Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Reformed Doctrine – Does Scripture Teach and Support it?

As was shared at the beginning of this writing, apart from writing here for Follow in His Steps, the Lord often gives opportunities to correspond with others regarding different scriptural topics, whether it be in answer to questions that someone may have about a particular area, or if questions are asked about our family’s faith practice. A number of times these letters have later been shared here on this blog such as the ones on modesty, headcoverings, trusting the Lord, and most recently, on the Old and New Covenants.

As mentioned in the previous post, I had hoped to share a few of these letters . . . This particular one, which was written to a young lady whom I had corresponded with regarding this topic, has been ‘reworked’ since the original writing of it to take out as many personal references as possible, yet while still giving clarity to the writing. A number of ‘headings’ have also been added to make the readability a little easier.

And as the title suggests, this writing is regarding Reformed theology (otherwise known as Calvinism), and while it is fairly long, it barely scratches the surface of a topic that is so very broad and deep. So while it is not anywhere near an exhaustive look at this theological system, it is shared here with the hope that it will provoke thought and encourage us to earnestly search the Scriptures to discern what is indeed truth, and what is not . . . to earnestly seek to ensure that the foundation that we are standing upon, and the structure that we are building upon it, is solidly founded upon the word of God.

Thank you so much for sharing all that you did, in response to my question! I very much appreciated that. :) You brought up many points and verses that I would love to discuss further with you . . . . 

. . . As I read what you shared (and again, I really appreciated it!), I realized that we believe quite differently on these points. For while we each have the same evidence (Scripture), we are interpreting that evidence differently. Here is what I had shared in my earlier e-mail:

Under the New Covenant, we see that Christ died for all of mankind (Isaiah 53:6; John 1:29; John 3:14-18; Romans 5:6; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 Timothy 4:10; 1 John 1:9-2:2; 1 John 4:14) giving each man the choice to believe in Him for He draws all men to Himself (John 12:32; 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Timothy 4:10; Hebrews 2:9). It is because of His great love for us and His drawing us to Him that we can recognize that we are sinners, in need of repentance, and in need of His salvation that comes through faith by believing in His name. Yes, He is faithful, but as we see repeatedly in Scripture, God does not force anyone to believe in Him (Matthew 23:37; Mark 10:17-22; etc.), nor does He force or coerce their heart to make them believe in Him . . . this is the man’s responsibility and was given to Him by God through His sovereignty. And the choice to either believe in Christ for salvation or to reject Him is a choice that each man has the ability to make and must, and will, make for himself. (John 7:37; Romans 1:16; Galatians 3:22; 2 Peter 3:9.)

Whereas you believe that God chose some to believe in Him, and chose some to go to hell. In a brief summary, you shared that:
God is the one who chooses who will be saved . . . Several passages in Scripture remind us, that we are chosen by God, and it is He who gives Salvation. (1 Peter 1:1-2, Ephesians 1:1-7, Acts 13:48, 1 Corinthians 1:2-5, 2:12, Titus 1:1, Romans 8:29, John 14:6) . . . It is God who decides who will be saved and who will perish. He has already chosen His elect. Just as it says in Romans 9:15, He is the decider of who will receive his compassion and mercy and who will not. . . . God chose each and every one of His people ahead of time. He convicts and opens, hearts, minds, and eyes. It is through His convictions we sense our need for Him, but we would never have been so, had He not chosen us . . . He allows us to make choices in our lives, but the choice of Salvation, is not our choice. It is God’s.

From these two explanations of what we believe, we can see that contradictions are present. Yet we know that if two things are contradictory, both cannot be true. Why is it, then, when we both have the same evidence, we can interpret that evidence in two different ways? 

The reason is that we both have our own presuppositions . . . that is, things that we have been taught, experienced, and/or see in the world around us which influence our interpretation of evidence. And as fallible humans, our interpretation is subject to error. 

I know on more than one occasion where I had a certain understanding of Scripture, but when challenged, or upon further study, I found that the understanding I had held to was either untrue, or it was an incomplete understanding. So how do we know if the interpretation that we have of passages of Scripture are true? Or in what way should we interpret Scripture? Well, God answers that question for us:

But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation . . .” 1 Peter 1:20

“. . . they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scripture daily to see whether these things were so.” Acts 17:11

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17

From these verses, and others as well, we can gather that our own interpretation of Scripture needs to be examined in the light of Scripture to see if it is true and right. And Scripture is adequate for training us in righteousness. We also know that there are no contradictions in the word of God for God is truth and there is no lie in Him, and therefore, His word is true.

So let us let Scripture interpret Scripture, let the living word of God (Hebrews 4:12) guide us into truth through the working of the Holy Spirit.

To begin, let us look at a verse that you shared that has apparent ‘contradictions’ elsewhere in Scripture (which we know can not truly be contradictory) . . .

Verse:For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Romans 9:15-16.)

Appearing Contradiction: “For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all” (Romans 11:32.)

Here is one example then, where our interpretation of one or both verses can be in error when considered solely by themselves. But when studied together, and in context, we find that they are in harmony with one another. (Hopefully we will be able to discuss these verses more later!) Again, we must let Scripture interpret Scripture to come to a correct and true understanding.

Letting Scripture Interpret Scripture

Like the above example, erroneous interpretations can come about by reading one verse that makes a statement without letting the rest of Scripture expound and explain that verse, or to let the verse be broadened and deepened by other passages of Scripture.

For example, I can say that “I went to the store today.” By that statement, someone might infer that I only went to the store today. Whereas I simply did not give the full information by my statement. A later statement (or statements) could give more information without contradicting the first statement. “I went to the store today, and I also went to the park” or “I went to the store today and yesterday” or “I went to the store today, but I didn’t go to the store this morning.” These do not contradict the first statement, but they do give a fuller and more complete understanding to what actually took place.

Examples of this type of scenario can be found in Scripture; and it is because of these that critics of Scripture often discredit the Bible (in that, it is just a book of tales and not the inerrant word of God) without investigating further. Such as in the account of Christ’s birth that is given in the gospels. The account in Matthew states that Magi visited Christ, and there is no mention of others visiting. 

When we go to the book of Luke, however, we find that shepherds visited Him, but there is no mention of the Magi. Is this a contradiction? No, but each book does not give all of the information. But if I read Matthew first and came to the conclusion that only Magi visited Christ since that is all that is mentioned, I would have an erroneous interpretation unless I also read and believed Luke and found that the shepherds also visited Christ. 

And yet another conclusion that could be arrived at is that the Magi and the shepherds were one and the same since they were never mentioned together in one account; but with careful reading and comparing of the texts, we find that they were most certainly not the same.

Unfortunately, yet often quite easily, this type of error occurs when we read and study Scripture. Sometimes it is through simply ignorance on our part, and sometimes it is through our own choice. Or it is through relegating one passage of Scripture to a higher ‘plane’ and if other verses seem to contradict or add more information, we simply say that we just do not understand them (and again, this is letting our conclusions rest upon our lack of understanding, our presuppositions, or both.)

The Drawing of God

One verse that this often happens to is the verse that has been shared from the book of John:

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44.)

When reading this verse from the understanding (or presupposition) that God only chooses to save some (the elect) and without preconditions (repentance, belief, etc.), it would be assumed, then, when reading this verse, that the Father would only draw the elect to Himself, as they would be the only ones who would come to Christ.

It is verses such as this one, though, where a thorough study and examination of the words used within it can be a great benefit. So let us take a look at the word “draw.” What is this "draw"? How is it applied? Who is it applied to? And again, let us let Scripture interpret Scripture.

The word ‘draw,’ as used in our English translations of the Bible, is translated from two variations of a Greek word and these variations are helkuo and helko, and both mean “to drag.” These Greek words are used eight times in the Greek texts (which are what our English translations come from) and of these eight times that helkuo and helko are used in Scripture, only two are used in the context of men being drawn to Christ. Interestingly enough, both of these two times were spoken only by Christ and are recorded only in the gospel of John.

One of these two uses is found in John 6:44 (which is the verse that we are discussing) . . .

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”

The second and last use is in John 12:32 . . .

And I if I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.” (John 12:32; this is a direct translation from the Greek text. All major Bible versions would support this translation [KJV, NKJV, NRSV, NASB, and NIV] as well as the three major Greek texts used.)

Here is a case of letting one verse (John 12:32) bring more understanding to another verse (John 6:44.) We see in John 6:44 that no one can (is able to) come to Christ unless first the Father draws (helkuo/helko—to drag) him. And we see in John 12:32 that this drawing (again, helkuo/helko—to drag) is applied to all men for Christ says “I will draw all men to myself.” (And remember that Christ stated “I and the Father are one” [John 10:30])

When we hold these two verses together, letting Scripture interpret Scripture, we find that God states in His word that no one can have the opportunity to come to Christ unless they are drawn (man cannot do it alone, meaning without this drawing of God, it is impossible to be saved); and He also states that everyone has the ability to come to Christ for Christ draws all men to Himself. 

And it is clear that the usage of ‘all’ here does not identify a specific man or woman, or a specific factional group. However, all (meaning everyone or anyone) is used alone. Though the writers of the New Testament certainly use many other terms in Scripture to identify a specific person or people group; here, in quoting Christ, John did not use terms such as ‘brethren,’ or ‘believer,’ or ‘faithful,’ or ‘saved,’ or ‘predestined,’ or ‘elect’ to identify a uniquely identifiable group.

He could and would have done so if any of these were the words of Christ, and, if the context required it. But John chose to use 'all' (Greek-pántes [which is gender neutral]), without using another identifying noun in transcribing the spoken words of Christ as he was inspired by the Holy Spirit—his choice of words, then, must be used, and must be used contextually with the rest of Scripture.

To quote John 6:44 again . . .

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

So then, is everyone that is drawn to Christ raised up on the last day? There is another precondition that while not mentioned in this specific verse (John 6:44), when held in context with the rest of Scripture, it becomes clear who this 'raising up' refers to:

For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)

The above verse is just a few verses earlier than John 6:44, yet it brings more light and understanding to who specifically Christ will “raise . . . up on the last day.” Yes, it is those who are drawn to Christ, but it is also those who behold the Son and believe in Him. And this is the choice that man makes after Christ “draws all men” to Himself. (John 12:32)

This is all a beautiful picture which exemplifies so clearly the great love, and the great mercy, of the all-powerful, all-knowing God. And one of the last verses in the Bible presents this in a poignant way . . . “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes to take the water of life without cost.” (Revelation 22:17.) Oh, what a precious Savior He is!

The Spirit of Man

Before going further, I would like to touch on the fact that in the beginning God created man in His image, and He placed in man the ability to know Him and recognize Him. Even after the fall, this ability to know God, and recognize who He is is still a part of mankind. The reason why, is that God has given us a spirit. 

This spirit differentiates us from animals (who have a soul [the breath of life] but do not have a spirit.) This spirit, which all men possess, gives us a conscience—the ability to recognize right and wrong, good and evil, and morality and immorality. Through this spirit, man is able to then recognize and know God.

For example . . .

“. . . because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them . . . For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:19, 21)

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written on their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:14-15.)

In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons . . .” (Acts 14:17.)

And in Christ’s words:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matthew 23:37; also given in Luke 13:34.)

“I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality” (Revelation 2:21.)

But how would all of this fit with the verses that have been shared about being ‘chosen’? I would love to go into greater depth on and examination of those verses, but as this is already getting fairly long, I’ll share just a bit and save the rest for a later writing. :)

A Brief Look at Predestination

Those who hold to the understanding of God choosing whom to save and whom not to save, closely tie this choosing with predestination. And one of the verses that is often quoted by those who hold to Reformed theology, speaks of this predestination . . .

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30.)

A question that is important to answer in regards to these verses is, what were they predestined to? Is it unto salvation? And how/when did this predestination take place? According to verse 29, it is not unto salvation but it is “to become conformed to the image of His Son.” 

With this being the case, and given the fact that belief in Christ is a precursor to salvation, it would seem that this predestining is in reference to believers and that the Lord predestined that those who would believe in His name would be “conformed to the image of His Son.” 

This conforming is likely in reference to when our mortal bodies are changed to immortal bodies; when the corruptible is exchanged for the incorruptible (as is seen in Philippians 3:2, which is the only other place in the New Testament where the Greek word from which ‘conformed’ is translated in Romans 8:29, is used.)

More importantly than this, though, is the fact that the foreknowledge comes before predestination, foreknowledge precedes God predestining. God is an omniscient God, He sees and knows all (and He always has), and He knows what is going to take place in the future. Because God does know all, He also knows the choices that man is going to make, and thus, He can predestine certain things to take place based upon His foreknowledge of the free choices of man (for example, Job.) 

Not that God causes their choices to take place, but that He knows that they will take place so He predestines other events around them. While this may not seem to make sense to us how the foreknowledge of God works, we must recognize that there are so many things that our finite minds cannot comprehend about an infinite and amazing God! 

It is in areas such as this where we must have faith in the Lord that His word is true. Yet even if we do not understand all of these things, God has given us in His word what is necessary to know Him, to love Him, and to be obedient to Him.

Another important point, and one that is directly linked to what was just shared, is that in Scripture, predestination is based upon foreknowledge; and never once in Scripture is the predestination unto believing in Christ or unto a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. 

It is instead, always, without exception, to specific things that come to those who have already believed in Christ (such as the “becoming conformed to the image of His Son” in Romans 8:29.) [There is one verse in Acts (Acts 13:48) which would seem to not fit with this, but if we look at this verse in context with the rest of Scripture as well as examining the Greek words used (of which the Greek word for predestine is not used; and again recognizing that Scripture cannot contradict itself), we can understand what it means.]

The Choosing of God - What Does it Mean?

Having the understanding that predestination is based upon the foreknowledge of God, helps to form the foundation for understanding about the ‘choosing’ and ‘choice’ of God.

As we look at the verses that speak about the Lord choosing people, it is found that this 'choosing' is often in reference to the nation of Israel (and as mentioned in an earlier writing, not all of Israel was saved, so this particular ‘choosing’ of God was not unto salvation). This ‘choice’ or ‘choosing’ is also used in reference to Christ choosing the apostles which I’d like to touch on briefly here as it can, like what was shared earlier about Scripture interpreting Scripture, help bring a fuller and more clear understanding of the other passages that speak about ‘choosing’ . . .

In John 15:16 it reads “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain.” When reading this verse (and all others as well), we should first ask ourselves “Who is being spoken to in this passage?”, and “What is the simple meaning of the text?” 

When we look at the context, specifically chapters 13-17, we see that Christ is speaking to, or of, the apostles specifically. The apostles were men that were chosen for a specific ministry by Christ, a ministry that was unique unto them—they did not choose to be His apostles, but Christ chose them.

Was this choosing of them as apostles also a choosing for salvation? If we always interpret the words “chosen,” “choice,” “choosing,” etc. as meaning for salvation (a presupposition), then, yes, this choosing of the apostles would have to be for salvation. But again, let us let Scripture interpret Scripture . . . 

If we look at the life of Judas, we see that the “choice” of Christ of the apostles was not for salvation: “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?’ ” (John 6:70). If the choosing of Christ was for belief in Christ and for salvation, then Judas could not have been “a devil.” As Scripture shows, then, just because the word “chose” is used, it does not mean that that choice is for salvation. In fact, from this passage it is clear that Christ chose someone, yet that person chose to reject Him.

With the above examples (Christ choosing someone and then them rejecting Him [Israel and Judas]; and also Christ’s choosing of the apostles), we see that when the words “choice”, “chosen”, etc. are used, it does not mean that it is for salvation. To assume so is again building on our presuppositions and not allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. 

And as this is the case, we need to examine each and every time that these words are used to find out what is in actuality being referred to . . . what they are being ‘chosen’ to. Which brings us to looking at the passages of Scripture that speak about being chosen (or that use other similar phrases) . . . . 

Examining "Chosen" in Context

When we examine the passages of Scripture that speak of the ‘chosen’ or being ‘chosen,’ there are some questions that can be asked while reading these verses that can help us to understand them better. Questions such as: “What are they being chosen to?” (we cannot automatically assume salvation as was seen when we looked at the verse about Christ choosing the apostles), and then some other good questions are “When is the choosing being done?” and “Is it based upon God causing things, or upon His infinite foreknowledge?” (as was shown in Romans 8:29-30.)

Let’s quickly take a look at one of the verses that has been mentioned:

. . . who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood . . .” (1 Peter 1:1b-2.)

First, let’s ask: “What are they being chosen to?”

--to obey Jesus Christ
--to be sprinkled with His blood

There is no mention of being chosen for salvation, or being chosen to be drawn to God. And when we look carefully at the two things that they are chosen to, we find that both follow a genuine belief in Christ. 

In Scripture, the majority of times when obedience to Christ is mentioned, it is in reference to after belief in Him has taken place—this obedience is an outpouring of our love for Him (1 John 5:2-3, etc.); and the sprinkling of His blood, being washed in His blood and being forgiven of sin, also follows genuine belief in Christ.

“When is the choosing done?”

-- In this passage, Scripture does not mention when this choice is made here.

“Is it based upon God causing things, or upon His infinite foreknowledge?”

--Once again, we find that it is based upon His foreknowledge (and not His predestination) which is His knowing what will take place in the future. And as God knows who is going to come to believe in Him, He can choose the blessings that will come to those who believe in His name, such as, being "sprinkled with His blood." 

By examining the verse in this way, we find that it does not at all support that God chose some men to be saved and others not to be saved. And again, we must not add or subtract from the word of God, but let Scripture speak for itself, as well as interpret itself.

A similar examination of Ephesians 1:1-7, 1 Corinthians 1:2-5 (which does not mention 'choice,' but 'calling' which is another whole area for study! :), and Titus 1:1 will yield similar results. What I have shared here is very brief, but it is a good starting point and can help us understand a passage of Scripture more clearly. 

A much more thorough and complete understanding can be gained when we study specific words in the passage (what Greek words are used, their definitions, etc.) and how they are used elsewhere in Scripture, as well as examining the passage in context with the verses around it, the chapters, the book, and eventually, all of Scripture.

A Quick Look at “Calling”

Romans 8:29 also states that “these whom He predestined, He also called.” Let’s take a quick look at what this ‘calling’ is in reference to. First, the verse makes it plain that He called those whom He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Yet it does not exclude the others. 

This verse cannot be taken to mean that He only called ‘an elect’ for it does not say that He only called a certain group of people. That is like saying (in a very poor analogy), “I called my sister.” This statement does not exclude my calling of anyone else, but instead that this is the information that accurately states (though is limited) the particular thought I am attempting to communicate at that time. And also, if everyone who was called was also justified and glorified, how would that be in harmony with Matthew 22:14: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”?

In Conclusion

Hypothetically, however, if the Reformed interpretation of Scripture was correct in that God chose who was going to be saved and who was going to go to hell, there arises some significant difficulties and apparent contradictions . . . how would the below be reconciled? (And we know that there can be no contradictions in Scripture as God is non-contradictory.)

--God desires all men to be saved and does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, John 3:17, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4) 

--Christ died for all (Isaiah 53:6; John 1:29; John 3:14-18; Romans 5:6; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 1:9-2:2; 1 John 4:14)

--God is not a God of partiality (Deuteronomy 10:17, Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, Galatians 2:6)

--God has revealed Himself to all of man (Romans 1:18-23)

--God chose the nation Israel, and they are not all believers in Christ (many verses)

--All the many, many verses that say if anyone, everyone, whoever, etc. is thirsty, hungry, etc. come to Me/believe in Me

As I mentioned earlier, this e-mail is quite long, so we can save a further study of the verses that you shared until a later point (I would love to discuss each and every verse that you brought up! They are all such wonderful ones. :)

. . . . And if there is one thing that I hope to express my heart clearly on, it is that all of Scripture is important in understanding God, His character and our (man’s) relationship with Him. We can never know all of who God is in our small, finite minds, but, God in His love has given us what He desires us to know of Him and all that we need to know of Christ . . . His love, His atoning work in conquering sin and death, and the glorious salvation that He has brought to mankind. May we continue to learn and grow in this understanding of Him!

*Edited to add: Given some of the comments and e-mails received, I thought it wise to mention here that while my family and I believe that Scripture does not support nor teach Calvinism, we do not hold to Arminianism either. Both are theological systems designed by men, and they are not the only two ‘choices’ of belief structure. My family and I hold to neither one, but instead, strive to hold to God’s pure and true Word alone. Just thought I should clarify that. :)

-Posted by Sarah


  1. Sarah...thank you for this in-depth look at reformed theology. I have printed out your post and look forward to reading and studying it further.

    As you know from our previous discussions, our family DOES support the reformed interpretation of Scripture. This year, we have been studying these things as part of our homeschool curriculum, and it is good to have more material to consider--both on the Calvinist and the Arminian side. As you so well stated, we must do as the Bereans and examine the Scriptures, to see if these things are so.

    We eagerly look forward to continue studying, learning, and growing in our knowledge of God and His Word. Thank you for providing an excellent example of scholarship to all of us!

    Fondly ~ Betsy

  2. Thank you so much, Betsy, for your gracious response to this post! Your sweet spirit as we share and discuss these things has been a blessing. And I hope that what was shared here in this post will provoke thought and perhaps bring into question for you the doctrines of Reformed theology. You had mentioned that you all are doing a study as part of your homeschool on both the Calvinist side and Arminian side (speaking of which, it is commendable to be open to studying and examining belief structures which oppose the ones you hold to!)

    May I recommend another area of study? That being the simplicity and purity of God’s Word. Let me explain . . . yes, my family and I do not hold to Calvinism, but we also do not hold to Arminianism. Both are theological systems designed by men, and they are not the only two ‘choices’ of belief structure. My family and I hold to neither one, but instead, we hold to God’s Word alone . . . upon this do we derive the belief structure that we follow for it is the infallible, pure, and true word of God.

    With that said, as a part of your homeschool study, perhaps this may also be a benefit to you . . . for a season, set aside all commentaries, books, sermons, study Bibles, teachings, etc. that you read and/or listen to (as these will influence one’s interpretation of Scripture.) Attempt to also set aside the belief structure, the presuppositions, that you already have, and get an inexpensive Bible that is not a study Bible (pew Bibles work great for this.) Read the entire Bible from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 in the shortest time period that you can (say, a couple of months.) And again, as you read, earnestly try to set aside any biases, or previously held beliefs.

    Have two different colors of highlighters and with one, highlight every verse/passage of Scripture that you find that you believe clearly supports Calvinism. Then with the other highlighter, mark every single verse/passage that could possibly be used as an argument against Calvinism. And try be completely honest with this as it isn’t trying to find how much support there appears to be for Calvinism, but it is to see what Scripture alone supports and teaches. One of the very best ways to study any doctrine that one believes to be in opposition to what one holds to, is to study Scripture with the intent to prove the ‘opposing one’ right. It seems kind of oxymoronic, but studying by this means helps us to set aside our biases and prejudices.

    (I ran out of room in the comment box so the rest of this comment is continued below. :)

  3. Continued from above . . .

    When highlighting for Calvinism, examine the verses closely and in context with the whole of Scripture. Examine the verses that speak of election and predestination without referencing anything but the Bible and possibly a concordance to assist in navigating Scripture. Seek to find the words and terms that the Bible uses and also how the Bible defines those words and terms . . . letting Scripture interpret Scripture. Also, when highlighting for Calvinism, examine carefully the verses . . . just because a verse is used by Calvinists to support Calvinism, does not mean that it truly does, as it may have been taken out of context (God’s choosing of Israel is a prime example of this.)

    When highlighting for those things that might oppose Calvinism, it would include any if/then promise that God makes to mankind (i.e.: if you do this, then this will be the result; because you did this, here is the consequence; etc.); anytime that it appears that man has a will to choose; any mention that Christ died for all; any mention that God is an impartial God, a patient God; any mention of man rejecting God; any mention of God revealing Himself to Israel or to anyone in Scripture, yet they reject Him (or choose to follow Him); any mention of someone knowing about God, yet turning from Him, and other similar things. All the while being careful to not interpret these verses with ‘Calvinist glasses’ (i.e. ‘all’ doesn’t mean ‘all’ here, but means the elect) . . . take God at His word, and in context, and believe what He has stated.

    After reading exclusively the entire Bible through in this manner, examine what the end result is. Are there more verses that would support Calvinism? Or are there more verses that would deny it? And how would you reconcile the two?

    I think you may be surprised by your findings. :) Speaking for myself, studying Scripture in this manner is very enlightening. With that said :), thank you again, Betsy, for your gracious response. And I hope that what was shared here will be a blessing and benefit to you!

  4. I wrote out a lovely long comment for this post yesterday evening, but since reading your post fully and your subsequent comments, most of it seems irrelevant, so I will start afresh!

    Thank you for your post. I must say that in reading it my first impression was that you have a much better knowledge of Scripture than I do, Sarah, and are able to express you beliefs very well in writing – much better than I could... something for me to seek to emulate.

    I was going to ask whether you were Arminian, but having read your above comment, I have my answer already, which explains one matter; I was pretty certain you had express a belief in the eternal security of believers, whereas Arminianists do not believe that.

    I must say that I am in agreement with you on the issue addressed, though it is one I have found tricky; I can confuse myself endlessly on the subject. Thankfully you explained it very clearly, which I think has helped me significantly with my confusion! I found difficult the apparent contradictions of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will and of election and yet salvation being free to all that repent. I am grateful that one does not have to fully understand these matters for salvation, but can rest in the assurance that God’s way is perfect and holy and just!

    I appreciated your comment that one should take God’s Word alone rather than the belief systems of men such as Calvin. I do believe Calvin was a great man and I am sure that his beliefs were the result of careful study, but (and it is a big ‘but’) even great men can be in error. Thus, it is becoming more evident to me that I must test everything by the Scripture, rather than holding mere men (however ‘great’) as infallible, an error seeming all to easy to slip into unconsciously!

    Again, it rather challenges me. I would have considered myself “Reformed”, but I do not agree with Calvin’s belief that some are elected to damnation. And then, I also know precious little about reformed doctrine – something I need to change. We have a copy of Calvin’s Institutes, so I plan to read and study them and compare them against Scripture and see how much I really do agree with and how much agrees with Scripture.

    Well, to bring to a close my long comment! I actually did manage to insert much of my original ‘comment’ into it (albeit in modified form!) Again thank you for sharing; I did find it helpful.


  5. Thank you so much for your comment, Anna! It blessed my heart to read. Thank you for taking the time to write it out not once, but twice! :)

    Thank you also for your kind words . . . may the Lord receive the praise and glory! My Dad has also been such a help with giving me direction and counsel as I write. Plus he does some editing, too. :) And I must say, your writings are wonderful! I have been so blessed be each of the posts that you have done where you are sharing different scriptural truths or what the Lord has taught you. You have much wisdom, Anna, that is and will be a blessing to many!

    Well, you were not the only one to wonder after reading this post whether or not we were Arminian. :) There were actually a number of people who asked about that! I have since added a note at the bottom of the post to clarify this. And yes, we do believe firmly in the eternal security of believers.

    Once again, I really appreciated all of the thoughts that you shared, and I am so glad that this post helped to shed some light on this important area and helped with some of your confusion as well. Like you, when I first began learning about Calvinism, I found some passages of Scripture that just confused me . . . I didn’t believe in Calvinism, but there were verses that when I first read them appeared to support it. I am so glad that we studied these passages more extensively as now I have found that they do not teach what Calvinism says they teach, but instead, they are in harmony with all of the rest of Scripture.

    You mention seeing/wondering about apparent contradictions of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will . . . one way to look at this is that yes, God is indeed sovereign (Scripture makes that plain!), yet God is so sovereign, that within His sovereignty, He can give man free will without at all lessening who He is. Like you, I am glad that we do not have to fully understand how all of this works! This is where ‘faith’ comes in . . . and "faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1.)

    How very true your statement is that “I must test everything by the Scripture, rather than holding mere men (however ‘great’) as infallible.” If only more people would hold to this truth, what a different ‘state’ our churches would be in! But like you shared, it can be easy to slip into . . . thus why we must be ever watchful of ourselves and be continually examining the course that we are walking in the light of Scripture.

    Having studied some of Calvin’s Institutes for myself (though I was far from reading the whole thing!), and having my Dad reading almost all of it (for research purposes), I can say that it is a heavy and difficult read! You mentioned that you are desiring to read it . . . As you read it and study it in the light of Scripture, one thing that you may want to keep an eye out for is all of the many contradictions in Calvin’s words . . . at one point he’ll say one thing in support of Calvinism, and then in the other, say something that completely contradicts his first statement. My Dad’s copy of this book is marked up significantly with reference points, etc., and this is one area where he took a close look at . . . the contradictions. Again, like you shared, this makes evident how important it is that we not follow what a fallible man says, but what God in His Word has stated, interpreting Scripture through Scripture.

    Once again, Anna, thank you so much for sharing all that you did! The wisdom and insights that you shared were a blessing to me. May the Lord richly bless you as you seek to continue to grow in Him!

  6. Dear Miss Sarah,

    I’ve actually sat down several times over the last week to respond to this post, but something always seem to become more “pressing” at the moment, and, oh well, the time has slipped by. Right now, everyone is out and about, and I am able to take a few moments with a cup of tea to sit down and share my thoughts.

    First, may I say, that this is an amazing post. You have done such a wonderful job of carefully and compassionately discussing this very controversial debate. We, too, share your views on Calvanism and Arminianism. In our home, we attempt to hold fast to the Word of God and His Truths. Although there have been great thinking men throughout history…the fact is, they are merely men, and God’s Word is the only real assurance and Truth that we have to guide our lives.

    Having said that, I originally had planned to add several scripture verses that support your writing…of which there are many. I loved your suggestion of taking the Bible and two highlighters and reading it from beginning to end. We have done something similar, as a family, with our study of the “church”, and I have also done this in an attempt to identify the Lord’s purpose and role for younger and older women. But then I thought it best to comment on one particular scripture that might just add another piece of support to your writing.

    “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:(For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”

    In Romans 5:12-19 you have a parallelism between all men being made sinners through one (Adam) and all men’s potential to be saved through One (Christ). The free gift is given to all men. Obviously, not all are saved, but is not because God has failed, but simply because man has rejected God. Those who believe in Reformed Theology hold to the doctrine of limited atonement, thereby meaning that Christ died only for the elect.This scripture, therefore, presents problems for the Calvanist system. We should simply let the Word of God speak for itself.

    Just a thought from the shores of Maine…

    I look forward to reading more of your writings. Again, we are so grateful that God has connected us with your family. Please pass along our greetings to your parents and sister.

    Mrs. Laura

  7. Thank you so much, Mrs. Laura, for taking the time to share all of this! It was very much a blessing and encouragement to read. It seems that so many of those whom we meet who are more conservative in their family values and lifestyle practices also hold to Reformed theology, so it was encouraging to hear of the like-mindedness here! And also so encouraging to hear of your family’s heart in regards to striving to hold fast to the Word of God and His truths.

    Your study on the Lord’s purpose and role for younger and older women sounds wonderful! Mama, Leah and I have done a similar study, and as a family and individually, have done many topical studies on a wide range of topics. It’s amazing how much more one can ‘see’ in the Lord’s word when studying a specific topic like this.

    Thank you for sharing the passage of Scripture from Romans! It communicates so well the truths of Christ dying for all of mankind (which contradicts Limited Atonement like you mentioned) and also that all are/were under condemnation and all have the opportunity to turn from their sin and believe in Christ. With this passage, I have often heard those who hold to Reformed theology say that in the part about “there resulted justification of life to all men” that “all men” doesn’t mean all as in every single person, but that it means “the elect.” But then like you shared, a difficulty is run into with the parallelism between “justification of life to all men” and “condemnation to all men.” Yes, like you shared, we should simply let the word of God speak for itself without adding in our own interpretation . . . and then passages such as this one are clear.

    Once again, thank you so much for sharing these wonderful thoughts from the "shores of Maine"! :)

    And I would say that there is a mutual gratefulness to the Lord for letting our families ‘meet’ each other. :) I passed your greetings onto my family, and they are returned to you!

  8. Sarah, when you first posted this some time ago, I sat down to read it. I had a hard time reading it in one sitting without interruption! But I just wanted to tell you that I think it is very well-written and well-thought-out.

    As you know, we met and married in a Reformed Presbyterian church (PCA). Actually, my husband was part of the church when I met him--I was going to an interdenominational church. My husband was a serious five-point Calvinist. It wasn't until a few years down the road that my husband took some time and just studied the Bible for himself, letting Scripture interpret Scripture. He came to the conclusion that he had been wrong in his views of predestination and election. It was a hard time for him, but he said he felt it was right. What he did was just take a notebook and the Bible. He wrote down all the verses that seemed to support Calvinism and then all the verses that didn't seem to support that viewpoint.

    Even though we are not Calvinists, we also don't consider ourselves to be Arminians. We follow Christ.

    We have been humbled many times in our married life (as far as thinking we have "arrived" in a certain area). We now don't claim to "know" so much for sure, except for Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection and his atonement for us on the cross.

    Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciated all the time and effort that you put into writing this!

    Love in Christ,

  9. Thank you so much for your comment, Joy! I love your all’s story . . . it is so encouraging to see what can happen when one sets aside man’s teachings and goes to God’s word alone and studies that, seeking what the Lord says regarding these things. We often encourage those who hold to Reformed theology to do the same thing that your husband did . . . read through the entire Bible and write down (or highlight) and study every single passage that appears to support Calvinism, and every single verse that appears to contradict it. What is found, as your husband did, is that Scripture does not support Calvinism.

    Like you all, we are not Arminian either, but we seek to follow Christ and Him alone. This life of a follower of Christ is a journey, and we never ‘arrive’, but should always be growing, learning and maturing. And all “in the strength that God supplies” and through His written word to us.

    Thank you again for sharing all of this, Joy, as it was a blessing to me!

  10. My husband and I grew up being taught the Arminian theology {without anyone coming outright and calling it that} but as we've studied the scriptures more, we've been leaning towards Calvinism. Which by the way, I think there will be people who have followed both beliefs in heaven. However, I think I will do as you mentioned in an early comment and seek to read scripture from front to back {with two highlighters} and really try to figure out the truth based on the scriptures.

    I'm also going to print out your post and read it to my husband because, as my spiritual leader, I like to keep him in the loop about what's on my mind and your post has given me a lot to think about. I'm sure he'll agree to reading through the scriptures in their entirety with me.

    God bless! :)

  11. Thank you for your comment, Alana! It was such an encouragement to read, and especially your heartfelt desire to read and study God’s word and find out what He alone teaches as opposed to following men. How rare it is to see that! I pray that the Lord will guide and direct both you and your husband as you study the Scriptures together, and may the “two highlighter” idea prove to be a blessing and help. It is such a comfort to know that God’s word is true and perfect and that if we read it with open hearts that are sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, He will guide us into the truth.

    Blessings to you in Christ!