40 Questions About Arminianism: Revisited

I believe that there are times in all of our lives when we lash out without thought or care. Especially in the world of digital media, putting something in print quickly and never revisiting the issue can be an easy thing to fall into. But it can also be a dangerous and, sometimes, painful thing to do for those who have to read what we write. Especially if what we write is about them or their work.

When I wrote my original review of 40 Questions About Arminianism this is exactly what happened. I read the book as a Calvinist reading about Calvinism and the “enemy” on the other side of the Soteriological fence. I was not reading it as someone who truly wanted to learn more about my Arminian friends. And, with that mindset, I wrote a scathing review of the book.

It was not long after the original review was published that two individuals reached out to me questioning my review. They were not attacking me, though, admittedly, that was how I read their comments at first. They were genuinely wondering how I came to the conclusions about Dr. Pinson’s book that I had.

Shortly thereafter, I decided to reach out to Dr. Pinson. I wrote to him about my thoughts on the book and some of the concerns that I had. His response was kind and gracious and I prayed about what to do next. I decided that maybe there was something I had missed. The next day I informed Dr. Pinson I would re-read the book.

Continue reading

John Calvin and The Servetus Affair

One thing that often comes up in debates about Calvinism is the execution of Michael Servetus in 1553. Those opposed to Calvinism try to make Calvin out to be a murderer of Servetus and therefore someone that should not be listened to in the realm of theology. But there are a few problems with this argument.

The first problem with this argument is that Calvinists follow Scripture, not John Calvin. Even without Calvin, the doctrines that we hold to still apply because they are found in Scripture. They were not invented by John Calvin, they were not invented by Augustine of Hippo either. They are found in every book of Scripture.

The second problem with trying to say that the Servetus affair should dismiss Calvin is that it means there are other authors this principle would apply to as well. Should we dismiss all of Paul’s writings for his persecution of the church? Should we dismiss the Psalms of David because of his sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah? I do not think you will find one person who uses the Servetus affair as an argument that would agree to dismissing those authors as well. This is an inconsistency in their philosophy.

The third and final problem that will be discussed about the Servetus affair is that the argument has no basis in historical accuracy. Unfortunately, for those who use this argument, facts matter. So what are the facts? Did John Calvin murder Michael Servetus? Did he order his execution? Did he light the flames? The answer to all of these questions is no, he did not. So what did happen?

Michael Servetus was a man who denied the doctrine of the Trinity. He was wanted on charges of heresy by both the Roman Catholic Church and Protestants alike. Unlike today, heresy in the 16th Century carried the penalty of death. He had been warned by John Calvin not to come to Geneva but Servetus ignored the warning and came anyway under a disguise. However, he was found out and tried as a heretic.

John Calvin did supply the evidence against Servetus in the trial. However, he was not the one that tried Servetus, nor did he sentence Servetus to death. In fact, after Servetus was sentenced to death, Calvin lobbied to have his execution be that of beheading rather than burning at the stake so that it would be quicker with less suffering.

Now, did Calvin believe Servetus should be executed? Yes. But we need to remember the time period in which Calvin lived. It was not John Calvin who held this view and to somehow make him the villain in all of this in order to discredit other beliefs that he held is absurd.

When someone uses the Servetus Affair in arguments against Calvinism, it means they have run out of arguments and are not able to focus on the actual theology and the doctrines that Calvinists hold to in the light of Scripture.

Book Review: 40 Questions About Arminianism

UPDATE: After some discussion and review, I have re-read the book and have a new review with a much different outlook. Please know that below is my original review and no longer my stance on the book. My new review is available at this link.

The soteriological battles of Arminianism versus Calvinism have been raging since the 16th Century. In reality, they have been going longer than that, but the two positions seem to focus on John Calvin and Jacob Arminius. J. Matthew Pinson’s new book seeks to answer 40 Questions About Arminianism.

For a Calvinist, such as myself, I was excited to read a book that claims to answer questions about Arminianism. I was hoping to find something new that I did not know and to find solid explanations for the position of the opposing theological viewpoint. If that is what you are seeking, this book is not for you.

The back cover of the book claims that, “J. Matthew Pinson combines solid historical research with biblical and doctrinal position to address the following questions and more…” But this is hardly the case. Instead, the book is just a hit piece on caricatures of Calvinism. Many things are taken out of context and twisted in order to prop up Pinson’s points. Yes, there are some speckling of Arminian positions in the book, but just as much of the book focuses on Calvinism as it does Arminianism.

But the idea that the book speaks with historical and doctrinal precision is laughable at best. No greater example of this can be seen than on page 120 of the paperback edition. Pinson writes, “Consistent Calvinists get so far from the consensus of the church catholic on this doctrine that many Calvinists do not hold to limited atonement.” This is a quotation that is made as a statement of fact. But Pinson writes in the footnote, “While I have no hard data on this…” Anyone who makes a statement of fact and then relates in a footnote that there is no evidence for the statement of fact does not deserve to be taken seriously in the arena in which they debate.

Many other Scripture references are taken out of context in order to prove the Arminian viewpoint and downplay Calvinism’s doctrinal accuracy. One clear example of this is on his pointing to John 12:32 to say that Christ will draw all mean, meaning individuals, to himself. But a clear look at the context of this passage shows that he is referring to people groups, Jew and Gentile, and not individuals.

As stated before, if you are looking for a book that explains Arminian theology and letting that stand on its own, this is not a book for you. I do not recommend this resource to any diligent student of the Word for reasons put forth and generously give this book one out of five stars.

I was provided a free copy of the book by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Let’s Talk About John 3:16

John 3:16 is one of the most quoted and most beloved verses in all of Scripture. It is a defining verse that gives hope for humanity. Whoever believes in Christ will not perish. This is an amazing verse of strength, glory, and victory. But this verse is also misused regularly.

It is often stated that John 3:16 is definitive proof that God loves everyone equally and wants to save every individual. Further, it is argued that it means Christ died for the sins of every individual. However, none of these assertions are reality.

First, John 3:16 does not actually address who Christ died for directly. It only says that Christ came because of God’s love for the world and that those who believe in him will not perish. It states nothing about the extent of the atonement other than that those who believe will receive it.

But does John 3:16 say that God loves all with a “saving” love? I do not see how one can argue that from this text. Verses 17 and 18 negate this idea. They state that those who do not believe have been condemned already. They already stand condemned. They will not be saved. God has not chosen them to be saved. If God had a “saving” love for every individual, every individual would be saved. To believe otherwise would say that God cannot accomplish His will.

The idea that there is no predestination, that there is no election, is to say that God leaves everything to chance. We do not find that anywhere in Scripture. No, God chose and will save those who he has chosen. There are others that He has chosen not to save. That is what Scripture teaches.

Is this a hard pill to swallow? In some ways, yes. But in other ways it should be extremely comforting to know that God is saving anyone at all when we all deserve Hell fire.

Who Seeks God?

One of the classic arguments against election and predestination is the argument that we have free will and we all have the opportunity to come to God. But is that really true? This depends. It depends on what you mean by free will. Let’s look at what the Bible says about who will seek God.

First, let’s talk about free will. What is it? If by free will you mean every man is free to choose what he desires then, yes, I agree, there is free will. But if you mean that we have an equal choice with no influence or determiners then no, we do not have free will.

Does this align with Scripture? Yes. The proponents of free will, the humanistic definition of free will, suggest that people come to Christ on their own free will. They make this choice all by themselves. The problem is, Scripture says otherwise. Romans 3 clearly tells us that nobody seeks God.

as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.

Romans 3:10-11 English Standard Version

Nobody comes to Christ on their own. They, that is we humans, in our natural state do not want God. We want to be left in our sin in our own ways. That is the reality of the human condition.

Jesus told us that nobody comes to him without the Father (John 6:65). The Father has to grant someone to come to the Son. It is the Father who has decided who will be saved, not us. We don’t want it. Jesus also said that the Father must draw the individual to him (John 6:44). The word for draw, literally means to haul or drag. It’s not a simple, “come to me” and we follow suit. It is something God has to change within us.

So is there free will? Again, that depends on how you define free will, but nobody comes to God without God.

Book Review: Reprobation and God’s Sovereignty

Reprobation is a term often misunderstood and misused. It is a term that is full of emotions being the other side of predestination. The damnation of real people who are not of the elect of God. It is a tough doctrine but one that must be carefully studied and understood. When properly understood, it gives glory to God as we see his majesty in his holiness and justice. But what about the human objections? What about the hardness of this doctrine? Peter Sammons has the answers in his new book Reprobation and God’s Sovereignty: Rediscovering a Biblical Doctrine.

Sammons does an excellent job of explaining the doctrine of reprobation in great detail. He goes to great lengths to not only provide scriptural support, but also, painstakingly demonstrates through the history of the church exactly what this doctrine means and how it is to be used and understood. But he does not stop there.

The doctrine of Reprobation has many emotions bundled with it that lead to objections of fatalism, or an unloving God, or a God who is actually the author of evil. Sammons takes these objections one by one and meticulously details the proper responses to these objections that are largely unfounded and purely emotional pleas.

The book is full of excellent footnotes that provide readers many sources to further explore the doctrine and objections. Sammons also includes appendixes that show the detail of what is contained within the covers of the book with scriptural support and arguments. Also included are topics and areas for further study as you go deeper into this doctrine and the doctrines that connect to Reprobation.

The book is an easy read and enjoyable, not overly technical. I give this book five out of five stars for excellent research, great sources, wonderful exposition, and easy readability. This book is a must have for anyone studying the topic of salvation.

I was given a copy of this book free by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Grace Defined and Defended by Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung’s book, Grace Defined and Defended takes readers on a journey through the 400 year-old confession called the Canons of Dort. This simple, yet informative, book shows the history and circumstances that lead to the canons being written birthing the formula for what we now call TULIP.

The book does not get heavy into a theological treatise. DeYoung addresses this at the beginning stating:

My first goal is to explain the Canons of Dort. Think of this not as a  mini systematic theology or as an exegetical exploration of key salvation texts, but as a brief, accessible commentary on the background and theology of Dort itself.

DeYoung definitely delivers. He brings the articles of the canons to succinct and clear statements with explanation in modern English that leave no doubt on the history and meaning of the articles. 

The main text of the book does not give the full text of the canons. Rather, DeYoung takes key phrases that build the meat of each article and expounds upon it. This helps to keep the book short and focused sticking with the most important facts of the documents. Full texts of the positions of Dort and the Arminian position (Remonstrant) can be found in the appendixes at the back of the book. Scripture proofs are also provided for each of the points.

It is good to note that at the beginning of the book DeYoung takes a history of the TULIP acronym explaining that, while good, it does not give the full picture of Calvinism or even the canons of Dort. He does make sure to say that TULIP is good for a summary but it is not the complete story or position.

I have to give Grace Defined and Defended five out of five stars. It is easy to read and understand while giving a clear history on the Canons of Dort. I applaud Kevin DeYoung for another outstanding book to help educate the church on what it believes and why it believes it.

I was given a free copy of the book by the Publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Idea of Free Will

Do we really have free will? What is free will? Can we choose to accept Christ in our natural condition? These are all questions that have raged for centuries. Of course, there is an answer to this debate that is not hard to discover.

What exactly is free will? Well, that depends on what you are talking about. We do have free will in the sense that we can choose to do what we desire. But that does not mean that we can choose to accept Christ on our own. Why? Because that is not the desire of the natural man. Romans 3:10-12 confirms this.

We also know that salvation does not come from the will of man. John confirms this in his Gospel.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John 1:12-13 ESV

It is not the will of man or the flesh. It is the will of God, his sovereign election, that chooses us. It is not the other way around.

Later in John’s Gospel Jesus says:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:44 ESV

We cannot come to God unless He draws us. This is not a denial of free will. This is actually an affirmation of free will. However, the will of natural man will never desire God.

Does John 12:32 Go Against The Doctrines of Grace?

John 12:32 is a verse often used to go against the Reformed Doctrine of Sovereign Election. The argument is that Christ will draw “all people” to Himself, therefore this is not something only reserved to a subset of people known as the elect.

Here is the question. Does “all people” in the verse mean every person on earth or is it talking about something else? How can we answer this question?

To make this verse mean every person you have to ignore a basic rule of biblical interpretation. That is, you must take this verse out of the context of the passage.

If you single out this one verse then yes, it definitely says all people and one can assume that it means every individual person. However, if you look back at verses 20-22 you get the context of what Jesus is talking about.

There were Greeks that had come to the disciples in order to talk to Jesus. This gives us the context. The Jews (which included the disciples) were under the impression that since they were God’s chosen people, they were the ones to whom salvation was promised.

However, John 12:32 shows that Jesus is proclaiming that salvation is to both Jew and Gentile. So “all people” in verse 32 means all people groups Jew and Gentile.

When interpreting Scripture it is crucial that the full context of the passage be looked at in order to arrive at the proper interpretation of that passage.

Pharaoh and Sovereign Election

One of the challenged points of Calvinism is that of Sovereign (unconditional) election. This states that God has chosen some to be saved and passed over others. People challenge this as unfair, unjust, or just plain unbiblical. So do we see any examples of Sovereign Election in Scripture? Of course we do.

In the Exodus story we see the tenth plague, the plague of death. Exodus 11 says the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart against Israel and he did not let them go. Then, in chapter 12, he gives Moses, and by extension Israel, the instructions on how to be passed over by death. These instructions were not given to the Egyptians. They were not chosen to be saved.

The result of this was that the firstborn children of Egypt died that night. Paul even addresses this in Romans 9. Was God unfair? Was God unjust?

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

Romans 9:14-18 ESV

God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy. God chose not to have mercy on Egypt. The same way, God chooses not to have mercy on some people today but others he calls by his Sovereign choice to come to a saving faith in Him.