About five years ago, I gave a sermon in a church, as part of my practical for a Bible diploma. Previously, I had asked the pastor of the church why he never preached on sin. He told me that sermons on sin were the old days and people need to be encouraged rather than be condemned. Besides, he said, many of his congregation are either elderly, sick or hurting in one way or another. What they needed was encouragement. They needed, he said, to be told that when God looks at them, he jumps with delight. He did go over the basic outline if my sermon with me beforehand, but I later added some undelightful bits.
After church, he called me into his office. Four or five of the elders were already there. The pastor told me that that my sermon was bad. One of the elders said I was “very harsh.’’ One of the parts of the sermon I think she was referring to was: ‘’Therefore, it is not unreasonable to say that one can be poor as well as evil, frail as well as evil, jobless as well as evil.’’ I have published my harsh sermon elsewhere. What I’d like to do here is quote different parts of a sermon by anti-Calvinist Shawn McCraney on his rejection of “unconditional election” and Calvinist James White’s response, which are directly related to my harsh appraisal of “little gran’ma” (Shawn McCraney). (The Dividing Line, 9 January 2014).
“Those condemned to hell are not horrid murderers, serial killers, but they could be anyone that God has not elected. Little gran’ma who faithfully served the community, or twelve-year-old girls, who loved dolls and flowers before they’re taken, and babies, all created by God’s good will and pleasure for hell that never ends.”
“There are not any little old ladies who are good. If they are going to end up under God’s judgment, then they have lived their entire lives with hatred towards God. They have taken the gifts of God and abused them. They are sinners. And either you believe that sinners are worthy of the judgment of God or you don’t. If you think that little old ladies and 12-year-old girls who play with dolls are not worthy of God’s judgment then we’re not reading the same Bible; we’re not reading Romans 3, we’re not reading Ephesians 1; we’re not seeing what God did in the Old Testament when he brought judgment upon the nation of Israel. Your anthropology is not a biblical anthropology; it’s not consistent with biblical anthropology.
“Just in case those who have been elected started to think that they were elected to salvation because they’re so good and all that, Calvin clearly explains that the elect are chosen not because of any act of goodness present in them but solely based on God’s sovereign will. Calvin suggested that by God saving some, we are given a tremendous example of his mercy since we all deserve hell fire to begin with. That’s the thinking.”
“Yes that’s the thinking because that’s the Bible. We all deserve hell fire: the 12-year-old girl, the little old lady. These are categories you are saying would not deserve hell fire. They are enemies of God, are not holy, and honestly if you have a high enough view of God’s holiness and being and a realistic view of man’s sinfulness, these issues are not going to be all that pragmatic to you. But since they are, I have to wonder where you are within the spectrum of having a Biblical perspective of man’s sin.”
“Not one of us deserves God’s love and mercy, which I agree is true, if you think about it in that way, but to show his great love and mercy, he decided to save some reprobates while leaving the rest to become eternal kindling in the lake of fire.”
“What is the reason you think that God is under some obligation to save anyone, because that’s clearly in your thinking. Your objection is clearly to God being the one who makes the decision rather than rebel sinners. As if the judge of all the earth won’t do right, but rebel sinners will do right. I want salvation to be in the hands of the just God of all eternity, not in the hands of mankind. Romans chapter 8, what does Paul say about those in the flesh? What can they not do? They cannot submit themselves to the law of God. They cannot be pleasing to God. How do you understand that? Part of your problem is your anthropology, your view of man… There are no morally neutral creatures.”
White is undoubtedly referring in Romans 8 to “5 Those who live according to the flesh (fallen human nature) have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
He quotes R. C. Sproul’s definition of “unconditional election.”
“Our final destination, heaven or hell, says Sproul, is decided by God not only before we get here but before we are even born. It teaches that our ultimate destiny is in the hands of God. Another way of saying it is this: from all eternity, before we ever lived, God decided to save some members of the human race, and to let other members of the human race perish. God mad a choice; he chose some individuals to be saved to everlasting blessedness in heaven, and others he chose to pass over to allow them to follow the consequences of their sins into eternal torment in hell.”
“Sproul talks about God passing over them and they experiencing the just condemnation of their sin. That is not the way you presented it.”
A few remarks:
With regard to Sproul’s “from all eternity, before we ever lived, God decided to save some members of the human race, and to let other members of the human race perish.” Why should McCraney object to God’s foreknowledge of the future? Surely he believes that, unless he is an open theist where God doesn’t know what people will do until they do it. The problem Arminians have is that they are transfixed between the rock of God’s foreknowledge and the hard place of his fixed foreknowledge. Their problem is that if God foreknows from eternity what’s going to happen, then what will happen must happen. And “what will happen must happen” is plain English for “God’s decree.”
We read in Romans 9:
6b For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”
10 And not only so, but salso when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
So, God’s election, that is, God choice of those he saves, has nothing to do with anything in themselves, because there is absolutely nothing they can contribute to their salvation. God’s grace is not only efficient but sufficient. It seems to me that the main problem with the idea of freely willing to come to Christ is the Arminian’s lack of understanding or rejection of the doctrine of “total depravity” (“radical corruption” is a better term); as James White puts it, a faulty biblical anthropology.
For the Arminian, what Jesus can do is based on what individuals want him to do. “This whole idea, says James White that God’s activity in time is limited by man again illustrates the difference between looking at scripture from the divine perspective or the human perspective. If man is at the centre and God is peripheral, if it’s all about what God can’t do without man’s help, that would work. But if it is first and foremost about God, God as creator, and God’s glory, man is therefore secondary to these issues.” (James White’s review of Stephen Gaines’s sermon on Calvinism, Dividing Line, 2 January 2014). (See “Who limits God?).