I recently was listening to a Christian reformed podcast by chance called Pipes and Piety. The episode in question was the second of their reformed theology overview on the concept of unconditional election, the 2nd part of TULIP. I was interested in responding as a Christian who doesn’t ascribe to Calvinism but after checking their social media didn’t see an adequate place to reach out. So I decided the best course of action was to reiterate some insights that address some of my hangups with reformed theology and why the systematic approach doesn’t exactly keep in spirit with the totality of the Scripture.
Firstly I strongly disagree with the notion that man is totally depraved and incapable of doing good actions or actions not of an evil nature. Man is not purely evil. For if man was indeed purely evil, it is easily seen that man cannot possibly obey God’s command to repent. God threatens to eternally punish those who do not repent. But if man is purely evil and thus cannot repent, then God is not just. Rather, man can indeed repent. Even Moses declared to his hearers that what he is commanding them to do is not too difficult or beyond their reach. Moses simply commanded them to love God, to walk in his ways and his commands, decrees, and laws. Yet, if man is totally incapable of any non-evil-motivated action, then man surely cannot whole-heartedly repent, and man surely cannot obey God’s laws with all his heart and all his soul as is commanded in Deuteronomy 26:16. Moreover would there be any reason for God to expect repentance at all given that He would know we are incapable of repenting? Did God create Adam totally depraved? That would set a bad precedent for God to create a being incapable of doing good actions and incapable of repenting.
Since man is totally evil, man’s salvation is completely dependent upon God. This part is somewhat biblical; God chooses who He chooses. No matter how hard man tries, his actions alone cannot get him into heaven; God is the only one who has control. However, I believe that God will save those whose hearts are totally dedicated to Him, thus granting some influence to man. After all, God is just. However, Calvinists see it otherwise. Calvinists believe that man has no free spiritual will. Finally how does the idea of an unconditional elect square with verses that describe Jesus as the savior of the entire world. 1 John 2:2 καὶ αὐτὸς ἱλασμός ἐστιν περὶ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ἡμῶν οὐ περὶ τῶνἡμετέρων δὲ μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ περὶ ὅλου τοῦ κόσμου et ipse est propitiatio pro peccatis nostris non pro nostris autem tantum sed etiam pro totius mundi and He Himself is the [fn]propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
Yes, God is omnipotent and omniscient. He knows what will happen before it will happen. But foreknowledge does not imply predestination. Our problem is that we cannot fathom time the way God knows it. We see time as a constant stream from point A to point B. This is why we cannot fathom that there is no beginning to God and no end to God. God is infinity. God simply is.
I’ll also leave some bits from a good site I found many years ago on the subject.
1. Total inability is the concept clinged to by Calvinists that states due to Adam and Eve’s sin, man is forever a slave to sin. That due to “the fall”(not biblical by the way), man is unable to receive spiritual truths and is essentially doomed to doing evil or sin. This is falsehood. Surely if this were the case there would be some example of such a thing in Genesis where all the other consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin are located. If you read Genesis, you will see the consequences established by God are physical death, manual labor, and painful childbirth. No where is there any mention of man’s inability to do good. No where is there a mention of a 4th suffering- removing mans moral nature. Two primary texts adduced to prove the doctrine of Original Sin (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15) say nothing about Total Inability. Nowhere are we told that an invincible tendency to resist God was imparted to the race through the offense of one. If there were a place we would expect to find the doctrine, it would be in one of those passages dealing with the relationship between Adam and his descendants. But there is not a trace of such teaching there.
2. The idea of moral perfection is not found in scripture. It is reasonable to affirm that Adam and Eve were created with an original innocence. Our first parents did lose innocence when they sinned. Their eyes were then opened to good and evil, prompting them to hide from their Creator (Gen. 3:7-8). But it is another thing altogether to say that they fell from a state of moral perfection to total depravity. There’s a big difference between being good and being perfect. The fact that God called His creation “good” does not mean it was all morally perfect. Man is a sinner. Every person has folly bound up in the heart from their earliest days (Prov. 22:15). But was Adam any different? The Calvinist’s entire system of soteriology is founded on the grand assumption that Adam was created morally impeccable. He lost perfection through sin and assumed a nature totally corrupted and alienated from God, a nature imparted to all mankind as a curse. But the Scriptural evidence for these contentions is, at best, scant. For the most part, the doctrine is assumed unquestionably. Adam’s fall from moral perfection was established by Augustine’s polemics against Pelagianism and passed on, without alteration, through the barren centuries of the Middle Ages. Calvin received it in toto from his medieval legacy, as has each successive generation of theologians since. A doctrine that forms such a colossal foundation-stone for the system should have unequivocal proof in the Bible. If a theology is based on an unproven philosophic assumption how can the rest of the system be trustworthy? The Calvinist cannot expect us to believe him unless the consistent tenor of Scripture tells us: (1) God made man morally perfect; (2) Adam’s sin immediately corrupted him and rendered him unable to respond to God; (3) God transmitted this inability to all his descendants.
3. Election is true, but is shrouded in deep mystery. It is one of the secret things that belong to the Lord our God (Deut. 29:29). Calvinists and Arminians both err when they make precise statements about the nature of election. God has not told us whether or not there are conditions attached to it and we should not venture into it with such bold assertions. The Calvinist, however, does need to temper his view of election with the clearly revealed truth in Ezekiel 18:23: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” Too often, we hear Calvinists say that the damnation of the non-elect is “the good pleasure of His will.” But here, God states explicitly that He takes no pleasure in damning anyone but prefers that they turn from sin and live. How this idea fits into the Calvinist scheme is not at all clear. Nor is it clear, from a Calvinistic standpoint, why Jesus should weep over Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” This poses a thorny difficulty for the Calvinist. First of all, he must assume that the reprobation of Jerusalem was “the good pleasure” of the Father. If that is so, why was it so displeasing and heart-rending to Jesus, who was always in agreement with the divine will? Shouldn’t Jesus have also been “pleased” with the Father’s reprobation of these people? Secondly, Jesus is here attributing the lost condition of Jerusalem to her own unwillingness, not the want of election. Jesus was willing to receive them but they were unwilling. This seems to contradict the confident assertions of Calvinists about Unconditional Election. So what doctrine do we put in the place of the Calvinist’s Unconditional Election? Do we opt for one of the many Arminian forms of election? Tempting as that may be, I must now settle on the mysterious Biblical Election, the details of which have not been fully disclosed as we look into our “glass, darkly.” Perhaps further theological works by thoughtful Christians will reveal a more satisfactory resting place for our convictions.
Calvinism is one more illustration of the futility of systematic theology. God’s truths, particularly relating to soteriology, are too lofty to be put into concise formulae. The Five Points of Calvinism oversimplify the profound truths of God. They derive their force from proof-texts rather than the general tenor of Scripture. More than that, the doctrines frequently create a spirit of division, elitism and theological snobbery. The system erects walls between believers. It creates a class of Christians within the church general who are supposedly part of a worthy “inner circle.” May our brethren see fit to adopt a Berean spirit (Acts 17:11) and honestly rethink their Calvinism. We would urge them to, for a time, lay aside the commentaries of Calvin and Gill, the theology of Warfield and Hodge. With an open Bible and mind, may they take a second look at the so-called “doctrines of grace” to see if they truly are the doctrines of Christ.