Category Archives: Calvinism

David Meets Jacob Freeman

Persons of the dialog:  David, Jacob Freeman

Setting: Pastor’s office, after service.

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Jacob: Hey, thanks for coming in David. I understand you wanted to talk to me about my sermon?

David: Yeah, thanks for making time for me. You tackled some tough topics in your sermon, and I was just hoping to get some clarification.

Jacob: The topics of divine sovereignty and human freedom are certainly heavy topics, so I’m happy to help out in any way that I can.

David: I appreciate that. What you said about the responsibility we all have makes a lot of sense. I guess I was just a little lost on the divine sovereignty aspect of it.

Jacob: Ok, where did I lose you?

David: What do you mean by sovereignty?

Jacob: I mean that God created everything, and that He has exhaustive foreknowledge of everything that is going to happen before it happens. It also means that God upholds everything, in an ongoing fashion.

David: It’s those last two that I’m interested in. What do you mean by foreknowledge?

Jacob: I mean that He knows things before they’re going to happen. The Bible talks about God knowing our thoughts and our actions before we think or do them in the first few verses of Psalm 139.

David: That make sense, but how is it possible that God knows things before they happen?

Jacob: Well, I would say that He knows them because He’s God. Also, He is outside of time, so He sees things differently.

David: So, would you say that being outside of time is the aspect of His being God that allows Him to know everything before they happen?

Jacob: That is one way to put it. I think God’s omniscience necessarily includes His being outside time.

Jacob: There is an analogy I heard many years ago that helped me to understand the idea that God is outside of time. Imagine that you are inside a box, traveling down some train tracks. You cannot see out of the box, except for one small circle in it. This circle is fitted with a pipe, about an inch and a half or so wide. From this opening, you can see only a small fraction of what is actually there. You see small bits of scenery moving by quickly, but that is all you know. That is like us, trapped in the universe, inside time. God would be like the person who is seeing the whole thing play out on a screen. He is able to see the entire railroad, the box/pipe contraption, and the landscape.

David: I see. Since God created everything, this includes time and space, right?

Jacob: Right.

David: In your analogy, it seems like God knows everything instantly, because He is outside it, and is able to see it all at once. Am I following you correctly?

Jacob: It seems like you’ve got it, yes.

David: So, did He have this knowledge prior to creating everything? Or did He create everything, and then instantly observe it, and gain the knowledge?

Jacob: That is a good question. I believe He knew everything before creating it.

David: Ok. I’ve heard the view that God knew everything before creation because everything happens via His decree. So He knows things before they happen because He created everything in such a way that they will happen how He wants them to.

Jacob: Yes. That is what the historic reformers believed, but that is not the view that I would take. I believe that God knew in advance decisions that free creatures would make, were He to create such and such a universe, and then chose to create the universe based on that prior knowledge.

David: So that all took place in the mind of God, if you will, prior to creation?

Jacob: Yeah, that’s a good way to look at it.

David: I’m wondering about these free creatures then. So, He chose to create a world based on what He knew the free creatures He would create would do beforehand? That’s confusing.

Jacob: Haha, well we are getting into some pretty deep things. There have been a number of theories proposed as to why He chose to create this world instead of another. I think it has something to do with the fact that this world gives us the maximum amount of freedom, and ultimately brings about the most good or the most people that would come to salvation through faith in Christ.

David: It seems like God’s actions are dependent upon our actions, or at least the actions that we will do as soon as creation happens. I don’t think I quite understand how that works. How is it possible that God has thoughts about what free creatures will do before those creatures even exist?

Jacob: Well, I think God desires that we are free. The passages I used in the sermon demonstrated the freedom that we have. If we take that into account with the creation narrative in Genesis, I think we have a pretty solid biblical foundation for this.

David: If I remember correctly, you used Matthew 23:37, 1 Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9. Is that right?

Jacob: Those were the main texts, yes.

David: You mentioned the historic reformers before. I believe they had different understandings of the verses you mentioned.

Jacob: That is true, but I don’t think they are convincing. If everything happens because God decrees it to happen, how are we able to “freely” love God? It seems like we would be forced to love, making us like robots.

David: That’s a good question, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. It occurred to me that we may have a strange aversion to being robots. Why would being robots be bad? I don’t think it’s a fair assessment of the reformed position, from my reading of it. But even if it were true, why don’t we like that idea?

Jacob: Because we know that we are free, and if we were robots, then there would be something controlling us or limiting our freedom. If someone were forced to love, that love wouldn’t be genuine.

David: That’s possible, but would it be a bad thing if the person doing the controlling were perfect?

Jacob: If everyone were saved, and nobody did anything bad or wrong, then that might be ok. Though I would still contend that our lacking freedom would mean that our “loving” God would be insincere. However, the bigger issue would be that if God was controlling everything, then He would be sending people to hell. That doesn’t seem very loving to me, especially since we know from 1 John 4:8 that God is love.

David: Well, I think we have a lot to discuss there. It’s my understanding that reformed people have always understood freedom to mean that you are only free to do what is in accordance with your nature. So, they would say that the idea of God sending someone to hell against their will is an inaccurate picture of their position. In their mind, people love their sin, and are in rebellion against God from the time they are born. So nobody is getting forcibly sent to hell against their will. A helpful analogy would be that there are two groups of people. One group God chooses to save, giving them mercy, and the other group are left to the love of their sin and rebellion, and proceed to hell, receiving justice. In the end, mercy and justice has been displayed, but there is no injustice in God. Does that make sense?

Jacob: Well, so far you have mentioned a lot of philosophy, and not very much Bible. This is why I, and by extension this church, prefer to avoid the terms Calvinist and Arminian. Those terms seem to imply that we are following various philosophies and traditions of men, whereas we seek to call ourselves Biblists.

David: I appreciate the desire to follow the Bible, as I believe all people in this discussion desire to do. I believe the Bible seems to teach compatibilism, which is the idea that the answer to the question “is this God willing or man willing?”,  would be “yes.” You can see this pretty clearly in a couple examples from the Bible, though there are many. The story of Joseph shows the clear intent of the brothers to do harm to Joseph, and to sell him into slavery. However, in Genesis 45:8, and even more prominently in Genesis 50:20, we see that while his brothers intended to harm him, God clearly sent him there to ultimately bring about good. The second example is the crucifixion of Jesus. Used by people on all sides of this discussion as the supreme example of both justice and love, it is also a perfect example of compatibilism. From Acts 2:23, and Acts 4:27-28 we see that Jesus was delivered up to be crucified according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, yet in all the accounts of the crucifixion, we see the people doing exactly what they wanted to do, even going so far as to say that His blood would be upon them and their children , and not Pilate.

Jacob: That may be all well and good, but how does that apply to the issue of free will or love and being robots?

David: I merely wanted to mention that to lay some of the biblical foundation for my earlier statements. If it is true that the Bible teaches compatibilism, then it would be possible for the definition of free will that I gave above, to stand. This would allow God to be completely sovereign, controlling everything, while still giving people the desires of their hearts and not “forcing” people to do things they don’t want to do. We believe that all people are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) , and that unless God chooses to change our nature, to remove the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), than nobody will voluntarily choose Him (Romans 3:11). Instead, people are chosen from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) , before they are born and not based on works (Romans 9:11-13), and God will bring them to the end He has designed for us (Romans 8:29-30). If that makes us robots, then it is by Him who is perfect, and works everything according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11) , to His glory, while leaving our greatest desires in tact.

Jacob: Hmm. Well, I think there are still some problems in your view, but I’m afraid I have another appointment.

David: Thank you for giving me so much of your time. I hope we can talk more about this soon.

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Can Christians Lose Their Salvation?

This is inspired, in part, by a sermon preached last Sunday at my church, but I’m hoping to expand it a bit and touch on a few different topics that I’ve been wanting to write on for awhile.

How you go about answering this question starts with your view of salvation. If you are an Arminian (see, semi-pelagian) then your answer to this must be unequivocally, yes. That is, if you are to be consistent to your own theological system. The reason for this, is because within the Arminian theological framework, the work of salvation is a cooperation between God and man. The ratio of this can differ depending on the person (at least in my experience) but the idea is still the same. Most will say that of course they cannot save themselves, that it is absolutely necessary that God be involved. The underlying premise, however, is that not only can they not save themselves without God, but that God cannot save anyone without them, either.

Within that system, there are a few different ways in which people get saved. Usually, this involves the so called “sinner’s prayer” which can take the form of repeating a prayer after a pastor or trusted friend, older in the faith. However, I have also seen this taking the form of simply a pastor praying and the person not praying anything. Basically, the idea here is that the pastor gives a sermon, and then follows that up with an “alter call” in which he will say something like “If you believe what I was just talking about, and you are reading to accept Jesus into your heart, just raise your hand. All heads bowed, all eyes closed, nobody looking around. This isn’t between you and your neighbor, this is between you and God. I see your hands, thank you. Now just repeat after me (or, pray along with me in your head as I pray aloud).” Sometimes this is accompanied with a walk down the isle as an act of faith and a public sort of profession, and so if you prayed the prayer or walked down the isle or raised your hand etc. then the pastor will likely say that he believes you are saved.

A lot of criticism against Christianity is linked to this sort of salvation because it is often dressed with various forms of emotionalism. What I mean by emotionalism is that certain things are used that are designed to bring out emotions within an audience. In logic, this is known as the fallacy of the appeal to emotion. This can take many forms: a charismatic (think trait, not theological position) preacher/evangelist, or perhaps some powerful music or a powerful video or a drama or a dance etc. Basically, anything which is added to the message being proclaimed in order to get and hold your attention, and make a connection with what is happening. For example, you watch a drama in which some of the characters are acting out various things like being addicted to alcohol or drugs or are experiencing depression and try and take their own life. Then, you see a figure depicted as Satan, and he is right there with them as they do these self-destructive actions. If you have done any of these things throughout your life, you are instantly drawn to it, because you have an emotional and experiential connection. Then there is a character that represents Christ, and he comes in and beats Satan and rescues the person from the addictive and self-destructive behavior. Great! That is a wonderful thing to watch, especially to people who have experienced some of the things depicted. So there you are, emotions on high and possibly some adrenaline going too and then someone gets up and says “Can you relate to this, friend? Have you experienced any of the things that was going on? Do you now that Christ can bring freedom from those things? Would you like to be free tonight?” and then proceeds to give an alter call and lead people in the “sinner’s prayer”.

Notice the truth being said; Christ can free people from addiction. So what’s the problem? It is largely based on emotion and doesn’t show the whole story (at least, none of the dramas that I’ve seen do). What happens when, a day/week/month down the line the person suddenly gets tempted into their old habit of sin, and falls into it? “But, that’s not what happened in the drama! The preacher said Jesus would free me!” The intense emotion they felt is gone, and they aren’t around Christians and friends who can encourage them, and they come to the conclusion that either they did something wrong when they were praying, or that everything that was said is not true.

At this point someone might say “Yeah, ok, but what if all that emotional stuff isn’t there?” Would the alter call and the sinner’s prayer be ok if all the emotionalism is removed? Unfortunately not, because it is still based on a false view of salvation. Interestingly, you still run into the same problem, even if you remove all the emotionalism. Someone hears a sermon and then prays the “sinner’s prayer” and then is told that they are saved and then goes out and something happens and they sin again or fall into habitual sin etc. They have the same questions running through their mind and when they go back to the church they are met with some very loaded statements. Things like “Everybody sins. You are just backsliding a bit. You need to re-dedicate your life to Christ.” The underlying assumption is this: you weren’t sincere enough, or you did it wrong, try again. The questions that the person had about their experience turns out to be right in the responses they are receiving! How awful! Alternatively, this could lead a person to not return to church at all, but just assume they are saved (since an authority figure said so) and go on living their lives however they want, since God forgives sin. How dangerous it is, to presume upon the grace of God!

There is an eerie similarity between this sort of system and the same system that Martin Luther was a part of prior to the reformation, that is, of Roman Catholicism. Luther was often troubled by the fact that he wouldn’t remember every sin that he had committed so that he could accurately atone for his sin in confession. Afterwards, he would be troubled by nagging doubt and questions on whether or not he was sincere in his confession or not, or whether his motivations were pure. After all, what could be worse than false repentance?

I think the Arminian comes to this conclusion based on a number of different reasons, whether that be because we all have an innate desire to control or because we all want self-worth or even from, say, Romans 10:9 “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” or a couple other passages. However, it is interesting to note that, even if you attempt to build your soteriology (doctrine of salvation) on the verse above, then how did the “sinner’s prayer” come into existence? If you are using this as your justification, why would you not just say “I confess that Jesus is Lord and I believe that God raised Him from the dead.”? How did that suddenly turn into “Dear Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I am sorry. I ask you to forgive me and come into my heart.” Those two statements, to me, seem to be worlds apart.

Also, this is simply an improper usage of the passage in Romans because it entirely divorces it from not only the chapter, but the entire book of Romans, the Pauline corpus, and indeed the Bible as a whole. In order to take that verse in the Arminian sense, you have to believe that there is some part of you that can, in fact, say “yes” to Christ or to profess faith and believe on your own. There needs to be some part of you, whether that be the will or the intellect or the emotions or whatever, that was untouched by the fall, so that you have the power to do this. For this, you need to go to Scripture and find where it talks about what people can do and what they cannot do. I discuss this in more depth here, but to list one text (among many) a very clear example is found in Romans 8:7-8 “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”  Now everybody can agree that before you become a Christian, you are considered “in the flesh” to use the Biblical terminology. The above passage says that the minds that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, and further that it does not submit to God’s law, and further still, that it cannot do so. What does this mean? Basically, it means that someone who is in the flesh, cannot profess faith in Christ, repent, and believe unto salvation. Humma wha? Someone has to become a Christian before they can become a Christian? Not exactly, what it means is that there has to be a supernatural act of God working in their heart, before they profess faith in Christ. Wayne Grudem has a handy list on page 670 of his excellent “Systematic Theology” (see the resources section) which will help to illustrate this.

“The Order of Salvation”

1. Election (God’s choice of people to be saved)

2. The gospel call (proclaiming the message of the gospel)

3. Regeneration (being born again)

4. Conversion (faith and repentance)

5. Justification (right legal standing)

6. Adoption (membership in God’s family)

7. Sanctification (right conduct of life)

8. Perseverance (remaining a Christian)

9. Death (going to be with the Lord)

10. Glorification (receiving a resurrection body)

“We should note here that items 2 – 6 and part of 7 are all involved in “becoming a Christian”. Numbers 7 and 8 are work themselves out in this life, number 9 occurs at the end of this life, and number 10 occurs when Christ returns.”

At this point it would make sense to talk about the Calvinistic concept of election and salvation, but, due to the fact that this is already a long post and I haven’t touched on the title topic yet, I would strongly encourage you to go here and read in quite exhaustive detail, that particular topic.

Of importance to this post is step 8 in Grudem’s list, that being Perseverance. In theological terms, this doctrine is called the Perseverance (or preservation) of the Saints, and comprises the letter “P” in the TULIP acronym for the 5 Points of Calvinism.

Within the Reformed theological tradition, we believe that salvation is the work of God throughout our entire life. What this does not mean, is that therefore we can do nothing or whatever we want. What it does mean, is that our salvation is not dependent upon anything that we do/are. Basically, if God is the One who saves us, then God is the One who keeps us. All of this revolves around the person and work of Christ. The questions that need be answered are: Who was Jesus? What was He sent to do? What did He do? Was He successful?

The first question should be a pretty straightforward one, especially while talking with fellow Christians. After all, I’ve never met an Arminian who would deny that Jesus is God, the eternal 2nd member of the Trinity. However, it is worth discussing because while they will hold to Christ’s divinity, their concept of salvation practically denies it. If you were to go up to a random churchgoer and ask “Why did Jesus come to Earth?” I would wager that upwards of 90% of the time, the answer will be “To save sinners”. This answer is partly true, in the sense that while the statement is true, it is also incomplete. Some could hear that response and think, “oh, well that’s good because the Bible says that everyone is a sinner, so therefore Jesus came to save everyone!” which leads to the heretical view of universalism. Interestingly, whether you are a Calvinist or an Arminian, you would say that universalism is false, because there are people who go to hell. So, if that was an incomplete answer, what is the complete answer?

An Arminian will say, look, John 3:16 is evidence for the fact that Christ came to make a way for salvation, but we have to chose it. After all, it does say “whomsoever”. In actuality, the word we translate “whomsoever” is a translation of a Greek phrase which means “all those believing” and not something like “anyone potentially believing”. For a more full discussion of this particular verse, I would direct you to a 45 minute YouTube video from James White here.

If that’s not the case, then what was Jesus sent for? We find the answer in John 6:38 – 40 where Jesus Himself gives us the answer, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that ever one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” and again, in 1 John 17: 6 – 10 where Jesus is praying, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they received them and have come to know the truth that I cam from you; and they believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.”  We see the common theme here, and it is the answer to the question. What was Jesus sent to do? To save all those whom the Father has given Him. This group of people whom the Father gave to the Son are called the Elect. This is not a term that John Calvin came up with, or Martin Luther, or Augustine, but it is  a term the Bible uses.

There is the objection that when the Bible talks about the Elect, it doesn’t talk about specific individuals, but rather, of the Church. However, this is something the text does not show, and a sermon audio/transcript from John Piper addressing that exact topic, can be found here.

Every Christian I know will tell you that Christ was crucified, and that he died, was buried, and on the 3rd day rose again. Hallelujah! The next few questions are quite critical to this discussion in that we have to decide if Christ succeeded in the task that He was sent to do. If Christ died to save the Elect, we then need to ask if He succeeded, and if that work of salvation included the preservation of the Elect throughout time. This is where the discussion of who Jesus is comes into play, because if Jesus is God, then He is perfect. If He is perfect, then He had to have succeeded in the mission for which He came. Christ confirms this in John 10:27-29 when He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”  Again, if Jesus is God, and He is perfect, then He is incapable of lying. If He can’t lie, then what He says must be true!

Some might say that personal experience goes against this because they have known people who grew up with them in the church and professed the faith and attended Bible studies etc. but later in life turned away from Christianity entirely. This only works if you have a false view of salvation, and are willing to ignore the Biblical teaching on the topic. John specifically mentions this situation in 1 John 2:19  “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” This is a hard truth that John makes plain. He doesn’t refer to these people as backslidden, or simply in need of re-dedicating their life to Christ. He says that they “are all not of us.” which means that he says they are not Christians, and never had been. It’s easy to miss this because we see all these great, godly things, and think great! But salvation does not come from works. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9. Paul makes clear that salvation is not based on works, so that even if people are doing good works, this does not mean that they are Christian.

This is an incredibly freeing and relieving and assuring doctrine! Growing up in an Arminian church there were times where I would lay awake in bed at night wondering if I was actually saved, or whether or not I had done something that got me “unsaved”. How wonderful it is to think that I never really have to worry about that! This is not something that should make me, or anyone else, arrogant because it has nothing to do with me! I did not save myself, God did! Jesus promises that He will save the Elect, and do so perfectly, and that He will keep us.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1 – 2 (emphasis mine)

Finally, what is it that Jesus is doing at the right hand of the throne of God? He is praying. He is interceding for us before the Father. John 17 is a wonderful chapter which lays out what is called Jesus’s “High Priestly Prayer” in which He clearly describes who He is praying for, and what He is praying for. It also clearly discusses the unity of the Father and the Son, and then through the Son, the believers also. The prayers of the Son are always heard by the Father, and they are perfect and effectual.

Soli Deo Gloria

A Dash of Reformation

Part of me feels bad for not blogging more regularly, but this whole school thing takes up time…and for whatever reason, I can’t seem to write anything short. That said, this will probably be short, and I know I have a couple series in progress and I will get back to them…eventually.
I’m currently reading “The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation” by Michael Reeves, and it’s a wonderful little book. Reeve’s has a great, engaging, writing style that makes this already short book (191 pages) fly by. I can honestly recommend it to anyone who wants to get a feel for what the Reformation was all about, and this is basically any Christian because if you’re a Protestant, you need to know where you came from and if you’re a Catholic, you need to (perhaps) hear the other side of the story.

So far I’ve read through the chapters on Luther, Calvin, and Zwingly and I’ve been taking some mental notes on the crazy similarities between the things they were fighting against in the Roman Catholic church and the things my Arminian brothers and sisters espouse. The other thing I noticed was the passion of these men! There was a discussion about the “Radical Reformers” and that isn’t what I’m referring to because those three listed above never went around burning relics and stabbing statues and worse (interesting read for those that did, though). The kind of passion I’m referring to is one for God’s word and His truth and to devote their entire lives to the studying and preaching of it. I think we are so disconnected from the gift we have of actually having Bible’s available and in our language and the fact that we are freely able to read and study them. Even reading the stories of how these men lived their lives seem somewhat foreign to me, I mean I understand them, but I don’t fully grasp what it must have been like. Reading the Bible on their own was not only scandalous, but downright dangerous. These guys were literally hunted down by the Catholic church for their dangerous (and heretical, in Rome’s eyes) views. They felt reformation would come to the church not through some sort of political coup, but through preaching the Word. The Holy Spirit is what changes hearts and minds, and not men, and therefore they dedicated their lives to preaching. Meanwhile, here I sit in 2011 complaining mentally to God about reading the Bible and memorizing Scripture. Even on my best day, I think my passion for the Lord is downright laughable compared to the Reformers and I can’t quite figure out what it is. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t live in the same time period they did, or perhaps it’s because the American way of living is so engrained in me that I think I can do things on my own and not worry about God…oh, did I say American? I mean pride. I think that’s really what it comes down to. I think I can do all this on my own, without God’s help, even though I know that time and time again, my world comes crashing down when I try and do everything on my own instead of submitting myself to God. Father, help me in this. Give me a heart that’s more and more passionate for you all the days of my life. Amen.

Now, as regards the first thing I mentioned, that is the connection that I was making between Roman Catholicism and Arminianism. It largely comes from the fact that both believe they have to add something to the work of Christ to make it effective. In Rome’s case, this is made grand and takes a bit longer to catalogue because it comes in several forms. It comes in the form of the mass when the priest presents himself as an “alter-christus” or another Christ, which basically means that during the performing of the mass, they are redoing the sacrifice Christ made and are thus atoning for the sins of their people. Other things Rome adds are the sacraments (ok, so technically Eucharist is a sacrament too but you get the point) and for the sake of brevity I’m only going to talk about an aspect of one of them (there are seven) and that is of confession and things related to it. It is expected that every Catholic confess their sins to a priest and then there is penance to be done and prayers to be said. Confession in particular drove Luther nuts because not only did you have to remember every little sin, then you needed to do some deep introspection to see if you were actually penitent for how great would the punishment be if God found you confessing insincerely! What the Catholic does on a large, grand, scale the Arminian does on a much smaller, more personal scale. They rightly reject all the above things that Rome does and instead say that while it is impossible for salvation to take place without the power of God, it is also impossible without the power of man. For the Arminian, Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t perfect and complete, because He only died to make men savable, not to actually save them. Essentially, we have to add our will in order to make salvation work. I’ve written on this several times so I’m not going to go into all the related issues, but the point of this is to say that the two groups are really the same animal with different masks on. Rome is simply being more honest and straight forward about their belief, go big or go home I guess, whereas the Arminian is only that honest when pushed about it.

I think the Reformers would be just as upset with the state of much of current Christianity now as they were with Rome then, if not more. What we need now is just what we needed then. A radical reawakening to the truths of Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus and Soli Deo Gloria.

Selective Counterfactualism

At the outset it may be beneficial to define a few things, as this is going to be a fairly philosophically complex post. When philosophers refer to counterfactuals, they are referring to any set of circumstances, usually worlds or universes, that could have been, but were not. What this means for the present discussion is that God “saw” in eternity past all the possible worlds/universes that could be made. To make things “to scale” as it were, this means that if person A were to eat an apple or an orange, these would be two different world possibilities depending on which the person chose. It is common language to say that God chose to actuate this world, and I think that is telling language. Using the word actuate instead of create seems to de-personalize God, or at least make Him seem less in control (which is exactly what counterfactuals seek to do, in a sense).

It seems to me that a large number of philosophers engage in what I call Selective Counterfactualism, which means that they use counterfactuals only where they will serve their purpose, and not when they may be used against it. Both Christian and Atheist philosophers alike tend to use them, and it seems to me that they are not as far away from one another as they might seem. It’s my goal to examine the uses of them in either situation, and then show why it is far better to get rid of them entirely, both philosophically and theologically.

The atheistic use of counterfactuals seems to be a smaller issue, which could be simply because I tend to read more theistic, particularly Christian, authors. It seems to be the case that atheistic philosophers argue that (here using Graham Oppy as a model) that counterfactuals rule out the possibility of God for several reasons. He discusses various possibilities for the beginning of the universe, and settles on the fact that everything must have been in an original state, which he concludes would lead to a necessarily existing singularity. There is an implied use of Occam’s Razor in his argumentation in that he claims Christians are simultaneously committed to both the initial state of the universe (whatever form that might take) and to the necessary existence of God, outside that initial state. Therefore, the easier explanation would be to simply eliminate God from the equation (since 2 commitments is smaller than 1, per the Razor) and you are left with a necessarily existing initial state of the universe, which, in this case, is the singularity. I have a couple problems with this sort of argument. First, the Christian is not committed to the single state of initial existence in the same way that they are committed to the existence of a necessarily existent God. The universe is contingent upon God’s action, which is something that Oppy seems to acknowledge, but then seemingly ignores laterto prove his point. With the universe being a contingent reality, this means that we are not faced with Atheism, via the use of Occam’s Razor. Christians are committed to the initial state of contingent existence only to the extent that this existence is the only one for which we have been presented. That is to say that if God had chosen to create differently, we would be committed to that one instead of this one, because that one would be the one that exists. You could say that the commitment to the universe and the commitment to God belong to two separate classes. These two classes overlap (so this is not like Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA) in the sense that belief in God will determine how one acts in their life in this contingent reality, and the existence of this particular reality naturally brings about philosophical inquiry into the nature of God. The second problem I have with this particular stream of argumentation is the idea that using Occam’s Razor (falsely, as discussed above) ultimately has to lead to the idea that there must have simply been a necessarily existing single state singularity. Oppy does recognize that claiming the mereological simplicity (all features or parts of something are necessarily existing. Look up mereological essentialism for more information.) of the singularity is a bold proposal, but this is a proposition that he would have to cling to in my opinion, since he is ruling out the existence of God. Oddly enough, as he describes this initial state singularity, he could very well be describing God, or at least the god of Deism, in the sense that it is necessarily existing, and is mereologically simple, so that all that exists now had to have been “just right” in the initial state for this to work. Note how all discussion of counterfactuals has been conveniently left out of this discussion of his “god of physics” you could call it, so that there seems to be no other option other than naturalism. He does use counterfactuals, at least implicitly, when dealing with the traditional God of Theism (or Christianity, more specifically). Here the argument is quite similar to what many Christians use counterfactuals for in dealing with certain aspects of God they don’t like, which will be discussed in more detail later. The points of similarity deal with the fact that God actuated this particular universe, even though He had knowledge of an presumably infinite number of alternatives which would have been better than this one. Oppy argues that the theory of absolute (metaphysical) necessity begins from the claim that all possible worlds share the same laws and an initial segment of this history of the actual world (as a sort of web, I would suppose) and this points to Naturalism more than it does to Theism. I assume he makes this assertion based in relation to the problem of evil to some extent. What I mean is that, if all possible worlds (note the counterfactual language) share in the laws and a portion of the history of our world, then the evil we observe is not so large as we assume, or is somehow necessary or is illusory…depending on which route he would chose to go with that. He doesn’t explain his theory of counterfactual “webbing” we’ll call it (haha) or give evidence for it, but merely asserts it. I think this is a cop out because it doesn’t actually deal with the problem of evil in any significant way, and even worse than that it simply makes the problem of evil larger because instead of having to account for the evil present in this world, it now means that you have to account for the evil present in all possible worlds, which could be exponentially greater than what we currently see or experience in this world. Also, this begs the question of the existence of this initial state singularity in the sense of its relation to this supposed counterfactual multiverse (a number of questions could be brought up here). It seems to me that in arguing his theory to be the simpler explanation, it turns out to be more complex than the Christian explanation to an incredible degree.

When Christians use counterfactuals, they are not used to eliminate the possibility of God, but instead to limit or remove a certain aspect of God as described in the Bible. Generally, this is appealed to in relation to something called God’s Middle Knowledge, which is a theory that you won’t find to be grounded in the Bible itself. Classically, it has been understood that God has Natural knowledge and Free knowledge. Natural knowledge is, esssentially, everything that could happen (This is prior to His decree) while Free knowledge is everything that will happen in the actual world (This is after His decree). Middle knowledge is supposedly a sort of halfway point between the two classical types of knowledge, and is placed (in the order proposed above so far) after God’s Natural knowledge (still prior to the decree) and before God’s Free knowledge; essentially, this is all that “would” happen. This is a very confusing view with several problems. (For a more thorough discussion, see here) On a very basic level, it seems to be a rather unnecessary category of knowledge. If the process is, as has been classically understood, 1) God having knowledge of all possibilities, 2) God decrees what will happen, 3) God has knowledge of what actually happens in the world; then why would there be any need for what hypothetically would happen before God decrees things to happen? The issue boils down to this: a fundamental desire on the part of the individual man to steal power away from God. The reason I say this is because this assertion of middle knowledge becomes necessary when your theology has to be constrained to allow for a dogmatic assertion of free will, that is, libertarian free will. This limits the sovereignty of God, or more accurately, it tries to wrest sovereignty away from Him and place at least some of it in the hands of men. This view is advanced by Molinists (so named after Alfred Molina, the philosopher/theologian who originally came up with this idea) and also by Arminians (the two groups are one in the same fundamentally, it’s just that molinists are more philosophically aware of their position).

The relation of Middle Knowledge and free will is this, nowhere in the Bible will you find support for the Middle Knowledge position, so it has to be based on the dogmatic assertion that human beings must have free will. In order for this to work, and still at lest pay lip service to the sovereignty of God, you have to say that God knows what would happen (Middle Knowledge) and then makes a choice based on this on what He will actuate. However, the question then arises (and I have never received a good answer to this) of how it is that God acquires this Middle Knowledge. It seems to me that there are only two possible answers to the question of how God knows what we are going to do and what will happen: either He decrees it to be so, or He “looks down the corridors of time” and sees what all the possibilities are for what actions “His free creatures” will do, and then decides to actuate the “best” of these possibilities. In other words, on the Middle Knowledge view, His knowledge comes from our actions. This is how Molinists can mask their dogmatic assertion of free will with a veneer of sovereignty.

With the groundwork of Middle Knowledge and libertarian free will set, we can now proceed into how counterfactuals are used. Using Timothy O’Connor as a model, counterfactuals must exist for a few different reasons. He claims that if God is the being responsible for creation, then there are two possibilities. Either there are an infinite number of universes, or you would have to reconcile the fact that a perfect being (God) chose to actuate the current universe over other possible universes, all (or some) of which are better than the current one to “an arbitrarily large extent”. O’Connor acknowledges that this view has, by default, thrown his hat into the ring for the problem of evil situation. The idea of there being an infinite number of universes in relation to the problem of evil is, in fact, no different from the atheistic use of it as described above, and the same problems apply to it. For the Christian, this has the added difficulty of the fact that by saying that there are an infinite number of universes necessarily in existence, you have just given one of the attributes of God to a finite creation. How could it be possible that there would be an infinite number of universes if God had to at some point create them? I see two possibilities here, one is that God is diminished somehow, either in his infinitude or his omnipotence, or the number of universes cannot possibly be infinite. Ironically, William Lane Craig (an ardent supporter of Molinism) helps to clarify this when he argues against a naturalistic assertion that the universe is eternal. He states that if the universe is eternal (note that this includes time and space), then it is impossible that this present state of reality could have never arrived, since it is impossible to traverse an infinite. The other way he argues this is to point out that there cannot be an infinite amount of past events. In other words, if time is eternal, then there is no end to the “back then” side of it, and if there is no end to that, then this current time could have never arrived because we would be constantly “back there” (confusing eh?). I see this as essentially the same problem for the necessary existence of the infinite number of universes that O’Connor proposes. It seems logically impossible for an infinite number of things to have been created, because if it has been created, then it has had a beginning, and therefore not infinite. The best you could possibly say is that it had an initial creation and is now expanding/bubbling (whichever multiverse theory you prefer) towards the limit of infinity. However, even this scenario necessitates the finitude nature of the universe/multiverse. In other words, either God is not infinite or the universe is not (or the multiverse is not infinite in number). The problem of O’Connor’s necessary infinitude of universes gets a bit deeper because he claims that without them, we would have to account for the fact that God chose to not actuate world which are better than this one to an arbitrarily large extent. The question this raises is what standard or scale is being used to judge the relative “goodness” of one world against another? Perhaps this would be the number of souls that are saved (in the free will-based Arminian/Molinist sense), or some sort of quantitative/qualitative scale of suffering/evil where less evil means there is more good, and therefore the overall “goodness” of the world will go up. O’Connor doesn’t provide any justification or standards for these assertions, so this is a problem that goes unanswered, and one (among the others) which I feel discounts that view as well.

Some philosophers (I’m not sure if O’Connor is in this camp) have suggested that it is impossible for God to have created a world in which there was no suffering or evil. This is an interesting proposal that reminds me of the conversation Agent Smith has with Morpheus in The Matrix “I believe that human beings define their existence through suffering”. The problem with this view is the fact that it has once again stolen an attribute from God, namely, his omnipotence. The only reason I can see for positing such an idea would be the often heard objection that if God created a world that was perfect, that is, one that would include no suffering and no evil, and therefore would also include the fact that everyone do as God wanted, then that would turn us all into robots! After all, it can’t be true love or true obedience if everything is perfect and we have do as God commands, right? Note that this is simply another way to say something like “No! We have free will! God isn’t in complete control! We have power over God!”

The problems with the dogmatic assertion of libertarian free will, Middle Knowledge, and counterfactuals used to support such are many. In all cases, regardless of the formulation, it destroys one or more of the attributes of God (omnipotence, omnipresence, infinitude etc.) and it also, therefore, destroys the fact that God is self-existent. This means that, following Aquinas, we say that God is pure actuality, that is, that, there is no potentiality, God is not potentially anything, He simply is. Therefore, if the Middle Knowledge view is taken seriously, this means that God has to acquire knowledge from creatures which have libertarian free will. If this is true, then the traditional, following Aquinas again, understanding of God’s being simple would collapse, as it would mean that God does not have all knowledge within Himself, but instead has to get it from another source. Most importantly, these concepts are unbiblical, and for the Christian, this is simply unacceptable. If we are to claim the truth of Sola Scriptura, then we must deal with what the Bible says about these issues, and not try to avoid or twist certain things to make them say something which they do not. Philosophical schema do not, and indeed cannot, trump Scripture, regardless of how much we would like them to.

I mentioned above that these attempts are made to wrest sovereignty away from God and to place it, at least partially, in the hands of men, and this is a consequence of the fall. It is “natural” to want to be in control of our own lives, and to rebel against authority of any kind, particularly divine authority. However, it is vital to return to Scripture to see exactly what it says about the issue of the sovereignty of God. There are usually two points of contention people have with the teachings of Scripture, which can conveniently be summarized in two of the Five Points of Calvinism: that is, Total Depravity and Unconditional Election. The first of these points, I have written about here and the second I will discuss briefly in the remainder of this essay. I believe the more dogmatic assertion of free will comes from a fundamental denial of the sovereignty of God in His chosen method of election to salvation. We tend to view this as “not nice” or “not something which should be done” and this, of course, begs the question as to which standard we are using to judge the actions of God. Scripture teaches that God’s election is unconditional (Romans 9:16,11; 2 Timothy 1:9; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:1-2) , it is made from eternity past (Ephesians 1:4; Revelation 13:8, 17:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Ephesians 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:9) , it is made from the council of God’s will (Ephesians 1:11), and that it is done to, and for, the glory of God (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14; Romans 9:17-23). For a more thorough discussion of this, see Sam Storm’s many articles on the subject, found here.

What I am proposing is not a complete abandonment of the use of counterfactuals, though I do feel that their uses are so few that if we did away with them completely, we would not lose much (though that may also show my relative ignorance of the subject). I would say that if counterfactuals are going to be used, then they need to be used in such a way as to apply them to all points of view, not just ones that support your own position and discredit a position you don’t agree with. For the Atheist, this means a serious look at the problem of evil and at the question of origins and existence and the claims of Christianity. For the Christian, this opens the door on several difficult questions, but it also places the focus properly on what Scripture actually teaches and on the sovereignty of God, for whom all glory and honor are due, Amen.

How Bad are We?

Usually when people start to talk about Reformed Theology or Calvinism they usually start with a discussion on the Doctrine of Election. However, I think this is not the best way to go about it because while it may be one of the more controversial doctrines you run in to, it is sort of like going to step 2 before you go to step 1. What I mean by this is that I find the reason most people take issues with Election is that they have a misunderstanding of the state of mankind, that is, the doctrine of Total Depravity.

It may help to put this in an example of a hypothetical conversation, which is actually based on several conversations I’ve had just like it:

Me: Would God be entirely justified in sending all men to hell because all have sinned and fallen short of His glory? (Romans 3:23)

Person: Yes, absolutely

Me: Would it also be true that God would be showing incredible grace by saving even one person?

Person: Yes it would

Me: So do you still have problems with Election because God saves some and not others?

Person: Yes.

See this disconnect here? I think the idea is that God could do these things and it would be logically possible, but He really wouldn’t. At this point I think it’s appropriate to point out that not everyone reading this will identify with the hypothetical conversation above and claim that they don’t use that problem with Election when talking about it, and of those people I am aware, but this is just one example of a very common objection.

There are two things that I feel are at the root of this objection, that is just how bad our sinful, fallen, nature is and how good God is, or rather how God’s love is often stressed without His other attributes of justice, holiness etc. I’ll deal with the 2nd of these ideas in another post, but for now we’re going to focus on the fallen nature of man.

Culturally speaking, we live in a time when the self-help industry is still booming and the general idea is that, deep down, all people are by nature good. Much effort is put into psychology to deal with the apparent things within people that scream out against this idea. For example, many psychologists will tell you that the reason someone is exhibiting bad behavior A is because something happened in their past to make them turn out this way. This way, the person becomes the victim and automatically has an excuse for whatever action they are doing…and also, conveniently why you need their help continuously. I would like to point out that I’m not entirely against psychology as an academic discipline or as a career because it’s certainly a very helpful and fruitful field. What I am saying is that psychologists can’t get at the root of the problem of human nature, and that therefore, their helpfulness is limited. Phrases you hear now and when you were growing up (or at least I did when I was growing up) are things like “You can be anything you want to be!” , “Just look inside yourself to find the strength!” , “You are absolutely unique and wonderful!” etc. Now again, I feel the need to clarify that I’m not against these things per se but only the extent to which they’ve taken hold in society to where they become the bedrock. I feel this sort of thing leads to problems, not the last of which are young people (women, more often then men it seems) who live by the rule of “following their heart” and then you see them in relationship after relationship in an emotional roller coaster because they feel that the next significant other will be able to satisfy their desires and fix their lives etc.

Now how does that relate to Christianity? Well, the idea is that nobody really wants to hear bad news or be made to felt guilty, and especially told that there’s something wrong with them. So in other words, large masses of churches have taken to preaching (and this is not a new thing, I know) a very feel-good kind of sermon. 45 minutes or shorter in length because nobody wants to listen to someone talk for more than that, especially if it’s Sunday morning running into lunch time. The basic idea is that Jesus loves you and He wants you to be a good person and to be successful. Now, this isn’t exactly a falsehood on the surface of it because God certainly does love you and desires that you live a life in the image of His Son etc. but the problem is that the only idea people come away with is the sort of cultural self-help ideas with the name Jesus mixed in there. They don’t learn about what Godly love is, or what Jesus actually said and taught, and they just go away feeling better about themselves and perhaps having assuaged their guilt. The problem with this is that if people only hear this kind of “preaching”, why on earth would they feel the need for them to have a Savior?

I’ll cover a bit more of that aspect in the next blog, but to bring things back to the original topic, I feel this sort of pervading attitude about mankind is one of the things which underlays people’s problems with the doctrine of Election. If we feel that man is, deep down, good and just sometimes does bad things, despite of himself, then of course we are not going to like the doctrines of grace, or, truthfully, God Himself. If God has power over man, and does things that we might deem unfair or not nice, we are going to react against it very strongly. However, as Christians, it’s important that we take our notions of mankind not from society and psychology, but from Scripture itself.

I already listed briefly a passage from Romans above, and in it is even more stark in its context:

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (3:11-18)

This passage is very in your face, and Paul lists it in referring to everyone, both Jews and Greeks (verse 9.) and this refers to everyone, not just the physical people groups of Jew and Greek. This is also not simply something the New Testament talks about either, because the prophet Ezekiel talks about this a few times well, in chapter 36

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (36:26-27)

Note that this passage says two very important things, that we have a heart of stone instead of a heart of flesh and, more importantly, that we are not able to change that. The verbs here are all monergistic, and are all due entirely to God. He will “give” a new heart, will “put” a new spirit within, will “remove” the heart of stone, and “give” a heart of flesh. He will “put” His Spirit within, and “cause” us to “walk” and “obey”. These are not passive actions, nor do you see anywhere the cooperation between the human will and the Divine will. At this point I think a distinction needs to be made as to what exactly the reformed approach is, to the freedom, or bondage, of man’s will is. The Westminster Confession of Faith states it as follows:

Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation:[4] so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good,[5] and dead in sin,[6] is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.[7]” (IX:III)

The footnotes which it uses to correspond the statement to Scripture is as follows:

4: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6) “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot.” (Romans 8:7) “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

5: “As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10) “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:12)

6: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved -” (Ephesians 2:5) “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses” (Colossians 2:13)

7: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44) “And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the father.” (John 6:65) “in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved -” (Ephesians 2:2-5) “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14) “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:3-5)

Listing all of these out serves a few different purposes. First, the initial statement in the confession makes plain what the reformers were talking about when they talked about the bondage of the will. It’s not like we’re saying that you do not have the choice to, say, pick up a pencil. What we’re saying is, that within our fallen nature (original sin) we don’t have the capacity to chose our own salvation. Also, when we speak of Total Depravity, we do not take that to mean total in the sense that human beings are as completely and utterly depraved, evil, and bad as they possibly could be. We mean that every aspect of man, that is his mind, heart, will, spirit etc. is effected to its core by sin. Secondly, listing all these verses not only clarifies the doctrine of Total Depravity in terms of Biblical terminology, but it also addresses directly the cop-out excuses of “well, you shouldn’t base so much on one verse” or “well, the prophets spoke in very metaphorical terms” or “well, you know, even Peter said that Paul taught things that were hard to understand” etc. because we see here represented a wide variety of people, including Christ Himself, all teaching the same thing. There are not many that would take the stance of historical Pelagianism, but there are many who would take a form of Semipelagianism in saying that yes, man’s will has been corrupted by the fall and original sin, but there’s still some aspect of his will that remains uncorrupted, and that therefore, under the right circumstances, has the ability to move himself towards God.

This list of verses is not by any means exhaustive, but I feel it necessary to talk in more detail about a few of the verses that I feel speak most clearly about this doctrine. “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others an hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:3-5, emphasis mine) This places the complete work solely on God, and not in any sort of cooperation mode either. You don’t see God trying as hard as He can, yet not able to do anything until man adds something to the mix. No, this is God alone doing the work and we are the recipients by the grace of God alone (Sola Gratia).

This doctrine didn’t come from the people who wrote up the Westminster Confession of Faith, nor did it come form John Calvin, or Martin Luther , or Saint Augustine. And even if we are tempted to side against Ezekial and John and Paul, as Christians we absolutely must deal with the words of Jesus.

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” (John 6:63) “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:65)

Those words are so clear, and strike down the very heart of human pride. The flesh is no help at all. Not only does man not have the ability to save himself, but he can’t even help! He cannot add anything to the sovereign grace and power of God. The second is such a well known verse that we often miss its significance. This verse does not say that no man may come so as to suggest that some can and some can’t based on certain situations and conditions; it says that no man can come. This means that no man has the power, or the ability, or the desire to come to Christ unless, which is a word which means a necessary condition follows it, it is granted him by the Father! Granted, not earned, or merited or anything else, but granted him by the Father. The Arminian has to jump through all sorts of hoops in order to attempt to justify their salvation in conjunction with the dogmatic assertion of human free will being involved but scripture is unanimous in its declaration of God being the author and finisher of the work of Salvation, and that mankind is in bondage to our will and can add nothing to the work of Christ.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

This is not meant as an exhaustive discussion on the whole of reformed theology or the five points of Calvinism, nor is it going to answer every question even relating to this topic. However, hopefully this serves as a decent introduction into the doctrines of grace and answers a few of the questions of the nature of the will/being of man and its being effected by the fall and therefore sin. The second step is discussing how good God is, and finally putting the two together in relation to one another, and what that means for our lives theologically and therefore practically.