Calvinism -- Ten Little Caveats*
by Bob MooreCopyright 1998
Calvinism's View Of Christian Unity
John 17:21 says, "_that they may all be one_that the world may believe_" Jesus wasn't just saying, "Why can't we just all get along, pluralistically?". Puritans and Calvinists, more than most others, recognize this and are quick to herald the alarm against impure amalgamations. I believe, nonetheless, that God can make a way for reform in various traditions that will bring them closer to the truth of God's revelation.
In this chapter I will first analyze "the world believing" and move from that to our responsibility toward unity.
WHO WILL BE SAVED?
In previous chapters I have tried to describe how we are saved or how it might be that a man fails to be saved. The Arminian believes that it is by God's grace through faith. And, that God grants us opportunity to repent when we hear the gospel. They also believe that the end results of humanity's salvation or damnation is foreseen by God without God having predetermined the outcome of particular people. I have sketched a reform of that view that I think is more Biblical.
Although Calvinists use the same basic language, they don't believe that many are allowed to respond to the gospel. They believe that God gives to those He wants, a spiritual birth that is the type of life that is persuadable. If God wants us, we will agree; if He doesn't, we are already in disagreement with God's seeming proposal to save us.
It would be instructive to evaluate the final human state of affairs under both my scenario and the Calvinian scenario.
Some Calvinists believe the Bible teaches that when it's all over, few will be saved. Other Calvinists look for God's plan to include a majority of humans being saved. Each view has its plausible proof texts, but both views admit of billions of souls being eternally damned as part of God's plan to glorify Himself. What do Calvinists say about this? Some try to make a case against God saving everybody (which, according to them, He could do if He so chose), saying that without the comparison of the saved with the lost, God's glory would be diminished. They say that God's goodness would not look as good as it really is unless there were examples present of the badness that is inevitable apart from God's grace, and the glory of His wrath upon that badness. From my point of view, however, there is some sense of the "goodness" present in believers that shines out like lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation ( Phil. 2:15). This comparison is a testimonial in our present time of God's glory, while also being a testimonial for the benefit of unbelievers. The need or desire for God to have an eternal "good/bad" comparison has its appeal but lacks Biblical support.
But, we have in history at this time, a majority-lost scenario. A Calvinist God might respond by saying, "The glory is Mine, I designed the outcome this way. I am able to show My wrath on a great deal of sinfulness."
I agree that the showing of wrath upon sinfulness does bring honor and glory to God, but it stuns me to think that God would arrange it in such great proportions; willingly! Do we serve a God who takes pleasure in the death of the wicked? Do we serve a God who is quite willing that many should perish and not come to the knowledge of repentance?
Because of these "ten little reasons", I don't think so. The Bible teaches us that God does not afflict men willingly ( Lam. 3:33), but that He may eventually "be stirred up _ to do His work, His strange task, His alien task" ( Is. 28:21,22) of judgment. Though not leaving the guilty unpunished, God primarily reveals Himself as a "compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin." ( Ex. 34:6,7).
The Calvinist pleads with me that should the number of those saved be undetermined then God might not have anyone saved, which, they say, would be a great dishonor. My answer is threefold:
1. The eternal punishment of all those who freely disbelieve God - even if it were everyone - would satisfy God's infinite dishonor for being called a liar (disbelief). Even the Calvinist would agree to the truth of this. 2. None of the fallen angels have been redeemed and this is not to God's discredit. Their fate, in fact, serves as a show of God's wrath and a comparison of "saved with lost" if there is a need for such a thing. 3. The plea is hypothetical and has not been born out in history where many have indeed been saved to the glory of God.
My view is that the number to inherit salvation will be great but undetermined. You might object that God can't guarantee great results if He does not predetermine them. My answer is that the great number of saved ones is God's vision for His creation which "was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, _in hope that_ the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God" ( Rom. 8:20,21).
Certainly part of that "hope" included God's desire that Christ would be willing to go through with the sacrifice of His life rather than alter the fulfillment of Scripture: "Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen this way?" ( Matt.26:53,54).
Old Testament prophecies speak of the nations coming to the light ( Is. 60:3; c.f. Dan 2:35,44,45), but it is especially after the victory of Christ that earlier hints given in parables like the mustard seed/tree in Luke 13:19, become more explicit like Revelation 7:9, which speaks of a great multitude which no man could number." Before the work on the cross was accomplished, Jesus did not give a direct yes/no answer to the question, "Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?" ( Lu. 13:23). His answer is somewhat evasive (get saved while you have opportunity), and is directed at "the sons of the kingdom [ethnic Israel] " (c.f. Matt. 8:11,12; Lu. 13:28,29). These people were in danger of being excluded from the number being saved. Jesus, no doubt, was reacting to the Jewish entitlement attitude which may have been encouraged by the previous verses ( Lu. 13:18- 21) which pictured the number of those "saved" as being decidedly large. The person asking the question may have been confused over the-kingdom-is-great references as they related it to Matthew 7:13-14 where Jesus refers to the "many entering the broad gate and wide road leading to destruction. Because the gate and way to life is narrow, few are finding it." This was a description of present conditions rather than a prediction of the future of the kingdom which was described as a great harvest for which we humans were to request fellow workers ( Lu. 10:2).
It is astounding to realize that God's plan is for man to be necessarily instrumental in the outcome of those who will be saved. A kinsman is necessary to be the redeemer of mankind. A man is necessary to save man. That man is Christ and because of Christ it is also those men who are in Christ who are necessary to save a large number of men. Think of Peter praying for workers. God didn't send angels to Cornelius to deliver the gospel, but Peter, himself. Romans 5 teaches that by one man came death and by one man came redemption. By this last man, we believers become workers together with God ( 1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 5:20; 6:1), letting God entreat potential believers through us; urging our hearers not to receiver the grace of God in vain. This is one example of Biblical synergism; "working together with God." Acknowledging that God does this is not the same thing as being fascinated with human agency.
Once Christ is victor, everything eventually falls before Him. The multitude of those being saved is insured by the persuasive powers of our God. Why didn't He accomplish this persuasion earlier in human history? I don't know, but I would hazard a guess that mankind (as a corporate entity) by its nature, in mankind's early history, had similarities with what a child is like. A child, for example, is persuaded without his reason playing a large part. In the adolescence age of mankind, man tests his reasoning powers against his former training that he had in his childhood period. In the adolescent age he tends to side with his lusts against his former training or his reasoning. In the manhood stage he may see that his early training was not unreasonable, but that his lusts are. He has examples to look back upon. So does mankind today (in its early manhood period, so to speak) have examples to look back upon. Mankind's history is a catalogue of such examples. "Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. _and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come." ( 1 Cor. 10:6,11). All of history teaches us what is of error and what is blessed by God.
Perhaps we are now coming out of mankind's adolescent stage (where we have been for most of history) where billions of people were lost as far as salvation is concerned. To the extent that the lost ones know their Master's will, to that extent is their eternal punishment severe ( Lu. 12:48). In his coming "early manhood", humankind may benefit greatly with billions being saved as history speaks more clearly through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. We hope that in the nations there will be a growing up into the fullness of the stature of Christ. ( Eph. 4:13 - "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ")
Knowledge about man's history doesn't guarantee belief or obedience (witness sex education), but with more and more things serving as examples of God's sanctions in history, mankind has more occasion to believe; even as our own children may have, at first tested their Godly heritage, but may have possibly been won back by God's sanctions, by more maturing, and by kindness and example. We are to "live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming." ( 2 Pet. 3:11,12). As workers together with God, we actually take part in hastening that day's coming! It is God's plan to do things this way.
I have said that I don't really know why few are saved early in history and possibly many later on. A Calvinist would give the same answer as he referred to the inscrutability of God's will; but, my view of it given here accords better with the revelation we have of God's reluctance to see any lost. My view holds that God even if He does not know (as an actuality, He doesn't know, but as an "unnecessitated" contingency, He does have knowledge) whether particular ones will believe Him ( Ex. 4:9,30,31), has not created one, in creating man, who is beyond His own sovereignty. He knows our limits, our hearts ( Deut. 5:29; 29:4; 31:21), our psychology (as the human race), and He knows where He has brought us to in history and the kind of persuasion He plans to bring to bear on man as history proceeds, with the work of His Christ, finished. He knows that an increase of His kingdom will be the outcome of Christ's work since that work did succeed in being accomplished.
WHAT RESPONSIBILITY DO CALVINISTS HAVE TOWARD CHRISTIAN UNITY?
Having cited Ephesians 4:13 "until we all attain the unity of the faith", I am led at last to a large part of my desire in writing _Ten Little Reasons_; a desire to promote Christian unity.
Concerning unity, Jesus said, "[I pray] that they all may be one; as thou , Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me ( Jn. 17:21)." If this means essentially the same thing as Paul meant when he said, "Now I exhort you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you, but you be united in the same mind and in the same judgment ( 1 Cor. 1:10)", then I am made to think unity has something to do with Christian doctrine.
True Christians are not ordained to be just as schismatic as the Jews are among themselves, or the Mormons are, or as the Islamists are, or even as the history-revising, deity- denying "Christians" are. True Christians are called to be forebearing "to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." ( Eph. 4:2,3). There ought to be a difference between Christians and the religions of man. Alas, we have not been much different with regard to schisms. I'm not ready, on the other hand, to call "compromise", "unity" as is done when ecumenicists exclude and disobey Scripture to avoid disagreement.
Most Christians tolerate minor interpretational differences ("forbearing in love") and at the same time deeply believe that perfect unity about what the truth is will never be achieved this side of the resurrection. If Jesus' idea of oneness was epitomized like this, then He must have believed there would always be a certain level of discord among His true followers. Since He never alludes to such discord, we must believe that in our forbearance of others we ought to be working to achieve actual unity.
"Every congregation that loves the word of God should be eager to have its doctrines and practices searched in a charitable spirit by others." 
I am nave enough to believe that, despite centuries of differences among "parts of the body" of Christ, "if any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from Myself." ( Jn. 7:17). Jesus implies that if people are willing to know the truth, they may actually learn and know it. Being "willing" implies willingness to repent from previous positions of belief. God's church will be as He designs it, not as cynical men design it. He will "sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth." ( Jn. 17:17). It is true, then, that we will "all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." ( Eph. 4:15).
If we believe these things, we will consider whether we need to repent from former positions. In doing this myself I have found that I am growing and changing from being the "classical" Arminian that I used to be. I broke out of the interpretational circle that I was in. I think God used Calvinist friends of mine to let me enter what some have called a "hermeneutical spiral" instead of a self consistent hermeneutical circle. 
As I understand the concept of the "hermeneutical spiral" approach to interpreting Scripture, it is a method of facing our Bible readings each day (as much as possible) without our previous filters (leanings, biases, etc.). Doing this allows the Spirit to bring better understanding to us about His revelation. The Spirit is able to move us from one engrained pattern of thinking to a new and better pattern.
True reform happens when authority is changed. Authority, for example, changed from tradition to the Bible in the reformation involving Luther and others. Authority is changed when darkness is exposed by the light. It has been shown in _Ten Little Reasons_ and in other works, how that Calvinism tends to find a basis in Greek philosophy, but what has been lacking is a way out that is not Arminian or Calvinian, but a synthesis that involves deeper but less obvious truths. Common sense may be contradicted when this happens but if it's from God it shows the way forward.
For example, common sense may tell us that sovereignty does not allow for anything for which the Sovereign is not totally responsible, but the exposure of the truth brings to light too many contradictions to our expectations for us to keep going on. I hope that this is what _Ten Little Reasons_ has done. As we begin to despair, our continued trust in God leads us to see the way of escape which breaks the "circle" into a "spiral out".
To trust God in this is to obey Him, and to obey God is to be led out of our difficulties. I am indebted to Richard Bledsoe for this understanding. 
One of the implications of the gospel is that the Lord is in control of all things that exist ( Matt. 28:18). This means that whatever is involved in God's self-limitations of His sovereignty, He does not lose control of things. The concept of God's self-limitation that I have described is, therefore, accomplished by God without His surrendering control of what He must control to be sovereign. I can't explain how He does this but I believe He does it. Because of their view of what the sovereignty of God means, Calvinists are often caught in an analysis paralysis; coming up with new terms and concepts (like "accommodation", "antinomy argument", "supra lapsarian", etc.) to help explain things. Not that it's wrong to reach for terms to be precise about things, but that the simplicity of God's revelation as we have it, is in danger, through Calvinism, of becoming a concatenated hermeneutical circle that justifies itself without consideration of its presuppositions.
I believe the way forward is to seek Christian unity. As Jesus said, "that the world may believe that Thou hast sent me." ( Jn. 17:21). I am responsible for doing this. The Calvinist is responsible for doing this. This is one big reason Calvinism needs reforming.
Willard A. Ramsey, _Zion's Glad Morning_ (Millennium III Publishers, SC, 1990, p.133)
Richard Bledsoe, "Prophecy and the Coming Christian Revolution" (in "Biblical Horizons", No. 77, Sept. '95, PO Box 1096, Niceville, FL 32588)
* Caveat: a warning or explanation to prevent misinterpretation.