Predestinational errors

choiceBesides inventing a new word, I thought I would draw your attention to two errors that some make when it comes to thinking about the doctrine of predestination.  These two errors can also be seen as two extremes on opposite ends of the theology spectrum: Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism

Error #1 Arminianism

Arminianism is based on the teachings of Jacob Arminius who lived in the 1500’s.  Arminius’ taught that human beings have free will and can choose for God.  God has, according to him, revealed himself equally to all people and we have the power to choose God or resist God.   The implication of this belief system is that salvation is totally up to each individual.

The Bible, however, says does not agree with Jacob Arminius.  According to the Bible, we do not have free will.   Rather, our will’s are in bondage because of sin.  John Calvin, who was totally biblical on this issue, said in a debate with an Arminian-type theologian, “If you mean by free will that we can choose what we want, I agree!”  You see, we will always choose what we want.  We could choose to buy a red or blue car, and our choice will be determined by what we want.    The problem is as Calvin and the Bible tell us, that we, each one, have a prior disposition towards evil and sin.

Bondage of the will

We are volitional creatures and we make choices.  We can choose to shave or not. We can choose where to live.  We make all kinds of choices and all our choices are determined by what we want; and naturally we tend to evil.  Martin Luther wrote a book that sums up what we are saying called, “The Bondage of the Will”.

Take this hypothetical question: Does a lion have free will?   You may say yes.  The lion could hunt  zebra or warthog or springbok.  Now take a hungry lion and put a pile of meat and a pile of vegetables before him. Does that lion have free will?  No he doesn’t!  The lion could hypothetically choose the vegetables, but he will always choose the meat.  Why?  Because of his nature.  His will is not free.  His will is in bondage to his nature.  And so too with us.

The Bible teaches that we are dead in our sins and trespasses.  We are slaves to sin.  Our wills are in bondage to our nature, which is sinful.   The error of Arminianism that says people are a little spiritually ill, but they can choose God if they want.  The Bible says we are dead in sins. (Ephesians 2:1)

Error #2 Hyper-Calvinism

John Calvin also lived in the 1500’s.   He was one of the greatest reformers in church history and steered many people in the church back to the Bible.  He taught, as the Bible teaches, that we are spiritually dead and we need God to make us spiritually alive, to unblock our spiritually deaf ears and to open our spiritually blind eyes in order to see the vastness of our sin and the majesty of Jesus.

Nevertheless, we need to remember that although God opens people’s spiritual eyes, the way or means by which God does that is by us praying and speaking the gospel to them.

God uses “means”, he uses us; he does not magically without our aid make people spiritually alive.  Hyper-Calvinism emphasizes divine sovereignty to the exclusion of our human responsibility.

William Carey

William Carey, famous missionary to India in the 1700’s and 1800’s and called the Father of Modern Day missions, was at a meeting of pastors in England to raise money for his missionary trip to India.  One minister stood up and rebuked William Carey: “Sit down, young man; if God wants to save the heathen in India he will do it without your help or mine.”  This was Hyper-Calvinism.  “Hyper-Calvinism” is actually the wrong label for it as it is actually a rejection of historic Calvinism.

One extreme is Arminianism where everything is up to us.  The other extreme is Hyper-Calvinism where everything is up to God and we are not to do anything.

What the Bible actually says

The Biblical position is that God works by choosing, saving and calling people to himself.  And God uses us in that work by our praying for others and our speaking the gospel to others.

* Here are earlier posts on  four of the five points of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and the Perseverance of the Saints.