spirit. The most normal way to read the genitive is that the Spirit provides the seal. This is very different from where Paul speaks of the Spirit as the downpayment, or arrabon. BW3

  • Tertullian2009

    Ben, as you probably understand, I heartily disagree concerning it’s relevance. As I see it, it is not the “nature of the seal”, that is the issue, it is the Nature of the Seal and the Sealer. As Paul makes clear later, the seal IS INDEED the Holy Spirit who is the seal. “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealedfor the day of redemption.” Eph. 4:30. Yes, this is an analogy and the analogy is only as strong as the parts it relates to; that is, what is intended to be communicated. But here Paul makes clear that the Spirit is the “whom” that is indicated. This does not have as much to do with the subjective genitive, as you’ve suggested above. Rather, my understanding of how this is to be understood has more to do with Jesus’ comments in John 14, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever. that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know him because He abides with you (par humin) and will be in you (en humin). So what does the believer have? 1) eternal life through belief/trust/confidence in Jesus (Jn 3:16) 2) the Holy Spirit Who is not only “alongside you” but “in you” (Jn 14:17) 3) “forever” (Jn 14:16), 4) with whom we are “sealed for the day of redemption”. (Eph 4:30).

    So, as I see it, we either have “eternal life” or we don’t. We either have the Spirit given to us “forever” or we don’t. It just take too much exegetical gymnastics to make your system work.

  • BenW3

    You need to go read a good translation of 2 Corinthians 1.21– it reads that God has anointed us by putting his seal upon us, and in addition has given us the Holy Spirit which is the down payment or first installment. Now the grammar of this sentence in the Greek is clear enough— the seal is one thing, the Spirit another, and while we are at it, it is God the Father not the Spirit that is doing the sealing. That’s what the Greek says. Your interpretation is not a possible one for that verse. And frankly there are no implications about the Trinity whether you take your view or you take my view. None. God is perfectly capable of working in a myriad of different ways. It is not necessary for him to work in the way you seem to think he must. Blessings anyway, BW3

  • Jeff Martin

    I am well aware of that, but I would argue not in the Biblical sense. common grace would be subsumed under prevenient grace.

  • Tertullian2009

    Ben, since you recommended Markus Barth’s Ephesian’s commentary to me in the Facebook thread (for which I thank you), you might be interested in the fact that he shares my understanding of the Holy Spirit as the seal in the parallel passage in Eph 1:13,14. (more likely I share his!) 8-)

    Consider his translation of those verses: 13 “You [Gentiles] too are [included] in him. For you have heard the true word, the message that saves you. And after you came to faith, you, too have been sealed with his seal, the promised Holy Spirit. 14 He is the guarantee of what we shall inherit [to vouch] for the liberation of God’s own people. to the praise of his glory.” (AB Vol 34 Ephesians 1-3, p 76 M.Barth

    More importantly, however, is his commentary on 1:14 beginning at pg. 95-96: ” “14. ‘He is. Lit. ‘who is.’ Who is meant by the pronoun ‘He’ hos–Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit? If Ephesians were written to the rules of classic Greek, the pronoun would refer to Jesus Christ rather than the Holy Spirit. For the noun ‘spirit’ (pneuma) is in Greek (just as in English) neuter. However, in three closely related Pauline passages no one else but “the Spirit” is called an “earnest,” (here Barth footnotes 2 Cor 1:22, 5:5, Rom. 8:23) and in its present context the whole verse (Eph. 1:14) serves obviously as a comment on the sealing with the Spirit mentioned in the previous verse. Therefore parallels and context require that the pronoun “He” refer to the Spirit. This assumption is supported by the variant reading “it” (ho, instead of “he” hos) offered by Origen, the third-century Ch. Beatty Papyrus (P46), the codices Vaticanus and Alexandrinus of the Hesychian family (though not by Codex Sinaiticus), and by a number of later Fathers and MSS.”

    I do not have the other volume to compare his treatment of 4:30, but I thought I’d share this with you. He does have and excellent treatment of the “en Christo” we were discussing.