Does God Play Duck-Duck-Goose?

One of the objections that Arminians have about Reformed theology has to do with the doctrines of election and predestination. The most notorious version of these ideas is called double predestination. This is the belief that, before the beginning of time and creation, God selected and then predestined two groups of people, the saved and the damned. That is to say, before you were even born God had predestined you to either go heaven or go to hell. Before you were born that fate has already been determined and there is nothing you can do to change it. The fix is in.

Double predestination has been roundly criticized, even within Reformed circles. But many people do subscribe to the doctrine. Double predestination is deemed to be a crude bastardization of Reformed theology, but crude bastardizations tend to be pretty popular.

Reformed believers tend to reject double predestination in one of two ways. The first way is to suggest that God actually doesn't predestine anyone to be lost. Humans damn themselves. So that's on us. God's actions in the face of this situation are wholly positive, an act of electing and calling out a subset of the lost. So there's no double predestination here, God doesn't elect to damn you. That's something you've done to yourself. God has only predestined the saved. So it's not a double predestination, just the predestination of the elect. A single predestination as it were.

The rebuttal from Arminians in this regard is that while God isn't positively electing to damn the lost in choosing the elect this really is just a distinction without a difference. To not elect Mary Smith is to say no to Mary Smith. A no that existed for all eternity. So while this might not be a sin of commission, it looks like a sin of omission. That is, while this might not look like the classic form of double predestination it's still an eschatological game of Duck-Duck-Goose. Damned ... damned ... damned ... elect!

In light of this, the second and better way the Reformed rebut double predestination is to say that election has nothing to do with individuals. People--human beings like you and I--aren't elected by God. God elects Christ. Christ--and Christ alone--is the elect.

To be one of the elect, then, is to be found "in Christ." We are God's elect "in Christ." And a theological bell and whistle you can add here is that this election is communal. God calls out a people, a people found to be "in Christ." The elect are the church, the called out people who are "in Christ." This communal bit is important, but the most important piece is the "in Christ" part.

The idea here is sort of like this. Christ is a container. God predestines and elects this container. This container will be the vehicle of God's salvation. So the critical issue is being "in" the container. If you are in the container you are elect "in Christ."

This move helps as it shifts election away from individuals to focus on God's actions in Christ. God isn't electing (or damning) Mary, Bob and Joe as individuals, playing eschatological Duck-Duck-Goose with them. God just taps Jesus on the head and says once, "elect." God just elects Christ. So the key for Mary, Bob and Joe is to get on the Jesus-train, to be found "in Christ" and, thus, among the elect.

All this is fine and it does fix a bit of the problem with the doctrine of election. Election is just about God's actions in Christ, about God choosing Jesus to be the Savior.

I've got no problem with this, but I do have question. Yes, I'm the kid at the back of the Reformed classroom with my hand in the air.

Yes, God elects Jesus and not Mary, Bob, or Joe. But for Mary, Bob and Joe to be among the elect they have to be found "in Christ." Right? So here's my question: How do Mary, Bob and Joe get to be "in Christ"? How do they go from not being in Christ to being in Christ? Concretely, specifically, and plainly what has to happen?

If Jesus is the container how do Mary, Bob and Joe get inside?

As I see it, two answers present themselves.

First, God picks Mary up and puts her in the container and doesn't pick up Bob and Joe. That is, God elects Mary but not Bob and Joe.

The problem with this vision is that it completely destroys the argument that God just elects Jesus and that God's election is communal and not individual. All we've done with this "in Christ" mumbo jumbo is to create a two-stage election. God first elects Jesus and then elects certain individuals to be in Christ, picking out persons and putting them into the Jesus-container.

This blows up the argument in that it's this Stage Two election activity that's being disputed. We are back to a situation of eschatological Duck-Duck-Goose, the notion of double predestination (active or passive).

Okay, the second way Mary might be found "in Christ" is that she climbs into the container by herself. That is, Mary might hear the Good News that God elected Jesus. And hearing that Good News about Jesus Mary might decide to climb into the container, she might choose to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior.

Now, this second vision of Mary climbing into the container does keep the "in Christ" notion intact. That is, God really just elects Jesus and only elects Jesus so it's up to Mary to climb into the container. If Mary does so she'll become elect, she will be found "in Christ." And if Mary doesn't climb into the container she'll be lost.

But here's the deal: it's up to Mary. She's got to decide. God isn't going to pick her up and put her into the container. There is no Stage Two election. God just elects Jesus and only Jesus.

So Mary's got to make a decision about her relationship to the container. She's got to decide to climb in or not. Because God isn't playing Duck-Duck-Goose with Mary. Or with me or you. So if we want in, we have to climb in. We've got to decide.

But if that's the case, if it's up to us to decide to get into the container or not, then guess what?

That's Arminianism!

And yet, that's what the Reformed say they don't believe.

So count me confused.

As I see it, it really just boils down to this. You're either an Arminian or you believe in double predestination, either the classic variety or the Duck-Duck-Goose variety. Because the election "in Christ" argument is either just more Duck-Duck-Goose or it's the equivalent of Arminiansim.

So either way, it boils down to a choice: Arminianism or double predestination.

Arminianism or Duck-Duck-Goose.

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70 thoughts on “Does God Play Duck-Duck-Goose?”

  1. Ephesians 2:
    7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

    If I am Mary that chose to climb up into the container, is that not a work? There would be something that would have to be different about me to enable me to make that decision, and Bob and Joe just don't have it. I am more humble, or contrite, or _something_? Or am I putting too much emphasis on the idea of works and me "choosing something in my own strength" being a work? If I made the choice, would that not leave me some shred of something to cling on to and enable me to say "well, at least I managed to choose this"?

    I'm a tight rope walker here, I used to consider myself someone who scored pretty low on the 5 point Calvin scale but lately that count seems to be growing higher and higher as I seek to reconcile my ideas with what scripture _seems_ to reveal.

  2. I think God's election of Jesus is pure grace, and no work of man was involved in that act. That's the act that saves us. But I do think you have to "work" to join and participate in the gracious Kingdom God is making. As I read Jesus, it's hard to come to any other conclusion (e.g., Matthew 7.24-27). Jesus wasn't a Calvinist. And I'm a follower of Jesus.

    For what it's worth, in your reading of Paul I don't think his discussions about "works" have to do with the worry about legalistic moral performance ("earning your own way into heaven"). When Paul is talking about works he is mainly focused on rebutting the contention being made that Gentiles must become Jews (see Acts 10 and 15 on this). In short (and in relation to my post), Paul is saying "You don't have to become a Jew--works of the Law--to get into the container. Gentiles can accept Jesus through baptism because of God's grace."

  3. Theological cat-herding...  or duck-duck-goose playing.  At a certain point in time, in the not-so-distant past, this theological dilemma was a matter of utmost seriousness to me.  I wrestled long and hard to disentangle myself from the biblical and doctrinal contradictions that I could not, in good conscience, rationally reconcile with my heart any longer.  That's about the time frame that I discovered this blog.  Lucky you.  (*Not,* I'm sure!)

    I have been reading and meditating on the Gospel of John lately.  Last week, I had worked my way up to Ch. 7 and 8.  I came back around to the controversial passage -- "not included in the most ancient Greek manuscripts" -- of Jn. 7:53-8:11.

    Didn't even one of them (accusers whose sin-full consciences would not permit them to throw the first stone) condemn you?

    Neither do I (Jesus -- who *was* in fact without sin).

    Reflecting back on John 3, the idea that Jesus didn't come to condemn but to save the *world* -- the whole world.  Not just the elect few...  Mercy triumphs in God's economy, if you ask me.

    I don't know how a person best apprehends that truth.  The mystery of God's grace?  Our own free-will choice to believe and obey?  Is it affirmation of a set of doctrinal tenets that "saves" us?  How to quantify the point at which a person's beliefs are good enough?  What about orthopraxy?  At what point is a person's "works" enough to satisfy God's demand for faith and obedience?

    I know one thing.  If I experience kindness and compassion (the heart of God, as revealed "in" Christ) from a person who claims to love Jesus and follow Him, I am much more inclined to have faith that this is true and good and beautiful.  Blessing others in this way tends to have a ripple effect.  If we believe Jesus, be like Him.  Be a living sacrament.  I came to the conclusion that the theological cat-herding (or duck-duck-goose game) is mostly a distraction from doing what really matters.

    But, am I ever eternally grateful for the little night light plugged in for me here at ET, when I was stumbling around in the dark.  Who knows -- I might still be tangled up in those doctrinal "knots" if I hadn't come here when I did.  Grace?  Probably.  Yes, I am thankful...  ~Peace~

  4. I would like to say here that the push back that I myself make and that I think others will make is largely based on the notion that God works through everything that we do, that we are depraved and have nothing good in us. So if we climb into the container, it is because of the strength of God in us, nothing about ourselves at work there. At least that's the typical jargon at work. And while the notion that God is at work in everything is a comfort to many (and one I agree with), the way we think about it and talk about it tends to take us out of the equation entirely. Which, I think, is the opposite of what God had in mind since he decided to make sentient and morally responsible beings other than himself; the very fact that we exist suggests that we have a part, however small, to play. And I acknowledge that God/the Spirit may be moving and working in our own desires and will, but probably not to the extent that we are taken out of the game. He's not moving chess pieces around or placing rocks into the container, he's interacting with, moving and engaging with morally responsible, sentient beings who have been granted some freedom of will inherent to their own existence. But I suppose that may just be too Armenian for some people. 

    Frankly, I'm not much of a fan of the either/or thinking regarding free-will or predestination. It seems very apparent to me that Scripture speaks to both (although it does seem - at the surface level - that it is more explicit with predestination), and probably not in a perfect, modernly-boxed understanding of each and I think our conversations of how exactly those two things work below face value (trying to understand the underlying mechanisms) would be much more effective and beneficial if we started from that sort of perspective. If we accept that there is room for both on board this ship, we might get to steering it in the right direction at some point rather than endlessly arguing how a ship works.

  5. That's a good point about the theological hair splitting. For myself I don't really care much about this debate. Mainly I'm just expressing puzzlement about Reformed thinking and looking for some insight.

  6. Beth Moore said that both groups were right about what they affirmed and wrong about what they denied.
    Calvinist say that God can save all but don't want to.
    Arminians say that God wants to save all but cant.

    If Beth Moore is correct the God Wants to and Can. 

  7. It's widely held that if you hold to the T --- total depravity --- then the ULIP follows.

    I don't hold to the T for a variety of reasons.  Philosophically, it unnecessarily generalizes our observations about human behavior into unverifiable ontological claims.  I'm very partial to an Aristotelian flavor of theology versus a Platonic flavor.

    Scripturally, I can't ignore the immense weight of witness to diviine-human cooperation.  The very first story in the Bible suggests that God surrenders absolute sovereignty to hand over some rule to the creation itself, so that God can have communion with the creation.  That doesn't endorse Calvinism very well.

  8. I suppose that I am a Calvinist, with respect to the belief that God chose before the foundation of the world who would be saved and who would not. I am at odds with every other Calvinist, however, in my firm belief that all of mankind is in the former group, and none in the latter.

  9. I lean toward universalism or maybe a "life after death is irrelevant" view point at the moment, but I had a metaphorical idea while I was reading your post.  Instead of being like a jar, what if the reformed idea is more like Apparition in Harry Potter in that God calls Jesus and whoever is touching him and whoever they are touching goes with Jesus when he is called.  So it can go both ways.  Jesus chooses me by touching me then I touch my daughter and she comes along too.  So instead of a container it's a big ol' tree of people hanging on to each other.  This metaphor makes a lot of sense to me in a "salvation happens here and now" sort of way.  I'm not sure how well it works in a "life after death" sort of way.  Some people might be mad that I touched my brother and brought him along since he doesn't believe in God and he's touching his best friend (who happens to be gay).  I personally would like Heaven a lot more if it worked this way.

  10. God did more than choose Pharaoh for destruction, He raised him up for that very purpose.  Also in Job, Satan accused God of interfering by favoring and proteting Job.  I have no idea where I stand.

  11. Oy Vey!  Do you reckon folks condemned to hell will find their punishment more bearable after all the technicalities are explained to them? (LoL)

    Again, I rightly pass as a Roman Catholic so I don’t really want to butt too deep into a discussion among Calvin’s children (even his bastards?).  Still, historically, “hell” (unfortunately, tragically) has played a super-sized role in RCC theology, and no one is more to blame than us for completely f#%king up most of our shared ideas about God.   And I have never been convinced or satisfied with most of what the RCC has had to say about the matter in the 20th c. (at least until Schillebeeckx, Kung, and Jean-Luc Marion’s “God Without Being” and a few other reprimanded theologians came along).  But it was the Jew, Hans Jonas (following Isaac Luria Ashkenazi before him) that initially set me to thinking along some new paths. 

    Traversing the long discourse of Tzimtzum in Jewish theology, Jonas in his essay “Mortality And Morality: A Search for Good after Auschwitz” asks us to join in a thought experiment with him (that I think Marion and Schillebeeckx would find a great deal of affinity with);  that is to consider that:

    “In the beginning, for unknowable reasons, the ground of being, or the divine, chose to give itself over to the chance and risk and endless variety of becoming. And wholly so: entering into the adventure of space and time, the deity held back nothing of itself – no uncommitted or unimpaired part remained to direct, correct, and ultimately guarantee the roundabout working out of its destiny in the creation. On this unconditional immanence the modern temper insists. It is its courage or despair, in any case its bitter honesty, to take our being-in-the-world seriously: to view the world as left to itself, its laws as brooking no interference, and the rigor of our belonging to it as not softened by an extramundane providence. Our myth demands the same for God’s being-in-the-world. Not, however, in the sense of a pantheistic immanence.... But rather, in order that the world might be, and be for itself, God renounced his own being, divesting himself of his deity – to receive it back from the Odyssey of time laden with the chance harvest of unforeseeable temporal experience; transfigured, or possibly even disfigured, by it. In such self-forfeiture of divine integrity for the sake of an unprejudiced becoming, no other foreknowledge can be admitted than that of possibilities which cosmic being offers in its own terms. To these conditions God committed his cause, effacing himself for the sake of the world. (15-17)”  Here is a link to the whole essay:

    In short, rather than parsing whether and how much responsibility we’all have for putting ourselves in hell.  What if we’all have the responsibility of deciding if God goes to hell?  Well, there at the end of the essay Jonas says:  “All this, let it be said at the end, is but stammering...before the eternal mystery.”  We RC’s have been too often guilty of confusing our stammerings for ‘truth’ or the ‘word of God,’ I reckon y’all here are too smart for that though, blessings and obliged.


  12. Enjoyed the structure of that. It should also be noted that your argument fits nicely with Theosis Synergia which avoids the overly humanistic aspects of Arminianism.

  13. As someone who has at times claimed to be Reformed, I'll attempt an answer. In experimental theology fashion, what follows is provisional.

    God elects Christ. That is indeed our starting point. But Christ isn't a container that we climb into or out of (or are placed into or out of). Christ is a meme. A self-replicating idea. A movement. A virus. Christ is patient zero in the outbreak. Others who have come into contact with him caught the meme/virus and carried it to still others. We don't choose to catch Christ. Christ gets in our bloodstream and then we can't help but pass him on to others.

    What it seems you're missing to me is the role of the elect, or the role of the Holy Spirit, in transmitting election. It's like a flash flood rushing down a wadi in spring - it picks everything up and carries it along. Once you're in the stream you become one more mechanism by which other people get pulled in. Your life, your witness, drags others into the justice pouring down like water.

  14. “God sends out invitations to everyone, but it's on us to show up to the party.” 

    It that were true then the lost sheep wouldn’t need a shepherd, but would find their way home on their own; clay vessels wouldn’t need a potter, but would mold themselves; sinners wouldn’t need a savior, but would save themselves. God is removed from the equation. That is Arminianism.

  15. It's all very clear (with apologies to Augustine): If heaven is predestined for believers, hell is predestined for those who ask such questions. 


  16. In the upcoming movie "Hellbound", one of the speakers in the trailer (ironically a proponent for eternal torment) makes a very good point - it's really about God's intent concerning our salvation.  Is God's passionately/compassionatly/lovingly proactive in seeking our salvation or does He take the position "hey, I gave you a way out .. what you do with that opportunity is your problem - I did my part" kind of attitude. For this dilemma here, both Calvinists and Arminians share the latter perception of God.  God did His part.  Getting into the container and staying in it before we die is our problem.

    Hello PATRICIA,

    To Dr. Beck and all others, forgive me for going way out of scope. Patricia as always would give a spot-on take for something like this  (and several other recent posts).  To Patricia - hoping you're doing OK, you, your family, etc.  It's been awhile since last hearing from you and I personally miss your posts ...  A LOT.
    Gary Y.

  17. Why not take this further; that a God who is both omniscient and omnipotent (which IIUC is the orthodoxy Arminian God) can't be excused from double *or* single predestination. Saying he hasn't predestined when he has both the total definite future knowledge and capability to control that future could certainly be argued to be nothing but hand waving. Perhaps it should be claimed the only two positions are open theism (God has chose not to have definite future knowledge) and (double) predestination.

  18. Well, people like the idea of having a choice, always have, but even more so in today's society. But, there has always been people that that has not heard the Gospel. If you go back 2,000 years it was a large group, compared to the total population, today its relatively small.

    What about that group that has never heard, who was never given the opportunity to chose?

    I think people just cannot accept the idea of God making a 'choice' for them, instead, it has to be *their* idea, *their* choice.

    To me, scripture is clear that when we were in an unregenerate state we did not want God, and would not choose God, even if given the opportunity.

    Our free-will is not undermined by predestination. The way I see it, we will 'choose' to follow Christ only *after* regeneration. The renewal of regeneration changes our heart, and our new Father is Christ. We'll make new choices in life because we are now a new creation.

    Is it unjust for God to not choose everyone to salvation? No, everyone deserves to go to hell, and if it were not for the grace of God everyone would end up in hell. But some will not, and for those who have received the gift of salvation, what a wonderful gift to receive!

  19. Not sure I agree with all your details, but I think you're on the right track. Richard presents a false dilemma above, easily created by starting from an Arminian view or from popularized "Reformed" views that are not very reformed at all. There are a number of nuances to the Reformed view properly understood. Humanity as a whole is better described as organic as you do here, rather than a container.

  20. We are saved by grace, through faith, unto good works. Works do not save us and faith without any works is dead. It's a simple message of James but with a lot of nuance. We do not have to work to be saved, but when we become truly saved (that is, consumed with a desire to be like Christ and so captivated by His love and grace that we emulate it in all we do), our lives will naturally begin to show it - these are our good works and any follower of Christ will have them to show. (You will know them by their fruit. Matt - 7:16)

    Christ (and God) desires that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (salvation by grace, through faith) is written in 1 Timothy 2:3-4. In Romans 8:28, we see that God works all things out for the good of those who are called according to His purpose (predestination). It's an important thing to understand that God's desire is that all people should be saved and come to Christ but there are those He has specifically elected in His greater plan. You can see this evidenced in the Old Testament with our "Biblical heroes" such as Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, David, Daniel, Sampson, Noah, Moses, Aaron and so on. You can also see it in the New Testament with John the Baptist and Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is these people that are predestined by God to fill a role in His plan in order to bring His ultimate plan to fruition. 

    It's not a matter of who is saved and who isn't. All are given the choice, God's desire is for all to choose Christ but there are those that have been elected since before time to bring about God's perfect plan for all of humanity and these are the predestined. A message of God having chosen some and not others is in direct violation of the Scriptures presented to us and the character of Christ, a message that all will get to Heaven and be rectified to God (Christian Universalism) is also in direct violation to the Scriptures and message of Christ. 

  21. Thanks for missing me, but I have always been around. I have just tried to keep my big mouth shut. Every once and awhile I forget that beautiful, loving, sincere people like Kristin above don't need me to interject my questionable wisdom and so I do it anyway. Some day I will learn. ;)

    I am greatly blessed, and you are one of those many blessings. I always look forward to reading your posts.

    And to all my fellow ducks: have pity on the geese, for they are just temporarily blind to the fact that we are all swans in the eyes of God. But that's just my opinion.

  22. Good to see you Jim. I, for one, enjoy your posts. Swans, yes -- good analogy. Even for those raised to believe they're only ugly ducklings, fit for being plucked and roasted.

  23. "A message of God having chosen some and not others is in direct violation of the Scriptures presented to us and the character of Christ, a message that all will get to Heaven and be rectified to God (Christian Universalism) is also in direct violation to the Scriptures and message of Christ."

    In your opinion. 

  24. God is removed from the equation?  Who is throwing the banquet?  Who is opening his house to the poor and destitute on the street corners?  Who is sending out the invitation and gathering people from the streets?  The heart of God is to share his feast and fill his house, is it not?  

    It is one thing to debate how exactly one gets from the streets to the King's table, dressed in wedding clothes (which IMO I think requires some sort of acceptance of the invitation, but also certainly requires an abundance of God's grace in the rest of the process), but Calvinism suggests that not everyone is even invited in the first place. 

  25. Hello Patricia - man it's good to hear from you again!  Sorry - I'm embarrassed to say I don't have a Facebook page at this time.  Take care!  Gary Y

  26. My thoughts are similar. I believe that God chose before the foundation of the world that all mankind would be saved in Christ. Just as by one man, Adam, death came into the world, by the second Adam all are saved. It stretches our paradigms to consider that "the lost" are in Christ.
    I believe that God has stepped into the depths of our lostness to
    rescue mankind and that His saving act in Jesus is complete. An
    individual's experience of kingdom life and the quality of their
    relationship with God, to whom they are reconciled, is dependent on
    their response. It is in the realm of relationship where choice is
    essential, and this is an ongoing choosing, not a one-time decision. The
    decision regarding the adoption of mankind was a unilateral act of
    God. That's what I think anyway. :)

  27.  I'm from a reformed tradition, and as I see it, my practice should be to treat everyone as being elect..... how could I love my neighbour as myself otherwise.....what God does in actuality is up to Him  (my hope would be the same as Jim's, but I can't be certain as I don't see the big picture from before the foundation of the Earth to the future like God does)

  28. Thanks, Jim.  I think it is my turn to apply the learning I have received, and keep my big mouth shut for a while.

    You have never, ever come across as obnoxious or inappropriate.  Much to the contrary.  Always a blessing.  Though you may have been "haunting" the blog with your silent presence, I have been sad not to see you for such a long time.

    It has been good to reconnect with you, finally.  Let me take this opportunity to tell you how much your friendship and wisdom here have continued to bless me.  I have thought of you so often, with gratitude, and will continue to do so.  Peace to you always, Susan

  29. I understand you may consider it simply my opinion, but tell me how you rectify the clear statement in 1 Timothy that Jesus desires that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of Him and then that God has only chosen a specific number of people to enter Heaven (in direct violation to His own desire). Furthermore, what would be the point of evangelism and proselytizing if God has already chosen whom will be saved and whom won't? Also explain why Christ said "go into all nations, teaching and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" if everything was predetermined. 

    If instead you choose to argue on the side of Christian Universalism, explain Christ's constant warnings about Hell and His direct statements that not all who call on His name would be saved, or that you have to believe in order to be saved, or that He would turn people away at the gates of Heaven. Christ spoke more on the subject of Hell then He ever did on Heaven because He constantly warned us that it is a reality and that we are doomed to enter it if we reject Him and the salvation He offered through His sacrifice. 

    No, the Bible clearly teaches a message that God loves all of humanity and that His desire is for no one to perish apart from Him but instead paid the price to rectify our sins to His righteousness so that we could all stand before Him in perfection yet left that choice up to His creation to accept His forgiveness and choose to love Him as He first loved us or to reject Him. 

  30. Is it possible any of us could be the type of parent double predestination suggests God is? Let's pleases make a list of people who would or have, before birth choosen and then throughout their life, activly worked toward the complete success of one of their children. While at the same time, again before birth would or have chosen one of their children, to not only completly abandon, but would activly work toward the ruination of their lives. I look forward to seeing the list of names, and I'm sure your children would too.

  31. I should state here that I am not intending to be impolite or confrontational, I am actually simply seeking discussion. I realized after I read over my response that it might seem like I was trying to be overly confrontational and that was not my intention. I'd be interested in hearing your opinion on the points and questions I've put forth. In the end, it's simple theological discussion and we're all children of God if we continue to seek after Him.

  32. "I understand you may consider it simply my opinion..."

    Yes I do, as are all of our scriptural interpretations. And you are most certainly welcome to it.

  33. I did not consider your post confrontational in the least, but just another opinion among all of us who choose to develop one. I was not trying to draw you into an argument/discussion, so please forgive me for inciting further posts on your part. I was just pointing out what we should all remember: none of us can prove that any of our theological positions are right and that others are wrong, and therefore should never try to "correct" anyone else or place ourselves in a position of authority on scriptural interpretation.

    But since you asked for my opinion: God is the Father/creator of all mankind, therefore we are all His children... no "if" is necessary.

    Peace to you.

  34. Don't know if this helps. I'm a so called "Reformed" pastor. I read your blog daily and can't stop reading Rohr and Merton, go figure. Here's something I read today by Merton: "One of the greatest speculative problems in theology is resolved in practical Christian living by the virtue of hope. The mystery of free will and grace, of predestination and co-operation with God is resolved in hope which effectively co-ordinates the two in their right relation to one another. The one who hopes in God does not know that he is predestined to Heaven. But if he perseveres in his hope and continually makes the acts of will inspired by divine grace he will be among the predestined: for that is the object of his hope and "hope confoundeth not" (Rom.5:5). Each act of hope is his own free act, yet it is also a gift of God. And the very essence of hope is freely to expect all the graces necessary for salvation as free gifts from God. The free will that resolves to hope in His gifts recognizes, by that very fact, that its own act of hope is also His gift: and yet it also sees that if it did not will to hope, it would not let itself be moved by Him. Hope is the wedding of the two freedoms, human and divine, in the acceptance of a love that is at once a promise and the beginning of the fulfillment." - Thomas Merton "No Man is an Island" 

  35.  1 Timothy does say 'all' men, but was he speaking of all humankind, or just all of the elect?

    1C 15:22 "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."

    In my opinion, in 1 Corinthians there are 2 groups being addressed, one group which includes all of humankind, who have died because of Adam. And a second, different group, who are alive because of Christ, even though they also are called 'all'.

    Another drawback to 1 Timothy referring to all humankind is, that I see God desiring for all humans to be saved, but obviously all are not, so I see a God that is not all powerful.

    When Jesus prayed and said "thy will be done", was that an empty prayer? Why would Jesus even say something like that if He knew that Gods will is not done.

    Isa 55:11 "So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper [in the thing] whereto I sent it."

    Isaiah gives a different picture, it shows Gods will being carried out, that which He 'pleases' gets accomplished. So, if it Gods pleasure to see everyone saved, then wouldn't every one become saved?

    It makes more sense to me to apply the group Timothy is speaking about as the elect, not every person.

  36. The phrase “The theater of God’s glory” got me to thinking about Balthasar and then about Adrienne von Speyr who wrote “When we make our own calculations, we need so many numbers and factors that any mistake is possible. The Lord's calculation boils down to love.”   Then again, it’s best to assume that when it comes to God’s love, like God’s glory, we still don’t know precisely what we’re talking about.  obliged Tom.

  37. That's nice for us. Are you content to say, "Yes, everyone else is going to hell. But it's all okay because it's what they deserve. So long, I'm off to the party!"

  38. Patricia and Susan,

    Thanks ladies, I very much appreciate your kind words. And always know that yours have deeply touched me. This place just wouldn't be the same without you.As for me, I have kind of reached a point where I don't feel as compelled to comment when I hear others say things that used to trouble me so. While I still have the same strong disagreements with anyone who limits the love of God in any way, I am content to let their own hearts (and God at work in them) sort through all of that negativity and lack of faith. No one "sees the light" because of their own superior *vision* (and certainly not because of my simple words), but because God opens their eyes. And you two lovely ladies, as well as so many others here at ET, do a much better job of pointing them in the right direction than I ever could. 

    In His love,  Jim

  39. The thing is, you describe witnessing, passing along the virus, as something unavoidable, something infectious that the real elect are unable to stop, because it's part of their nature. But anyone in a daily human experience knows that when they think about sharing Christ, there is at least the *impression* that they are conciously choosing to speak to another person about this virus. So the question becomes, are they really making the choice to share, each time that they do so? Or do is the sense that you are making a choice about it an illusion?

    And if you would answer that when faced with the decision to share or not share, we ARE each making concious choices, then what's the difference between this more organic idea of Reformed theology and Arminianism? Aren't they both then just people who've fallen in love, spreading that love with intentionality?

  40. Hey Mynta,

    Thanks for replying. I'm not really thinking of "witnessing" in the sense of telling people the gospel in the hopes of converting them. I mean that as we come in contact with the Christ virus we are drawn into a new way of life. Others come into contact with us and our way of life and are similarly drawn. It isn't really a matter of words or of conversion. It's more a matter of the beloved community rippling out into the world.

    Maybe it seems like semantics, but it's pretty clear that whatever volition we have is incredibly constrained. We don't really choose much in this life. Most of our choices are illusions. Arbitrary points in time picked out of a sea of influences we selectively ignore. Even Arminian Dr. Beck doesn't hold to a strong view of volition.

  41. If it's not too late to chime in:

    I think that this question might benefit from Richard's notion of starting with experience, and moving our way forward. If the basic problem with Calvinism is its view of God (duck duck goose), the basic problem with Arminianism is its view of human experience--deciding, choosing, working, climbing into the Jesus box. I'm among those who view our own most significant moments of conversion (not just a single moment) as God's grace breaking through our resistance--not us deciding to do the right thing.

    This doesn't really tell us why God doesn't break through other people's resistance. Is it that they are even more resistant to God than I was/ am? Is it that God loves them less? Is it that God is delaying, but will after death break through their resistance? (This last position, which I associate with universalism, sounds nice, but it raises the question--why does God wait until after they die, if God can break their resistance here and now? And if God can't break their resistance here and now, how do we know God will be able to after they die?)

    I actually think that doctrine is unclear on this point--I think there can be faithful Calvinists and faithful Arminians, and therefore I find somewhat unpersuasive the hint I often get in Church of Christ circles, including Richard's forum, that Reformed Christians are Just Plain Wrong.

    The vision of God given by (some) Calvinists, a God who plays Duck Duck Goose, is hardly less problematic than the vision of humans given by (some) Arminians, a vision of humans who can just up and choose to be good Jesus-followers any time they want to. I, for one, do not have a will that can simply freely choose the right. As I recite in my 12-Step program: I am powerless to help myself. This may not mean that God's grace picks me up and puts me in the Jesus box, but it is a step in that direction.

  42.  Sorry--wanted to add the note that this is a problem I often have when I lurk on these pages. The notion that I need to stop relying on Jesus so much and start becoming more skillful at being a good caring person. The notion that my religiosity is all an attempt to justify myself instead of becoming a good, caring person.

    What I don't see anyone acknowledging is that I'm not very good at becoming a good, caring person. I actually stink at it. If Jesus has some way to change me, then the Gospel is good news. If not, it's just one more example of someone saying I ought to care more about others and less about myself--but unfortunately, I don't.

  43.  Just trying to express my ideas about regeneration, predestination and election. Truthfully, I cannot say what my status is, or anyone elses for that matter, it's dependent on Gods action, not mine.

    I'm not going to be so arrogant and assume that I'm one of the elect, maybe I am & maybe I'm not, that's Gods business.

  44. I think this issue hinges upon definitions of "save"/"salvation".

    Too often we speak of "being saved" solely in terms of being legally innocent.  Redemption (to buy back) and salvation (to heal, make whole and well) really go beyond juridical categories.

    Our redemption is from the tyranny of sin and death and our salvation is healing from the deprecations of our fear of death and the restoration of the image of God in us as it was from the beginning.

    Our calling as Trusters of Christ is to cooperate with the good work of salvation that God is working in us.  At times that really is a lot of work, so to speak, much like fighting a battle--only with ourself.  Sometimes that cooperation is more like settling back and enjoying the roses when the world around us is screaming, "URGENT!!:

  45. Good comments, imo.

    So many of the parables are about parties and banquets.  It does appear that the only ones excluded were those who went out of their way to exclude themselves or who were such party-poopers that they got thrown out.

    I like what Robert Capon says in conclusion to a chapter dealing with the parable in Matt. 18:21ff;

    In heaven, there are only forgiven sinners. There are no good guys, no upright, successful types who, by dint of their own integ­rity, have been accepted into the great country club in the sky. There are only failures, only those who have accepted their deaths in their sins and who have been raised up by the King who himself died that they might live.
    But in hell, too, there are only forgiven sinners. Jesus on the cross does not sort out certain exceptionally recalcitrant parties and cut them off from the pardon of his death. He forgives the badness of even the worst of us, willy-nilly; and he never takes back that forgiveness, not even at the bottom of the bottomless pit.
    The sole difference, therefore, between hell and heaven is that in heaven the forgiveness is accepted and passed along, while in hell it is rejected and blocked. In heaven, the death of the king is wel­comed and becomes the doorway to new life in the resurrection. In hell, the old life of the bookkeeping world is insisted on and be­comes, forever, the pointless torture it always was.
    There is only one unpardonable sin, and that is to withhold pardon from others. The only thing that can keep us out of the joy of the resurrection is to join the unforgiving servant in his refusal to die.
    When Jesus said "It is finished" I really believe him.  His passion was the final act in reconcilling all of us to God.


  46. Dear Jim,

    Your words and presence have always blessed me.  I hold
    the kindness and friendship that you've spoken into my life with
    deepest gratitude.  You'll never know (a few times, in particular) how
    desperately I needed to hear a voice of hope and grace.  These memories
    are the joys that keep the heart light burning in me on dark days.  I
    hope you will stay around ET and regularly comment.  I ask you and others here to forgive me the clumsiness with which I have often spoken and interacted.  ~Peace~

  47. Though being raised Arminian, I've come to be more Calvinist in my beliefs concerning salvation. The more I've thought of my own salvation experience, the more I've come to believe that it wasn't I who chose Him but He who chose me. I was dead but He gave me life, blind but He gave me sight, enslaved but He freed me.  I did not have "free will" until I was set free! 
    I see salvation as the Lord being a life-guard saving those who are drowning.  Some people He saves cooperates with them because they are not yet overwhelmed with fear, so when Jesus throws them the life-ring, they grab on and are pulled in.  Others require Him diving in as they go under the water never to rise again; He grabs them and pulls them in as they relax in His embrace. And yet others are so consumed with fear that they fight Him until He knocks them out and pulls them to shore!  Once revived they thank Him, but until they are safe on shore their mind is too consumed by fear to do anything but fight Him.  I was one who, because I was young and raised in a loving home, was not so consumed with fear that I recognized the life-ring tossed to me and grabbed on; but of course, I had no "choice" concerning being born with such a wonderful advantage as having loving parents who knew the Lord! 

    Concerning the doctrine of election, I disagree with the Calvinist perspective that election is linked with the "exclusion" of others; rather, election is for the "inclusion" of others.  Israel was "elected" so as to be a blessing to all.  We are elected to be ministers of reconciliation so that all can be reconciled.  We are saved so that we can participate in the salvation of others, loved so that we can love others, forgiven so that we can forgive others!  Election is for the inclusion of others, not exclusion.

  48. You've made several points, asked several questions that I'd like to address, but I’ll just focus on one for now.  Concerning Jesus' warnings, actually He did not once warn of "Hell"; He warned of sin causing one to be cast into Hinnom Valley (gehenna) a ravine just SSW of Jerusalem.
    Geographically many think it was a trash dump where there was a continuous fire and no shortage of maggots. If this is what Jesus was refrencing, then He is warning of a life winding up in the trash – a solid perspective.
    Historically, Hinnom Valley was where the Israelites errected an idol to Molech where they sacrificed their children in the flames.  If Jesus was thinking of this perspective in His warning then He was saying “Get the sin out of your life or you’ll come into such bondage that you’ll sacrifice not only your life but the lives of even your children to your idols – a solid perspective.
    Historically, Hinnom Valley was also used by Jeremiah and Isaiah to warn of the 1st destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, warning that if they did not repent Jerusalem would be destroyed and the dead bodies would be piled in Hinnom Valley, burnt and eaten by maggots and wild animals.  Thus Jesus could be warning of the coming destruction of Jerusalem of 70 C.E.  And considering it is Matthew that most quotes Jesus’ few warnings where He uses Hinnom Valley, and Matthew was written to the Jews – another solid perspective.
    Culturally, the Pharisees used Hinnom Valley to reference indefinite, but just and merciful, punishment in the age to come by God which was purgatorial for most or all people, lasting less than a year. Some believed that the especially wicked like Herod would suffer indefinitely long and possibly ending in annihilation.  But considering Jesus’ other denouncements of the doctrines of the Pharisees, this perspective is not that strong imo.
    To my knowledge, there is little, if any evidence to support the concept that Hinnom Valley was meant to metaphorically speak of Endless Conscious Torment (Hell).  Jesus was graphically, metaphorically, and even hyperbolically warning of the devestation, destruction that comes in and through peoples lives because of sin.  He wasn’t warning that God is going to mercilessly and unjustly punish anyone endlessly - Hell. 

  49. The only issue with either is the definition of the nature of the fall and its affect on the human person. If the fall was not "utter" there is not room for Calvinism/early Augustinianism. It the fall was not slight, there is no room for radical Pelagianism. One's concept of "original sin" is the hinge on which this door swings or falls off.

  50. I knew it all along: John MacArthur, John Piper and R.C. Sproul are Universalists!  Just like Rob Bell!

  51. "The rebuttal from Arminians in this regard is that while God isn't positively electing to damn the lost in choosing the elect this really is just a distinction without a difference. To not elect Mary Smith is to say no to Mary Smith. A no that existed for all eternity."

    Calvin would agree:

  52. I agree with the statement that this article, while being very clear, explicit, and logical, still creates a false dilemma.  The assumption seems to be that each individual's salvation is either 100% determined by God's isolated/unresponsive choosing or by that individual's uncoaxed/uninfluenced choice.

    I've tried to illustrate this in a chart, which I have attached.  In it, I show 4 options: "Individualistic" Calvinism, "Individualistic" Arminianism, "Collectivistic" Calvinism, and "Collectivistic" Arminianism.

    My goal here is not to try to slam-dunk which one is true, but to "stretch" our creativity and willingness to think outside the polarized mental tradition we've been handed.


    The best sermon I've heard on election.

  54. I grew up in the C of C, I was baptized at age 18, I've gone to church my whole life, and if you were to ask most of the people who have known me since I was baptized they would say I was saved.  And if you were to ask me prior to 2009 I would probably agree with them, but admittedly that agreement would have been purely intellectual because I struggled with deep, pervasive doubts about my spiritual status.
    But over the last 3 years or so God has opened the eyes of my heart to see, and profoundly appreciate, His sovereignty.  And it all started with what I believe was my spiritual birth (John 3:3) and this new birth was brought about by the Word of God, not the opinions of any man (including Calvin or Arminius).  It is impossible to put into words, but suffice it to say that there was such a profound and authentic change in my view of God and my feelings toward Jesus that I could only attribute the change to God and God alone.  In other words, I was undone by His grace and I can honestly say that it was irresistible.  Since then I have come to believe that this is what Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 4:6.  It also aligns with what John tells us in John 3:5-8, "The wind (or Spirit) blows where it wills..."

    So, with that very brief background I'd like to share a simple thought for consideration by this group.  Please understand that these thoughts are my thoughts, but they are profoundly and pervasively influenced by God's Word, as are all the thoughts presented in this forum.  I pray that these words are received in the way that they were written, with complete dependence on the glorious grace of God.  

    Here are some thoughts for consideration: Everyone is born of the flesh but not everyone is born of the Spirit (John 3:6, John 6:63).  The Spirit doesn’t produce spiritual life by the will of man, the Spirit produces spiritual life according to the will of God (John 1:12-13).  God's sovereign will is not subject to man's free will; God's infinite wisdom is not subject to man's finite wisdom.  Consider the virgin birth.  Mary did not choose to conceive Jesus, she was sovereignly chosen by God.  The Spirit conceived Jesus inside of her, and in the same way Mary received Jesus into her womb believers receive Jesus into their hearts.  The Spirit conceives and we receive.

  55. Great post.  There is a discussion going on in a blog I follow that has some good discussion on TULIP from an Orthodox perspective,  I have listed them here in case you are interested.

  56. Fantastic Richard! It is time and a long time coming for Calvinism, especially the neo-Reformed American Evangelical variety to be exposed as the arrogant nonsense that it is. It has too long had a self-proclaimed hegemony in Christian theological and ecclesial life. This demon is now cast from genuine theology like lightning! Halleljah!

  57. 'suggests that God surrenders absolute sovereignty to hand over some rule to the creation itself'. I'm puzzled as to where you divine this implication in Gen 1 & 2.

  58. Doesn't PREdestination Only apply to those who are 'born again', such that we who are "In Christ" are PRE-Destined to receive certain things!!?!!

  59. How does one become 'born again' when in the split second before they are 'reborn' they are spiritually dead and without the slightest amount of faith, trust, belief, etc. in God?

  60. It's been helpful for me to think about how the conception of Jesus Christ in Mary's womb corresponds to spiritual conception.  Mary did not choose to conceive Jesus, she was sovereignly chosen by God.  And when I say sovereignly chosen by God that means He effectually prepared her to be the mother of Jesus.  So when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her that she would give birth to the Messiah she responded "let it be to me according to your word."  The Spirit conceived Jesus inside of her, and in the same way Mary was effectually prepared to receive Jesus into her womb believers are effectually prepared by God to receive Jesus into their hearts.

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