I know that some of you will have no idea what I am talking about, and others will shake their heads, but I want to say a few things anyway. I struggle this morning to find a way to share these thoughts that does not alienate people immediately. It is so hard because the division is so evident, the chasm so deep, the line so decisive.

The issue of God’s election is, understandably, emotionally charged. For so many it hurts to talk about and consideration means that you walk into that dark place of confusion, doubt, and, more than anything, disillusionment with God.

Election. What do I want to say about it this morning? I better get it out or my preamble will swallow my thesis and steal its thunder (if it has any). But here it is:

Election. I have been reading much about it lately, again, especially with regard to Romans 9. Does this chapter teach that God elects some to salvation and not others? I believe it does. I have since I went through the black hole of disillusionment when I was 21. I did not want to believe it when I first considered it. I hated this passage. Romans 9 . . . Grrrr. I wanted to tear it out of my Bible. I’m not alone here. Just about everyone reacts the same way. Why not? I mean, if you have compassion for others, know others who do not love God, and want the whole world to have the same opportunity to be saved, who wouldn’t find this passage detestable? I was torn, broken, sad, confused, in a panic, and downright angry when all those frightful verses entered my mind. I could never unsee it, even though I wanted to. I remember exactly where I was. It is as memorable as the fall of the Twin Towers. I was in the hallway at my mother’s house in 1993. Mom asked me to read Romans 9. She wanted to see how I would handle it. She wanted me to enter a crisis of faith. I could tell. Thanks mom!

No one is born a Calvinist. In other words, no one is born believing that God must have elected some to salvation and not others. There is nothing in creation or natural theology that would suggest such a backwards doctrine as this. If it is true, this intel has to come directly from God. Otherwise, it just seems like God loves everyone, He cheers for them from heaven, and tries to influence them here and there (although, not too persuasively). They ultimately choose whether they will trust in Him. That is the way we are born. We are born Arminian. We have to go through radical spiritual reconstruction to become a Calvinist and believe in “unconditional individual election” (as we call it today). And to be frank, as I have wrestled with dozens of alternative explanations over the years (some are very creative—mine was!), and have looked deeply into the most popular alternative (corporate election) again over the last few days, I have come to the same conclusion that I have always held: Those who reject the Calvinist understanding of individual election do so only because it scares them. I am sorry, but it does. It scares the hell out of them. It did me. I get it. I understand. The bridge that one has to cross to get where I am feels as if it will fall apart and cause your faith to atrophy to death within moments.

When people don’t cross this bridge, I don’t blame them. Sure, there is no biblical warrant. Was that too strong? Let’s put it this way: I don’t believe they have any biblical warrant. Just because you say Romans 9 is about God’s election of a corporate group (i.e. the Church, Christ, or “all those who believe”) and you have a bunch of people who jump on your train doesn’t change what I believe they know—deep down inside—they really know: this passage teaches that God elects some and not others. You know that corporate election is empty. And God is not on the Arminian side here. Again, I understand why you cannot follow. Your emotions won’t let you. The Scriptures are against you here. Your exegesis is insecure and sloppy at key turns. There is no way to be truly faithful to what God says in Romans 9 and not cross that terrifying and unnatural bridge called unconditional individual election.

I suppose I want to give you message as one who is on the other side of the bridge, who understands and deeply empathizes with your struggle, and will love you whether you cross it or not.

Here is the message: It is wonderful over here. The waves of despair dissipate after a time of walking on water. Once you grab the hand of Jesus, you are there. How do I describe it? Do I suddenly understand unconditional election? No. Not at all. Am I suddenly happy that there are reprobates who are destined to hell? So far from it. Am I swelling with pride because I am elect? me genoito! May it never be. I know that there are a lot of asses over here on this side of the bridge and I cannot defend that. But I can tell you that you find a very unique and intimate peace.

It kinda goes like this: God asks you to trust Him in something so tremendous. He holds his hand out and says, “I got this. I love everyone. I will take care of them. Leave it to Me. You just trust Me.” It feels as if God revealed unconditional election to us to give us the opportunity to do something very hard. We get to walk across that bridge. We get to step out of the boat on a shifting sea. He doesn’t give us the answers. He gives us two pieces of the puzzle. One is called “I love everyone.” The other is called “I only elect some.” We can either continue to struggle to reinterpret one or the other of these two pieces, attempting to reshape them and force them to an unnatural and, ultimately, ugly fit, or we can just accept that we have both these pieces and we simply don’t know how they fit. But we know that God does. And that is enough for us.

Settle yourself. Say to yourself, “As hard as it is, I am just going to trust God and believe He knows what He is doing.” He loves everyone and He only chose some. This is true. When you learn to trust God with these two pieces of the puzzle in your pocket, you have done something extraordinary and, in some sense, passed a very difficult test that God has given you.

Cross this bridge. Take the puzzle pieces and don’t change them. Step out into the water.

It was 4 a.m. when I started writing this. I was immersed in Tom Screiner’s defense of individual election over at Monergism. I began to think about the comfort I felt while reading. A very specific comfort that came from sharing Screiner’s belief. There was no anxiety about the lost. I trust the Lord and hope for opportunities. But the comfort that I feel—the very personal touch that the doctrine of election has on you—there is just such an unimaginable safety here. The peace that passes understanding (damn you, cliche!) (damn you, for calling Scripture cliche!). When I was young, we played neighborhood football all the time. I was always the last to be chosen. I remember the feeling. I remember it the first time. And I remember it, after it happened fifty times. I settled into being that guy—the one nobody wanted. But here I am. I am the one God picked. I know you are not comfortable with the way I am talking, but just humor me. I don’t know why He picked me. I can’t say that it was because I was good for the team. I had no spiritual attributes at all that drew God to me. But in His secret will—a will that has hidden reasons, but they have nothing to do with our merit—He made me His. I don’t struggle with this. I don’t turn it into a theological paradox, and set it before God, and then refuse to experience its benefits. I feel like a child. I don’t know why I was picked. I don’t know why others are not. But that is not on my shoulders, neither to figure out nor binge in sadness over. I look to God and everything disappears but me and Him. He says, “I love you. I saved you.” I say, “Why?” He says, “Don’t worry about it. Just know that I do.”

My friend, He is calling on you to rest in the fact that you were picked, chosen, elect. He will take care of the rest. But let me assure you that where I am is a place that you need to be. Not to be right or even theologically correct, but to truly rest. There is such a great rest over here. I am not up for a theological debate here. I am just calling on you to come and rest in a different way. If you don’t, I understand. But the water is warm. We will leave a place for you.

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C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    12 replies to "An Open Letter to Arminians"

    • Peter Patton

      Well said Michael!
      I have struggled with the doctrine of election since I was fourteen and my father, a Presbyterian elder, gave me a copy of Calvin’s Institutes for my birthday. Recently, at age 84 I revisited this issue reading some twenty inches of books and articles regarding Romans 9-11. One of the Internet resources I found in this search was your blog and your post on why election is individual rather than corporate. It was very helpful. eKep up your good work!
      In Christ,
      Your Clansman,
      Peter Clyde Patton, Ph.D.

    • Scott Robert Harrington

      “Orthodox Christians see Calvinism as truly monstrous, most especially because it depicts a God who arbitrarily saves some people and damns others. Such a “God” is not the God of a loving relationship, the gentle Christ who woose His bride, the Church. Rather, this is a capricious, vengeful “God”, who saves some men and damns others for no apparent reason. Futher, Christ did not die on the cross as a substitute for mankind’s punishment, but rather so that He might enter into death and destroy its power” [Damick (2011); page 75.].

      “In … Protestantism, sola fide came to be understood as meaning simple belief or agreement with certai n doctrinal propositions, such that salvation depends not on faithfulness but on a one-time assent.
      “Orthodoxy, by contrast, teaches with the Scripture that it is by grace through faith that we are saved, and not of works (Eph. 2:8-9). Where Orthodoxy differs from the doctrine of sola fide is in its understanding of faith, works, and justification. Faith for the Orthodox Christian includes good works, not because they earn salvation, but because they are a form of cooperation with divine grace, which does the work of transformation. Justification for the Orthodox is being made really righteous, not simply declared so. This is only possible by means of the ongoing presence of God in a person” [Damick (2011); page 69.].
      Damick, Andrew Stephen. (2011). Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy. Chesterton, Indiana: Ancient Faith Publishing. Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of All North America (Eastern Orthodox-Chalcedonian). Eastern Orthodox Christians are neither Calvinist nor Arminian, nor are they Roman Catholic, Filioquist, or Oriental Orthodox or Anglican or Lutheran or Methodist or Pentecostal. They do not believe what Calvinists believe, that there is no free will, therefore God forces people to sin against their will, and thus everything, including evil, is predestined by God Himself, therefore what people do does not matter, but only what God does, including God does sin. Arminians believe there is free will, but that salvation may be lost, and maybe they believe it cannot be regained, once lost; Eastern Orthodox believe one can lose faith and fall away from salvation, but one can still by free will recover faith, be saved, and come back in repentance to Christ, and being lost is not final: there is always hope for everyone of being saved, as no one is forced into either unbelief, or belief; it depends up one’s free will and repentance, which are always possible for everyone, and no one is forced by God to sin.

    • James

      There is room for disagreement regarding the way that God brings about his ends. John Piper acknowledges as much in his exegesis of Romans 9. He offers a suggestion for what he thinks Paul is thinking that aligns with Calvinists understanding of election and divine concurrence, but he acknowledges that he doesn’t know exactly what Paul’s words imply “about the way God works” (see the following link for details:
      https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/fitted-for-destruction).

      Personally, I see no problem with accepting a model of unconditional individual election. But, why does it need to be so unconditional that it cannot include a different model of divine omnicience where God could have knowledge of true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom logically prior to any decree of the divine will? There is no biblical basis for denying that God could have such knowledge. Yet, Calvinists simply assert that such a view is false unless a precise account of how God could have this knowledge is provided. If that’s how theology should be done, then the Calvinist must reject the doctrine of divine omnipotence since no one has ever given an account of how God could have such power.

      This is the main issue. Systematic theology relies on more than exegesis. For example, it also relies on logical inference. Even the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith both acknowledge in similar language that the whole knowledge of God is either expressly set down in scripture or by good and necessary consequences may be deduced from scripture. In other words, we have to make logical inferences to reach conclusions that may not be explicitly stated. The problem is that we can go wrong in our evaluation of what has been expressly set down and/or we can make logical leaps that are invalid, which would mean that our conclusions could be false. So, it’s difficult enough to ask for an exegete who can accurately interpret what is expressly set down in scripture. Brian Abasiano seems more than up to the task of fulfulling that role regarding a thorough, scholarly exegesis of Romans 9. But, when it comes to systematic theology, of which soteriology is a doctrine, then you have to make logical inferences to a conclusion. The question becomes, “Does the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional individual election follow as a good and necessary consequence of scripture?” Where is the argument for this? For example, as I mentioned earlier, where is the biblical argument that a Calvinist understanding of divine omniscience follows as a deductive inference from scripture? There may be one, and I would be enlightened and edified if you could present it here in the comments or another blog post.

      But, I will not be conviced by your feelings about Arminians nor will I be impressed by your feelings about Calvinist doctrine. In fact, it is confusing to me the way that you refer to how the doctrine of unconditional individual election makes you feel. Even though there may be a number of subjective benefits to believing a given doctrine, those benefits are not indicitive of the truth of the doctrine. If you believe that the exegesis is true, then it is enough to point to the evidence and the sound argumentation that would convince the spirit-empowered, noble-minded listener to accept it. Or, are you assuming that Arminians do not have the Holy Spirit or that they can thwart God’s efforts to bring about their edification in the truth? In other words, are you thinking like an Arminian in the way you are approaching Arminians?

    • Lois Morgan

      Thanks, Michael!
      I’ll be sharing this in multiple ways!
      I struggled with this “bridge” when I was 16 and reading through the book of Isaiah. One of the hardest parts was going counter to the theology of my Bible-translator father. But the more I struggled, the more I realized I had no (Biblical) option but to accept that having long before said I accepted God’s love and redemption, I now must also accept the reality of His election.
      And I have truly found it THE source of strength and stability in the decades since. As you say, ” I can tell you that you find a very unique and intimate peace.”

    • Nelson Banuchi

      As one to whom you are directing this open letter, I find it to be one of the most, if not the most, ridiculous appeals ever made for Arminians to embrace Calvinist theology. This letter betrays not only an erroneous understanding of Arminian theology, but a complete lack of awareness as to the central reason why the Reformed theologian, Arminius, and Reformed Arminians today rightly reject Calvinism as representative of Biblical revelation.

      Not much else to say.

      • C Michael Patton

        Nelson, can you explain more? Just coming in saying it is ridiculous is really hard. I would like to hear about the central issues and the erroneous understanding. Sounds like we need to talk more about this.

        • Nelson Banuchi

          To answer https://credohouse.org/blog/an-open-letter-to-arminians

I respectfully comply with your request.
 as follows:

          PATTON: “…with regard to Romans 9. Does this chapter teach that God elects some to salvation and not others? I believe it does.”

          

ME: Arminian theology believes the Bible teaches election; it is just not the kind of election that Calvinist theology claims the Bible teaches.



          PATTON: “…if you have compassion for others, know others who do not love God, and want the whole world to have the same opportunity to be saved, who wouldn’t find this passage detestable?”



          ME: It seems you are suggesting that you possess a more expansive compassion for the lost than what God, according to Calvinist theology, possesses.



          PATTON: “No one is born a Calvinist. In other words, no one is born believing that God must have elected some to salvation and not others.”

          

ME: Aside from the fact this is such a silly argument since, as far as I know, humans are born with the capacity to believe in God, not with any particular religious belief already developed in them. In any case, you seem to be suggesting that humans are born with a greater capacity than God to have compassion for all men, as you seem to suggest by your statement above and your claim that, “We are born Arminian.”

          

PATTON: “I don’t believe they (Arminians) have any biblical warrant.”

          

ME: Of course you don’t. Otherwise you wouldn’t believe as you do. Nevertheless, there is a big difference between what one believes and reality as it is Biblically revealed.



          PATTON: “Am I suddenly happy that there are reprobates who are destined to hell?”

          

ME: First, why would you not be happy with what you see as God’s wisdom and will? I would be under the impression that every Christian should be happy with God’s will, unless you are of the opinion that the Calvinist theological view of God’s decree and act of election is truly unjust.



          As I see it, only those who truly believe God is just will be thoroughly happy and at peace with God’s decrees and acts.



          By the way, here, again, it seems you are expressing to have a greater capacity for compassion than God.

          

PATTON: “He loves everyone and He only chose some.”



          ME: Any Calvinist asserting that God’s loves everyone (with which not all Calvinist agree), while maintaining to Calvinist soteriological views, is vacuous at worst, or double-think at best. It’s like believing a father loves both his children simply because he has cared and nourished them tenderly as they grew up. However, when both are about to fall over a cliff, the father deliberately decides to save only one and not the other, letting him fall to his death, in spite of his having the ability to save both.

When asked why did he not save the other since he had the ability to do so, the father replies, “Who are you? I do as I please! I am their father!”

(Or, maybe he figures less is less headache?)

          

PATTON: “…immersed in Tom Screiner’s defense of individual election…the comfort I felt while reading.”



          ME: Of course you would feel comfort. As I said before, why not? You’re not going to hell.

PATTON: “I don’t know why I was picked. I don’t know why others are not.”

ME: Apparently, that you admit you do not know why God chooses one and not the other shows you are either not reading the Bible, if you are reading it, carefully or you are reading it within the framework of Calvinist theological presuppositions (immersed in Tom Screiner’s book?).



          PATTON: “My friend, He is calling on you to rest in the fact that you were picked, chosen, elect.”

          

ME: By this appeal are you suggesting Arminians are not saved? Or, perhaps, you are suggesting that Arminians do not love God as deeply as Calvinists, that Calvinists hold the superior view of God and, therefore, are the spiritually superior.

          PATTON: “But let me assure you that where I am is a place that you need to be. Not to be right or even theologically correct, but to truly rest. There is such a great rest over here.”

          ME: “Truly rest”? It seems you are suggesting that Calvinist are the superior Christian.

          In any case, while I appreciate the invitation, nevertheless, I will stay where I am. First, my aim as a Christian is neither for “theological correctness” or “rest” but faith and obedience by which both theological correctness is discerned and rest, in the midst of the turmoils and hurricanes of life, is obtained. Second, I am confident that, according to John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, and other relevant passages of Scripture, God’s love is expansive enough to save all and anyone who fulfills the divinely ordained condition to believe; and that God is wise enough to secure for Himself all the glory by the revelation of His goodness, even while decreeing faith as the condition for salvation.

          

Tat you stated, “I am not up for a theological debate here,” should explain why my initial comment was brief.

          Here, I am only complying with your request for some further explanation. No response from you is required (unless you feel the need to further justify what, in my opinion – and I say this respectfully in spite of its bluntness – your ridiculous blog posting).

          

But, since you expressed to not being up for a theological debate, I end my part in this discussion here.


          • Nelson Banuchi

            It annoys me when I post something and it comes out a bit discombobulated. I have to correct it. A portion of my reply had paragraphs all together where there should have been a separation. Correction is as follows:

            ********************
            PATTON: “…immersed in Tom Screiner’s defense of individual election…the comfort I felt while reading.”



            ME: Of course you would feel comfort. As I said before, why not? You’re not going to hell.



            PATTON: “I don’t know why I was picked. I don’t know why others are not.”

            

ME: Apparently, that you admit you do not know why God chooses one and not the other shows you are either not reading the Bible, if you are reading it, carefully or you are reading it within the framework of Calvinist theological presuppositions (immersed in Tom Screiner’s book?).


            ********************

            Sorry about that. Thanks for allowing me to correct it.

        • Nelson Banuchi

          Sorry about your link posted in error with my reply….

    • Kevin Simonson

      I am a Latter-day Saint. Critics of my faith say it can’t be inspired by God because it includes contradictions. If we can’t know that the two mentioned statements attributed to God, “I love everyone” and “I elect only some”, are contradictions, then what sense does it make to call anything a contradiction?

      • C Michael Patton

        There could be all kinds of circumstances that could inact the principles of greater-good. For example, maybe God loves everyone, but can’t choose everyone WHILE preserving their freedom. Or, maybe (and I am certainly not an advocate of this) God loves his own reputation more. Therefore, he loves everyone, loves himself and his righteous reputation, and can’t choose everyone since he must show his judgement upon some in order for his righteousness to be understood, displayed, and loved. There are endless circumstances that could create a greater-good situation where both God loves everyone but God did not choose everyone can exist in the same universe. They are not a contradiction.

      • Nelson Banuchi

        What renders Calvinism’s soteriology a contradiction is the unconditional nature imposed on the divine act of election. But it is more than a contradiction. Calvinism impugns God’s goodness.

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