Since the blog “The Day I Became a Calvinist” is way too long, I thought that I would take a very good question concerning the tension that Calvinism allows and post it along with my answer here. I guess it is Calvinism week here at Parchment and Pen!


Michael . . . Please explain the statement, “The point is that Calvinism is the only system that allows tension.”

How does Calvinism allow for tension? I am trying, I just cannot see it.

I do see both sides of the issue and really appreciate why people struggle and fall out on both sides trying very hard to stay true to the text. Yet, I still cannot understand how Calvinism allows for tension. 


My answer: 

Calvinism is the only system that can allow for tension. I am not saying that all Calvinists do. Some, for example, will deny God’s universal love to resolve the tension concerning God’s love and His unconditional election. But the most respectable Calvinists that I know of do not.

Arminianism, as a theological system, solves the tension once and for all by saying that God loves everyone, therefore, He could not have unconditionally elected only some. For this reason, they will define election in a conditional sense. He must have elected all “in Christ” or His election must be based upon foreknowledge. Either way, conditional election is a necessary part of the Arminian system. Therefore, tension does not exist.

My point is that Calvinism does not have this “problem.” It is important to understand that a denial of God’s universal love is not a necessary component of Calvinism (even though some do). Neither is a denial of universal atonement. One can be a Calvinist and believe that Christ’s atonement has universal application, whether it be ontological (four point Calvinists), potential (Calvin himself), or some nuanced practical (John Piper).

In the end, you can be a Calvinist who affirms both unconditional election and God’s universal love, atonement, and desire for none to be lost. I know it sounds contradictory, but this is my point. Calvinism allows for this tension. John Piper, Tom Schriener, and Michael Horton, and other contemporary Calvinists, including myself, believe that God loves all people, does not want any to perish, but has only elected some. We must live with this tension.

Tension does not make the view right, but it does evidence, to me, exegetical integrity. It is like text criticism. When people are comparing manuscripts that don’t agree, the temptation is to go with the reading that resolves any tension. But good text critics know that this lacks integrity. That is why one of the basic principles of text criticism is “The harder reading is usually the best.” Usually is the key word. While Calvinism allows for “the harder interpretation,” it does not mean that it is the correct one. But one must take this into consideration.

Arminians, because of their absolute and necessary denial of unconditional individual election, have alleviated their system of such problems. In other words, they go with the reading that resolves any apparent conflict—theological or emotional. My own thoughts are that their system is, to some degree, as it is defended today, a product of the enlightenment. Why? Because they can’t live with the unresolved tension. Either God loves all people and has conditionally elected everyone, or God does not love all people and has only unconditionally elected those He loves.

It is the same thing with Jehovah’s Witnesses with regards to the doctrine of the Trinity (although, not the same level with regards to orthodoxy). JWs cannot live with the tension of their being one God and three persons. Therefore, they deny the persons to resolve this tension. The problem is that they have to deny clear biblical teaching to do so.

There are five main things that I think serve as illustrations as to how I believe the Christian faith, properly grounded in Scripture, must live with tension (though not contradiction):

1. Creation ex nihilo (out of nothing). How can something come from nothing?
2. Trinity. How can God be one and three?
3. Incarnation. How can an eternal timeless God become man?
3. Hypostatic Union. How can one person have two complete natures, God and man?
3. Election. How can God have elected only some but love all?

Each time these issues are resolved, I believe that more than likely you have embraced a false doctrine of some sort and to some degree. Therefore, don’t try to resolve it. Just live with the tension.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon 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. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    23 replies to "Tension in Calvinism – tension in the Christian faith"

    • Vance

      But my problem comes back around to the same thing. The tension is a nominal one, since it is only in name only. Do Calvinists really give FULL credence to the idea that God desires every one to be saved, and the idea that God can accomplish anything He wants? All I hear Calvinists do is promote the election side of the equation. The other side of the tension, for example, definitely does not have a “letter” applied to it! 🙂

      Then there is the other tension, which I think the Arminians do a (slightly) better job balancing. That is the veritable slew of verses, OT and NT, which discuss the process of salvation involving real human behavior and perseverance. We must believe, turn, accept, cling, hold tight, etc, with a slew of other verbs. The entire Scripture is written with this very non-determinative manner, even if there are some deterministic passages in there as well. I think the Arminian position, while still giving full credit to God’s sovereignty, treats all of this type of non-deterministic Scripture with more credence and respect than most Calvinist teaching I have seen, which tends to undermine these texts and write them off much too simply.

      Ironically, at some point, the argument for holding things in tension can backfire, and point to inconsistency or simple unworkableness. What I mean by holding things in tension is being able to realize the limitations of our understanding and give full respect to the various Scripture which seems contradictory. To me, holding things in tension means NOT insisting upon a detailed, dogmatic, systematic approach where we have ambiguity in the texts themselves. If you do develop such a systematic doctrine, you are choosing one side of the tension over another, by definition. Admitting the “issue” does not mean you hold it in tension.

      So, in the end, both the Arminian and Calvinist position, by developing these complex and detailed analyses (how many trees have been killed in the process of developing and debating these constructs?), go too far in their positions. They simply go further than a TRUE and complete respect for the tension would allow. Giving each side it’s true due would result in being a bit more like the Orthodox, and saying “there seems to be a mystery here, and rather than head into detailed systems in such murky waters, I will step back, acknowledge the seeming contradiction, and leave it at that.”

      And this is functional, I think. Whether the election is conditional or unconditional, people are either saved or they are not. If we do believe, we are saved, period, and it makes little difference in the end exactly how that happened, the degree to which God forced our actions or left it to us. I don’t see the practical effect for our Christian lives or for the presentation of the Gospel either way. I don’t see Arminians walking around puffed up over the fact that God gave them the grace to turn to Him. And I don’t see Calvinists refusing to preach the Gospel because the think it will all happen as God determines.

      So, while I find such discussions interesting, I ultimately see no need to pin God down on this one.

    • C Michael Patton

      Vance, you missed what I was saying. Arminianism denies unconditional election. Therefore, there is no tension with their system. That is how they resolve it . . . by saying election is conditional.

      Calvinism does not. Calvinism, like the text critical illustration, goes with the harder reading, even though it produces tension.

      Granted, there are Calvinists who don’t emphasis God’s love and mercy to all, but this is not a NECESSARY condition of being a Calvinist.

      Again, the issue is election. If you believe it is conditional, then you have solved the dilemma of God’s universal love (but in my opinion sacrificed the plain reading of the text). If you say it is unconditional, then you are either going to have to sacrifice God’s love or hold the two in tension.

      In the end, Calvinism can allow for the tension, even if some Calvinist’s don’t. Piper, Schreiner, Frame, Whitefield, Spurgeon and many other are examples of Calvinists who hold unconditional election and God’s love in tension.

      Remember, tension and mystery are not contradiction at all. Things can be paradoxical and be true. Refer to my illustrations above. If good exegesis demands that we see God’s election as unconditional and His love as universal, this produces a tension because of the unanswered question “Why didn’t he choose everyone then?” This is the question that cannot be answered.

      Remember, there is a point concerning this issue where we simply have to sit before God in silence, respecting His sovereignty. Otherwise, the objector of Romans chapter nine got it all wrong and Paul answered him wrongly without explaining how his suppositions were incorrect.

      Again, if the issue is God’s unconditional election and God’s universal love, I want to make it plain that I sacrafice neither, nor do I emphasis one over the other.

      Do you sacrafice either to resolve the tension? That is the question? If so, which one?

    • Dr Fin

      Without debating the issue, I think you, Michael, have committed the fallacy of the excluded middle, i.e., writing as though Calvinism and Arminianism were the only two choices. That cannot be the case, however, since I (and a great number of others) hold these two truths – election and responsibility – in tension and have been told many times in many places that I am not a Calvinist because I do not march in lockstep with the carefully crafted semantic gymnastics of the TULIP, which is the shibboleth of all things “true” about our faith.

      There is at least one other position that is certainly not Arminian but does not “measure up” to the gold standard of Calvinism (which in the 1950s declared the teachings of Chafer to be heretical). So to say that Calvinism is the only system that can allow for the tension emits an odor of hubris I personally find distasteful among the Calvinists online. I am sure it was accidental on your part.

      If you detect just a bit of resentment here, know that it is not so: it is, rather, a detached disdain for the notion that any one system of theology can make sense of all of the data of Scripture. None has, can, or ever will, and we would all do well to be a tad bit more humble about our own positions.

      There is also a weariness with Calvinists who apparently have nothing left to learn about God and our faith since they do not admit to doubts or limits to their own knowledge and theology. I think the need for answers drives some to an unnecessary and untenable system of theology that some of the rest of us find quite rigid and uncharitable.

    • Vance

      Yes, I see what you are saying, and agree that there is not as much tension in that one issue for Arminianism, but there still is some because Arminians recognize that the language of election and the language of God’s free gift to all are not completely harmonized even in their approach.

      But my point is to raise the question whether Calvinists who claim to hold those two in tension really do. First, while they talk about God’s universal love, that concept is not the whole of the seeming conflict. It also lies in the Scriptural record of salvation actually being offered to all, and God wanting everyone to be saved, but many rejecting it. I am not sure I have heard Calvinists assert that Scriptural fact in a real and meaningful way. You can say you hold something in tension just by admitting it is there, but you only really hold it in tension if you proclaim that truth with the same vigor. You have to admit that Calvinists, for the most part, do not do this.

      They, in the terms of some Creationists nowadays, do not “preach the controversy”. They do not make “salvation available to all, freely given and often rejected by Man”, which they might admit is taught in Scripture, part of their systematic order of salvation. All they seem to do is mention it in passing as also there in Scripture, note that it contradicts what they are primarily asserting, then calling it a mystery.

      I agree with you entirely on the tension and mystery being perfectly fine, of course.

      But does not holding two things in tension require giving full respect to each?

      You might do this, I have not listened to the TTP soteriology lectures, but most Calvinist seem a bit shy about proclaiming that God did make His salvation available to all who believe, and that God wants all to believe and be saved, and that God has all power to effectuate that desire.

      As for your last question, that is not the area of conflict for me, since I don’t see unconditional election as mandatory in Scripture. Where I hold the tension, and refuse to be dogmatic, is the concepts of God’s sovereignty (all salvation being God’s work), and the clear Scripture that Man is required to take action and will be held responsible. Now THERE is a tension!

    • Vance

      Just to follow up on the last point I made, upon pondering this issue of tension (thanks for making us think!), is that possibly an area where it is the Calvinist who unwinds the tension that exists in Scripture? Scripture contains both language stating that all of our salvation is the work of God and yet contains equally clear language about our own required actions in salvation? All those verbs I mentioned earlier associated with Man’s actions? That Scripture is there, and there is a ton of it.

      Arminians attempt to relieve this obvious tension a bit with prevenient grace allowing some action, but the Calvinist avoids the tension altogether by saying that despite all of this Scripture, it is really God working at all times, even when it seems to be Man turning, accepting, believing, etc. They don’t hold the tension by saying “yes, Scripture DOES teach that man’s actions matter in salvation in a real way and he will be accountable for those actions and this seems to conflict with our unconditional election, but we will hold both in tension.”

      Or, would they? Again, maybe I am talking to the wrong Calvinists.

    • C Michael Patton

      Fin, I know where you are coming from, believe me I do. The issues is not so much Calvinism and Arminianism, but conditional and unconditional election. Broadly speaking, anyone who holds to unconditional individual election can be considered a Calvinist. I know this won’t sit well with some of the traditional hyper-calvinists or even Lutherans, who don’t want to be identified with any but their name-sake. Even some who believe in unconditional election don’t want to be IDed as Calvinists, but that is moot for this issue.

      Believe me, I have been down this road too. I was a 4 pointer for quite some time. I graduated from DTS which is a 4 point school. We have all had to deal with other Calvinists who say “You can’t be a Calvinist if you don’t accept all five.” There are even those who would say that you can’t be a Calvinist if you don’t believe in retrobution. Every group is going to have those who want to represent the group, thin the ranks, and hold the fort by themselves. In the end, they end up misrepresenting the best of what the tradition has to offer by focusing on the non-essentials of that tradition.

      Either way, this is what I am talking about. There really is no middle ground on this one issue—unconditional/conditional election.

      Unconditional election is that which creates the necessity of tension between God’s sovereign election and His universal love.

    • Enterprise24


      I think I would a Calvinist who would agree with you when you said,

      “They don’t hold the tension by saying “yes, Scripture DOES teach that man’s actions matter in salvation in a real way and he will be accountable for those actions and this seems to conflict with our unconditional election, but we will hold both in tension.””

      It seems to me that the Bible shows us that God pleads with his people, indeed all people through preaching of the gospel, to come to him in faith. Yet, unconditional election of individuals seems to be taught. I’m not sure how these two come together.

      How much has sin affected our ability to choose God? The force of Scripture seems to be in the direction that people continually walk away from God (Romans 3), yet God yearns for people to come to him as a father would yearn for his lost son to return. Is it God himself who “takes the veil away” in the son in order for him to come to his senses, to return to his father in humility; or is it God who “takes away the veil” in the son to allow him (without any further influence from God) to choose to either stay in the pig pen or return to his father? My temptation is to agree to the former possibility (and indeed, I still hold to this position), but is that going too far in the ‘details’ of salvation to warrant reasoned speculation? Or, are there any more possibilities that what I have presented here? In the past, I would have given a hearty “No”, but given this current discussion, I’m not so sure now.

    • Eric

      The Lutheran understanding has not been represented on this post. From reading the posts, one would assume there are only two choices – Calvinism or Arminianism.

      Here, from an LCMS Q & A answer, is how the Lutherans view this issue:

      “The question you are wrestling with is really the question, “Why are some saved and not others?” Theologians throughout history have referred to this question as the “crux theologorum” (”the cross of the theologians”) because of the difficulty (and from the Lutheran perspective, the impossibility) of giving an answer to this question which is satisfactory to our human reason.

      Some answer this question by pointing to man’s “free will”–only those are saved who “choose” to be saved. Lutherans reject this answer as unscriptural because according to the Bible even man’s will is “dead” and powerless to “choose” God and his grace in Christ. We are saved not because we “choose” to be saved but because the Holy Spirit works faith in our heart through the Gospel (even faith is a gift!). Others answer this question by pointing to God’s sovereign will: God himself predestines from eternity some to be saved and others to be damned. Lutherans reject this answer as unscriptural because according to the Bible God sincerely desires all to be saved and has predestined no one to damnation.

      So how do Lutherans answer this question? The answer is that Lutherans do not try to answer it, because (we believe) the Bible itself does not provide an answer to this question that is comprehensible to human reason. Lutherans affirm, with Scripture, that whoever is saved is saved by God’s grace alone, a grace so sure that it excludes all human “action” and “choice” but rather rests on the foundation of God’s action in Christ and his “choice” (predestination) from before the beginning of time. Lutherans also affirm, with Scripture, that those who are damned are damned not by God’s “choice” but on account of their own human sin and rebellion and unbelief. From a human perspective, there is no “rational” or “logical” way to put these two truths together. Lutherans believe and confess them not because they are “rational” and “logical,” but because this is what we find taught in Scripture.”

    • C Michael Patton

      I think that we need to be careful that we understand irresistable grace. Just like other doctrines in the Reformed system, it can be misunderstood and, more commonly, misrepresented.

      When God calls us to himself, in Calvinism, he does not do so by forcing us against our will, but He transforms and frees our will through regeneration. This way people can once again see His beauty, and this beauty is irresistable.

      Therefore, it is true that God does “remove the veil” and allows the “son” to make a choice. Yet, God is not irresistable not in the sense of forcing people against their will, but in the sense that people, once regenerated, will definitely and always choose Him.

      Hope that does not get us too off subject.

    • C Michael Patton

      Eric, that is a great view. Actually, this is the view of Calvinism as well (compatiblistic). The tension is allowed.

    • Enterprise24

      So would it be safe to say that unregenerated people always “freely” choose to disregard God’s call while the regenerated always “freely” choose to regard the call of God?

      If so, then God unconditionally elects those who will be regenerated. The unregenerated will always “freely” disregard God (he leaves them to their own devices). However, if God loves the unregenerated the same (whatever that means) as the regenerated, then why are there unregenerated people at all? I can see how libertarian freedom removes this tension. It seems so easy to say that people are free, and thus conclude that God conditionally elects people based on a free choice. Its uncomfortable for people to leave issues in paradox.

      A close friend of mine is passionate against Calvinism for this very reason. She is uncomfortable with the paradox of unconditional election and human responsibility/freedom. Her conclusion then is people are free to chose or not chose God, and God elects those who make the good choice. Nice and neat, sure, but I’ve heard some rather distorted interpretation (in my humble opinion) of passages from her to fit her theology.

      It seems to me that though the tension is difficult to deal with intellectually, if the Scriptures do not attempt to satisfy the paradox, then neither should we. Is that a fair conclusion?

    • C Michael Patton

      I think this is good. But if find no issue with your friend’s structure either.

      You said:
      “However, if God loves the unregenerated the same (whatever that means) as the regenerated, then why are there unregenerated people at all?”

      This is a good question. I don’t have an answer for this. Thus lies the tension. The point is that both are taught clearly in Scripture. Once we recognize this, we need to see it like we see the Trinity and the hypostatic union of Christ. While we can’t resolve it, I believe that they are both true.

      At the same time, I would say that God’s love for the elect is a love that does elect them to salvation. It is nothing within them that causes this “special” act of love. But we must not think that it is an arbitrary choice. When we say that there is nothing within us that causes God to choose us, this is not saying that there is nothing within God that causes it.

    • PaulM

      I do not believe that “TULIP,” which am referring to and reading as “Calvinism,” allows for the tension. It puts things in a set format and then says there is a tension.

      I believe the healthier thing would be to say that the “ULIP” points out areas where there is a tension within scripture and then move on with growing in the Lord v. saying that one is Calvinist (which implies agreement with TULIP and saying that human responsibility and God’s universal love fits in but we don’t know how). I believe that is what Eric was getting to.

    • PaulM

      By the way, this is the post from the other blog that helped me work my way through this. Thanks again, I think I can now close this box and breath easier.

      CMP, thanks for the reply, I think I understand, but would like to clarify. An Arminian does not need to hold the tension as there is no need because no issue. A Calvinist can hold it because there is an issue that needs resolving. Is that right?

      I have no need to justify an Arminian perspective as it has some issues too, per my understanding thanks to TTP.

      However, I respectfully believe the statement that Calvinism allows for the tension because a tension created, does not mean it allows for the tension. In fact it is the supposition that creates it! While the premises for Calvinism are very biblical as they are packaged with TULIP it does not really allow for the tension but create the tension because Calvinism does not allow for the human responsibility component.

      It seems we would be better focusing on what the Bible says and allow the tension to be there. Now a good Calvinist would say, thank you that is what we are doing. You made my point!

      But I see that the package of TULIP says this is how it is and so tension v. there is biblical support for this and this and we are not sure how they fit together (unless of course it is quantum mechanics, as mankind is still discovering how God has structured things). This difference/distinction may be subtle, but it feels like fire and brimstone v. grace.

      The important thing is we keep challenging ourselves to love Him and understand Him as best we can. This has really been great and helped me clarify some areas previously a little more fuzzy in my mind.

      Thanks brother!

    • C Michael Patton

      Paul, I think that you have put it well. Of course the issue here is not with the entire TULIP system, but with unconditional election. A Calvinist would say that Scripture creates the tension, not a system of though. Your system of though either allows the tension to exist or it solves it.

    • Sean

      Some quick misc. thoughts:

      Arminianism does have plenty of tension within it; isn’t that one of the complaints against it? I only wish it had things as neatly wrapped up as five-point Calvinism. I provisionally accept it because I think the problems it solves are more important than the problems it creates.
      Dr Fin said,

      There is also a weariness with Calvinists who apparently have nothing left to learn about God and our faith since they do not admit to doubts or limits to their own knowledge and theology. I think the need for answers drives some to an unnecessary and untenable system of theology that some of the rest of us find quite rigid and uncharitable.

      THIS. I love good classic reformed systematic theologies–they own the field, after all–but you only need to read one and you’ve read them all.
      One need not embrace the Enlightenment and its thinking, but it does need to be worked through. One of the greatest problems of that branch of evangelicalism that leans toward fundamentalism is a refusal to confront the issues it raises.
      Not to be combative, but anyone who answers “The elect only” to the poll question has denied the plain teaching of Scripture:

      1 John 2:2 (ESV): He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

      ETA: God bless you for the edit feature! (Didn’t need it this time.)

    • D.A. LaGue

      Sean, you may know this but Arminianism does have a neatly wrapped
      package of their doctrine. The ‘5 points of Calvinism’ were originally a
      response to the articulation of Arminianism by a group called the
      Remonstrants. After Arminius’ death in 1609, a group claiming to follow
      his teachings made up of pastors and lay-leaders, gathered in the city
      of Gouda in 1610 and drew up a summary of Arminian beliefs in a five
      article format. These were submitted to the Church of Holland. Those
      opposed to these viewpoints drew up what has come to be known as
      the five points of Calvinism which were argued and adopted at
      the Synod of Dort in 1619.

    • Thomas Twitchell

      Eric said quoting the LCSM,

      “of giving an answer to this question which is satisfactory to our human reason.”

      And that is the point, isn’t it? It is not satisfying to human understanding which why we have been given the mind of Christ to understand the things freely given to us by God. It is not an earthly system of logic but has its locus in Scripture, where the logic is perfected in its native soil. The tension is not that Scripture does not resolve the paradox. The tension is that it does not fit the human predilection. We do not like it, our flesh rebels against it, so says Romans, and will not subject itself to it. Indeed it cannot not. It is not that it does not fit a logical system, it is that that system does not reside in man. It resides in Christ.

      Then Eric says this:

      “Lutherans reject this answer as unscriptural because according to the Bible God sincerely desires all to be saved and has predestined no one to damnation.”

      But how so. Loosely definining desires will accomplish what the human reason demands. Is there a difference between desires and wills, between love in a providencial sense and love in a particular sense? What is love? This is the sophmoric question that all youth think they know the answer. Is it emotion, motion, or what? Paul said the love of God is infinite, but we could know though never exaust it, we cannot hold it but we can possess it. The same could be asked of faith, what is it? Knowledge, conviction of that knowledge and trust, is it more? Try to define the words for their proper application. Pigeon-holing doctrine by stuffing it through the paradigm of your chosen definition will always lead to the conclusion that you predestinated. First, determine the proper Biblical definition, apply it, then see where it leads. If you do no know which one to apply, try them all and see which one leads you home.

      and also speaking of election and reprobation:

      “the Bible itself does not provide an answer to this question that is comprehensible to human reason.”

      Again, how is it that Jesus says of Judas that he fulfills what is written. How can it be that he was not predestined to his appointment, if the Scripture says he was appointed to this very end. It fulfilled what was written and since his word has been established forever from the beginning and is exalted above his name, how could it be otherwise. Lutheran’s may not want to accept it so they say that it is not comprehensible by human reason. It is however understandable by Scriptural reason.

      Sean quoted,

      “1 John 2:2 (ESV): He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”

      But failed to mention context or take into consideration John 17:

      “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.”

      If it is the case as Jesus said that he did not pray for the world, then John was contradicting Christ. If Christ by his own admission only gives life to those (a descrete number) whom the Father has given him, and he does not pray for the world, why does John say that he died for the whole world? If you selectively pigeon-hole your doctrine though a predermined definition, you will end up in universal salvation. These terms cannot have the same meaning. Just as desires does not mean the same thing as wills, even though they are the same Greek word, or near equivalents.

      The question of limit and unlimited atonement is the central pillar of the faith, not just Calvinism. It strikes at the very heart of our concept of God and his immutable nature. You say God is love, good. Does a man love a stranger as much as his own bride? That is quantitative. Does he love his bride in the same way as a stranger. That is qualitative. Does love hate? Hate is not its equal and oppositional image. Hate is an operation of love. What is love? If you were to tell me that God loves me as much and in the same way that he loves those in hell, what should be my response? Should I sin all the more so that his grace would abound all the more? And why not, since his will and desires for my salvation are quantitatively and qualitatively equal with those who are obedient, then his mercy also is mine despite my actions. And we will all be save no matter what we do.

      Another question, it has been said here that God would not command what we cannot do. Really? Are you perfect, holy? Why not? Do you love perfectly. In fact, do you do anything perfectly? If you blame free-will, then your free-will is imperfect. It is not in the image of the Son who always did the will of His Father. And being imperfect, your free-will choices are unacceptable to God. There is a reason why Jesus said, “You have not chosen me. But I have chosen you and one of you is a devil.” You can argue all that you want but the sovereign election that is effectuated by Christ’s choosing, is none of your business. But it is clearly stated that Christ chose some to be his, and he chose some to be a devil, and that election was in perfect harmony with the desires of God the Father. No matter how you put it, no matter what label you hide behind, Luther was a great man, and Jacobus Arminius, likewise in his own way, but neither, in their denials of the plain Biblical texts, were justified in denying truth.

    • Vance

      Ultimately, I don’t find the distinctions worthy of the divisiveness and the sheer time and energy which has been spent on this issue in the Church. I have studied all the Scripture, read all the arguments, both exegetical and theological, not to mention the underlying philosophical presumptions that drive so much of it. My conclusions (FWIW) are that election is not conditional, God’s sovereignty and glory is not impaired by Man’s free will and synergistic action, and that surrender or choice does not equal a “work”. But, I do not hold any of these dogmatically. Not because I don’t think they are the best answers, but because they are ultimately not important enough to be dogmatic about. And they are not things I invest much time in. What I WILL spend time on is in attempting to inject some unity into the discussion if possible.

      In the end, God offers salvation, and man either has faith and is saved or he does not and is damned. Period.

      The mechanics, the “ordo”, the process involved is, to me, largely irrelevant. Man still acts in every way the same in the salvation process, whether it is libertarian free will at work, compatibilistic determinism or hard determinism. The entire discussion, I have concluded after WAY too much time spent on the various factors, is akin to deciding how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

      I don’t see Wesleyans strutting around with pride over their free will choice (in fact it is ironically the Calvinist who seems to do most of the strutting, which is very odd). I don’t see The Calvinist failing to evangelize. I just don’t see any functional point other than the idea of “clearer thinking” on the issue, and I simply don’t think that things get any clearer with greater, and more detailed, analysis.

      I think that God is sovereign, and can do as He likes. If he wants to unconditionally elect those four guys over there, that is His prerogative. On the other hand, if God decided to create a world in which “things happen”, and He chooses, in His sovereignty, to allow humans to have libertarian free will, that is fine as well.

      All I know from Scripture and essential theology is that:

      God is perfect, and omniscient and omnipotent (no Open Theism for me, thank you).

      God can do as He likes, but I will not dictate what God likes (which I think the Calvinists do).

      God is just in all His ways, and I will not dictate what that must mean (as some Arminians do)

      God has offered salvation to all in a way that REALLY means something, ALL who believe will be saved

      God WANTS everyone to be saved, He earnestly desires it

      Not everyone will be saved

      God does not exist in time, to him there is no linear development, a past, present and future. It all happens/happened without reference to time, all of history for God is a singular “thing”, something He necessarily (being omniscient) view AS A WHOLE, and all together. So, concepts involving linear development, like foreknowledge, predestination and election, can only be imperfect accommodations to human language to describe incomprehensible “God Things”. There really is no “PRE”, or “FORE”, to God

      Still, this accommodating language of election is there for a reason, so it must MEAN something real and important, and I am not sure what that something is, really (although I suspect it is all tied up in that time paradox thingy)

      But no more important than the truths above regarding salvation free for all

      God did not author sin, although He did allow sin

      Man SEEMS, for all practical purposes, to make a choice regarding his salvation (the motivating force notwithstanding)

      Man is ultimately responsible for his behavior

      Man deserves no credit for his salvation, even if libertarian free will happens to be correct

      God is still the full author of salvation, not matter how it happened

      I can say all of this in good conscience and do not really feel the need to define it any tighter than that. All of that is enough to be going along with.

    • Eric


      The point of the Lutheran quote was NOT that Lutherans WANT an explanation that is satisfactory to our human reason, but that we believe Scripture teaches two things about Salvation. This paradox is impossible to explain (i.e. human reason is unable to understand it).

      As Lutherans we don’t believe what we do about Salvation and Election because it makes sense or is logical. We believe it because that is what Scripture teaches.

      We would see Arminians and Calvinists as those who are tying to make sense of something that is impossible to make sense of. Each of these two theological systems claims to have figured it out and has ways of “explaining” all the verses that contradict their position.

      Therefore, we would charge Arminians and Calvinists with attempting to fit their theology to human reason and understanding.

    • Eric

      I would like to add one more comment about the “paradox” issue in theology.

      Dr. Gene Veith states:

      “The distinctive characteristic of Lutheran theology is its affirmation of paradox. Calvin and Arminius both constructed systematic theologies, explaining away any contrary Biblical data in a rationalistic system of belief. Luther developed his theology in Bible commentaries, following the contours of Scripture wherever they led and developing its most profound polarities: Law and Gospel; Christ as both true God and true Man; the Christian as simultaneously saint and sinner; justification by faith and baptismal regeneration; Holy Communion as the real presence of Christ in material bread and wine.

      Not only have Lutherans always affirmed both “evangelical” and “Catholic” ideas, their way with paradox also resolves issues that have divided Protestants. Calvinists insist on salvation by grace alone to the extent of double predestination; Arminians insist that everyone, potentially, can be saved, and so stress the utter freedom of the will. Lutherans stress grace above all, that God does literally everything for our salvation, dying on the Cross, with His Spirit breaking into our lives through Word and Sacrament, the means of grace. But Jesus died for all, and potentially anyone might be saved. Lutheranism affirms the best of both Calvinism and Arminianism, while avoiding the exclusivity of the one and the potential Pelagianism of the other. Charismatics emphasize the Holy Spirit — so do Lutherans, finding that Spirit not in the vagaries of human emotion but even more tangibly as being genuinely operative in the Word and Sacraments. Lutherans are fundamentalist in their doctrinal rigor, while excluding separatism and legalism. Lutheran cultural theology affirms Two Kingdoms, preventing the secular from swallowing up the sacred, and the sacred from swallowing up the secular. (This explains why Lutherans can seem both inwardly focused and free and easy, why they seem conservative yet apolitical, and why they often have beer at their church dinners.)

      Lutheranism — with its sacramentalism and liturgical worship synthesized with its Biblicism and evangelical proclamation — might serve as a bridge between the various factions of Christianity.”

      Here is his entire article:

    • Thomas Twitchell


      As a Calvinist, I do not think that we have “it figured out.” In fact a reading of Calvin will confirm, not that he believed it to be a system of human reason, but simply what was revealed in Scripture. The fact that it has been revealed requires that it be defended and if you look at Calvin, or Augustine, even Luther, that is what they thought that they were doing in positing their dialectical arguements. Any reading of the Bondage of the Will, will find that it is throughly logical argument.

      What we, including Lutherans do is to use the only tools we have. That being human reason and logic. However, we are not dealing with a human system. This is always where we fall short, for we are trying to explain in human terms what is only revealed through revelation. In terms of human logic there appears to be contradiction, but we say paradox, because upon further review there is a subordination of one concept to another. Which is why I stated, in the Arminian system, which is nothing more than rationalism, they posit that Sovereignty in God is equal to responsibility in man. The true juxtaposition is not what they state. Human will, by nature being created by God is subordinate to his will. It is not its equal, nor is it any kind like it, being absolutely dependant upon its creator for every bit of its substance. This is the first and fatal flaw of Arminianism. As Vance put it, he has no problem with God by his Sovereignty making man with libertarian free-will. But, this results in the diminishing of Sovereignty and the exaltation of man to the level of God. It is that mistake of make man’s will equal to God’s, without cause.

      I am sorry If I was misunderstood about the Luther quote. Let me try to clarify. I agree that we cannot give a response that will satisfy human reason. However, the question that is asked cannot be avoided. We must offer an acceptable apologetic when challenged. It may not in the end satisfy and rule of human understanding, but in as much as the biblical texts must be defended they must be defended. The essential differences are not the resolution of paradox, but the impossibility of reconciling contradiction. The problem with Arminianism is not that it contradicts Calvinism, the problem is that it contradicts itself and overthrows certain truths of Scripture.

      Dort was not just a contest between the competing systems. The underlying contest was the defense of fundamental truths about God. One of those being specifically the immutablility of God including his omnicience. It was upon this basis that the inescapable open theism of Arminianism was condemned as heresy.

    • Eric

      Thanks Thomas for your response and explanation (and a very good one at that).

      I went from being an Arminian to a Calvinist. However, I eventually ended up a Lutheran.

      I have great respect for both Arminians and Calvinists; many of my close friends are one or the other.

      It is great to find a blog discussing theology where everyone is mature, polite and respectful. It is also very stimulating and thought provoking.

      I look forward to future posts:)

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