Question(composite of several): A number of us think you have given more than enough attention to the subject of Calvinism. This should not be the focal point of your ministry! It is time to move on to more edifying subjects; you are only adding fuel to the fires of division. You admit there are good Christians on both sides—so let it go at that.
Answer: I appreciate (and share) your concern lest too much attention be given to debating Calvinism. But I am confronted by a dilemma. Almost everywhere I look in God’s Word, one’s understanding of the passage depends upon whether or not one is a Calvinist. That’s a fact I can’t escape, no matter how much I’d prefer to ignore it!
For biblical understanding, one must either accept or reject Calvinism’s view that God predestined before their birth all men either to heaven or to the Lake of Fire. Much of Scripture involves God’s pleadings with Israel to repent. I must either believe that He sincerely desires to bless them all (in which case Calvinism is false)—or that He is mocking those whom He has predestined to eternal torment and from whom He withholds the very grace they need to repent. How can I study the Passover and deliverance from Egypt, the Levitical sacrifices, the passage through the Red Sea, water out of the Rock, daily manna, etc., without recognizing that these provisions, which picture Christ’s sacrifice, were for all of Israel and not for an elect among them—and thus that Calvinism can’t be true? How can I read of the serpent lifted up in the wilderness for the healing of all who believed (not for an elect within Israel who had been predestined to believe) without recognizing that here also Calvinism opposes the plain teaching of Scripture?
And how can I overlook the fact that Christ used this incident to explain His sacrifice on the Cross, which must likewise have been for all, and not for an “elect” predestined to believe from eternity past? Moreover, how can I overlook the additional fact that in none of the Old Testament types of Christ and His sacrifice for our sins was anyone first regenerated before they believed, as Calvinism claims must be the case?
I’m not trying to argue, but only to share my dilemma. I can’t ignore God’s Word! Christ’s exhortation to pray “Thy will be done...” is cruel and misleading if Calvinism is true, and thus rape, murder, war, lust, etc., are all exactly what God decreed according to His sovereign will—and is a genuine and earnest appeal only if Calvinism is false, and men, by their own free will, continually go against God’s will. What do “choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Jos:24:15), “if ye be willing and obedient” (Is 1:19), and a host of other similar scriptures mean? They are misleading if Calvinism is true, and honest appeals only if Calvinism is false. Is “whosoever will may come” a genuine invitation to all, or is it misleading—because only the predestined elect can come? Paul earnestly tried to persuade all the lost whom he encountered to repent and believe. Was he wasting his time, because Christ hadn’t died for most of them and they had already been damned before they were born—or does salvation depend upon one’s willingness to believe? The meaning of much of Scripture hinges upon whether Calvinism is true or false.
I agree—we don’t want Calvinism to be “the focal point of our ministry.” I don’t think it ever has been. At the same time, however, we can’t ignore the fact that the Bible repeatedly deals with these issues. In any study of the biblical teaching of redemption, the love of God, and manifesting that love in our lives, we must either decide for Calvinism or against it. Surely, since I am to be merciful as my Heavenly “Father also is merciful” (Lk 6:36), it matters whether God is merciful to all or just to an elect.
Isn’t it important whether God loves all and wants all to be saved, or damns multitudes whom he could save? How can I preach the gospel without deciding whether it is a genuine offer of salvation for all or for only the elect?
Some of my good friends are Calvinists, but we don’t break fellowship over our disagreement. Yet are not these issues of vital importance? How can I ignore them? I don’t want to perpetuate a quarrel, but I must deal honestly with God’s Word. I hope this helps you to understand my sincere dilemma and why I can’t just ignore Calvinism.