Jerry Walls lectures on objections to Calvinism

I watched this presentation and the presenter honed in on the underlying problems with the Calvinistic viewpoint and how scholars who really understand what it all entails have had to respond.

WINTERY KNIGHT

WARNING: This lecture is a very sharp and pointed critique of Calvinist theology. Viewer discretion is advised. 

In Protestant Christianity, there is a division between people who accept Calvinist doctrines and those who don’t. Both groups think that the other group are genuine Christians, but the debate has more to do with the human free will, human responsibility and who God loves.

About Dr. Jerry Walls:

  • BA in Religion and Philosophy, Houghton College
  • MDiv, Princeton Seminary
  • STM, Yale Divinity School
  • PhD in Philosophy, Notre Dame

He is a professor at Houston Baptist University. You can find a more detailed profile here.

Dr. Walls is Protestant (like me). He is a substance dualist (like me). And he believes in a real eternal Hell (like me). And he is very, very assertive. Definitely no confidence problems here. And you’re not going to have a problem keeping your attention on this lecture!

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Are We Secure Eternally?

Often in these conversations the subject of eternal security arises. I believe that a Christian is eternally secured, preserved by Christ’s finished work on the cross vs. the perseverance of the Christian to prove his salvation. The former rests in the finished work of Christ while the latter has no rest as they must constantly convince themselves and seek assurance of their salvation.

I was reading in Hebrews 6 that difficult passage that seems to indicate the potential to lose one’s salvation:

4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

As I read this again it dawned on me that the writer is not talking about an individual person’s ability to lose their salvation but he is writing about the fate of unrepentant Israel. Israel was enlightened by the prophets, tasted of the heavenly gift of the blessings of God, experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit, lived in prosperity while the national posture obeyed the commands and experienced the very presence of the Son of God in their midst.

But instead of receiving Christ, they rejected Him and spread false rumors of Jesus’s demise and made claims that He never rose again but His disciples stole His body away. It’s in that sense that they keep Jesus on the cross because they cannot let go of the condemnation that put Him on the cross so they continue to subject Jesus to public disgrace. To think otherwise is to admit that His charges were false and that He really is the Messiah.

Notice the text that follows:

7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

For the Hebrew recipients, the use of the term “land” is a loaded one and represents the nation of Israel. That is why the writers of Hebrews uses that imagery to portray Israel as a barren land that does not produce so that it is burned up. It was only a few short years later that the temple was destroyed and much of Jerusalem was under fire.

But to assure the Hebrew recipients of their salvation, the writer follows with a statement that indicates that he wasn’t talking about them:

9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation.

This isn’t the only time that I have seen Biblical interpretators miss an author’s reference to Israel and in every case, it can lead to a twisted understanding if you miss it.

In this case, this text cannot be used to defend the teaching that one can lose their salvation.

What does “all” mean?

There is a subtle sleight of hand that Calvinists use when discussing the word “all” in the Scriptures. Specifically, this is in relation to their doctrine of Limited Atonement where Christ only died for the elect and did not die for those that God has chosen to be saved.

In response, let me suggest that “all” always means “all” but the context determines the scope. The word “all” may have two completely spheres in question.

For instance, in Romans 3:23 Paul writes:

“For all have sinnned fallen short of the glory of God.”

It is clear that in this context that Paul is not just talking about Christians but everyone. This is a true statement and it clearly universal in scope.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15 NIV)

Here is another text by Paul that claims the universality of Christ’s atonement because it is true that all died. Every single person who ever existed has experienced spiritual death because of Adam. Thus in the very same context, Paul juxtaposes the death of Christ for all against the truism that all died.

It was out of the “all” that the “those who live” would arise.

Paul also writes:
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6 NIV)

Again, who are the ungodly? The entire world. Paul did not qualify it by saying the ungodly who were elect. Christ died for the ungodly which is everyone.

I have read of differing counts but several scholars have noted that for Calvinism to be true, you have to modify the meaning of all, everyone, etc. between 40-70 times in the New Testament to mean only the elect as opposed to a universal understanding when there is no qualifier to limit in scope.

For any student of the Bible, that kind of reading into the text should raise serious alarms.

The Despair of Calvinism

I had a chance to spend some time in a church that taught Calvinistic principles but at least had the grace to accept those who held other major views on sovereignty and election.

What I discovered is that after a time of focusing so much on the glory of God I began to lose my sense of the closeness and intimacy with God. Love for God was replaced by working to glorify God. Nothing wrong in seeking to glorify God but from my reading of the Scriptures, the greatest command is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. What God sought most, according to the answer of Jesus, is our love for Him. And it is out of this love that flows our service to others.

I felt that the Calvinist desire to ascribe everything to God made me feel that my Christianity was reduced to a works-based existence. I was constantly trying to curry the favor of God rather than rest in the fact that His favor is not based on my performance but upon my faith. Later, I would realize that the Calvinist’s focus on God’s glory stems from their understanding of God’s Sovereignty where the human is only an actor for a fully predetermined plan in every detail.

People who came to Jesus seeking to be justified and honored based on the observance of the Law always came up empty and short. Those who came to Jesus humbly, in faith, seeking for God to do something where all human efforts failed found forgiveness, mercy, and the grace of God.

I love God and I love honoring Him not only because He is transcendent, but also because He is near.

The Grand Plan of Election in the Old Testament

So from previous posts we saw that God had this grand plan to give birth to a people that He could call His own. He chose the bloodlines through several generations to make it happen the way that He wanted.

But what happened after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? How did God continue to choose? Did He make specific choices? How did you become a “chosen” person?

God had made a number of covenants (or promises) to Israel through Abraham and Moses that applied to the nation of Israel. Anyone born as an Israelite would automatically fall under those covenant promises (or consequences for national disobedience). Through the establishment of the Old Testament Law of Moses, outsiders could also come under these covenant promises by subjecting themselves to these Laws.

After Jacob, we no longer see God making specific choices of individuals to form this nation. A plan had been out into place and God chose to work through natural events to organically develop the nation.

Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, the focus of attention is around the chosen nation of Israel. At different points in their history God chooses individuals to fulfill specific roles, both good and bad, in regards to the national posture of Israel. God chose king David and specific prophets to lead and speak to the people at critical junctions in their history. God also chose Pharaoh through whom the plagues would come and chose the Babylonians that exerted punishment on Israel for their disobedience.

But all of these individual choices that God made were not about their eternal fate but the role they played in relation to Israel.

Also of critical importance is to note that God had foreseen this nation, loved this nation, and planned for it before it ever existed. The Apostle Paul mentions that Israel was foreknown by God as a people God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. (Romans 11:2 NIV)

Moses recounts the story of Abraham , Isaac, and Jacob:Because he loved your ancestors and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength, (Deuteronomy 4:37 NIV)

The Old Testament is replete with examples of God’s love, affection, and care for the nation of Israel. Even staunch proponents of individual election to salvation in the New Testsment do not deny that in the Old Testament, God’s primary program of election was corporate and the selection of individuals were to serve a purpose in relation to His corporate people.

Choosing the bloodlines Part 2

Previously we discovered that God, in bringing about the nation of Israel made specific choices as to whom the bloodlines should flow through to create this country.

This next entry is critical to as a foundation to understanding God’s program of election in the New Testament.

We have already covered Abraham but some unique circumstances arise when it comes to choosing Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob.

God promised Abraham and his wife Sarah an heir to fulfill His promise but nothing was happening. So when they essentially give up, Sarah takes a cue from the surrounding culture and tells Abraham to have a son through their maid. Well, a son does come but God appears to them again and tells them that this is not the one through whom God promise would be fulfilled. Eventually, Sarah gets pregnant and gives birth to Isaac even though she is long past child bearing age.

When Isaac is later married, his wife Rebekah gets pregnant with twinsthat seemed to be wrestling in her womb. The Lord appears to Rebecca and tells her:
The Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23 NIV)

Already, before either of these boys had done anything, God had already decide that they both will grow into nations and the younger of the two will be the one that He has chosen for the unique bloodline to form the nation of Israel.

The younger son turns out to be Jacob who had twelve sons. God changes Jacob’s name to Israel and each one of Jacob’s sons becomes a tribe in Israel.

So God made specific, individual choices as to who would be involved to birth a nation but these choices were not about their eternal fate but the role that they would play.

Choosing the bloodlines Part 1

In an earlier blog I suggested the assumption that election to salvation is individual is not rooted in Old Tesament theology and is also the reason why Scripture seems to take contradicting positions.

So what was God’s program of election in the Old Testament?

God’s chosen people in the Old Testament were the Israelites. We know that God first chose Abraham, then his son Issac, and then Isaac’s son Jacob as the blood line through which Israel would be formed.

We also know that they were chosen irrespective of their faith. For example, God first act of election was when He first revealed His promise to Abraham (then known as Abram) was in Genesis 12:
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing. (Genesis 12:2 NIV)

Yet it wasn’t until years later when God spoke to Abraham about having a child that he believed God and God credited him with righteousness:
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6 NIV)

The Apostle Paul also mentions this moment as the moment that Abraham came to faith.

So God chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as those would would form a unique bloodline to create the nation of Israel. And He chose them irrespective of their faith.