Over the past 6 months to a year or so, I’ve been struggling with Calvinism vs. Semi-Pelagianism and where my beliefs fit in. At first I didn’t even know the difference between the two, and didn’t even know what Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism were. All I knew was what I was taught, and what other believers around me believed (Semi-Pelagianism).
At some point I was involved in a discussion/debate about Calvinism. I don’t even remember who that debate was with or really all what was said, I just remember wanting to know more about what Calvinism was, and it’s opposite Arminianism. I was also getting more curious about church history and what the early church founders believed about these issues. I decided at this point it was time to do some research of my own.
Over the next few months I started digging into the doctrine of Calvinism and it’s five points. And this is where I started running into some serious stumbling blocks, or issues that I had to come to terms with before I really could determine where I stood.
The Five Points of Calvinism:
- T – Total Depravity
- U – Unconditional Election
- L – Limited Atonement
- I – Irresistible Grace
- P – Perseverance of the Saints
In the beginning of my studies of Calvinism/Monergism I completely agreed with Total Depravity, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. I had some serious issues with Unconditional Election and Limited Atonement. At this point I considered myself a 3 point Calvinist. I was determined however to come to terms with these other two points no matter what it took.
My first stumbling block to tackle was Unconditional Election or Predestination. At this point I had some serious issues with this belief according to all that I was taught, and also my own personal conceptions on God’s calling or predestination. As I started really digging into scripture that talked about predestination, I had to come to terms with several issues that were raised if several pieces of scripture were true. My biggest issues were with Romans 8:28-30, and with almost all of Romans 9.
(Romans 8:28-30) 28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
One of the questions I had was: “How could man have ‘Free Will’ and be predestined/called at the same time?”. I made the assumption that if someone was predestined then their ‘free will’ didn’t really exist. I thought that if predestination were true then all mankind were just robots just marching around doing what “destiny” had predetermined us to do. Previously I had come up with a compromise to this issue. I essentially believed in conditional election at that point. That God Foreknew the choices we would make, and predestined us according to those choices. Scripturally this is completely inaccurate, and I had to come to that realization in order to understand predestination. The other issue I had to understand before I could fully grasp predestination was the concept of man’s “free will”. Do we have a “free will” and can that “free will” trump God’s will? The way I understand it now is this: we do not have “free will”. Man has a will, as God created us in His image. However; our will was damaged and corrupted when Adam sinned. When Adam sinned all parts of humanity were stained and marred by this corruption, not excluding man’s will. What does this mean? It means that everything that we “will” is corrupted by our sinful natures. Once I understood this basic concept about man’s will, the rest of predestination made sense. What it meant was that man does have a will, however man’s will cannot trump God’s perfect and all powerful will, and plan for humanity. Now I will admit that I don’t have a total and complet understanding of this concept of man’s will versus God’s will, and maybe I never will. I do understand that if God is all powerful then nothing man will’s can trump God’s authority no matter what our pride tells us. I think the whole idea of man’s so called “free will” is a prideful, and self-glorifying concept. We want to feel that we have control over our lives, that we can control our destiny. If we feel we have control of our own lives then we are essentially glorifying ourselves over God. In reality what do we really have complete control of? If we really sit down and think hard about that, unless we completely dilute ourselves we cannot deny that our lives are for the most part completely out of our control.
Once I understood that concept about man’s will, my perceptions of our Total Depravity became much clearer as well. I also started to realize that what I had believed about how we come to salvation in Jesus Christ was skewed as well. I could no longer accept the idea that somehow man could choose Christ in any way, because every choice, thought, will man makes is marred completely by sin.
The following two videos I think explain this view quite well.
The other concept that I had to come to terms with or gain a proper understanding of, was the concept of the atonement of Jesus Christ death on the cross. Was that atonement granted to all people that ever lived as I had originally thought/ or been taught? Or was Jesus death only for those who believed. A little more study into the NT greek language lent some more understanding on this issue as well as a little bit of Logical deduction. Logically one could surmise that Jesus Christ’s death was not for all people. If Jesus died to atone for the sins of the world, then all people would be saved, meaning none would go to Hell. Now we know scripturally that some will go to Hell so this would mean that Jesus failed in some fashion. This is a biblical fallacy. I discovered some interesting information while researching the passages used to promote the idea that Jesus death was for “all” or “the whole world” (as some people come to understand the translation). I found that the greek word pas (pa=v) which translates to all among other words, was almost entirely dependant on the context in use. In most cases the context of all would lead one to surmise a specific group of people or things.
These are just some of the things that I have struggled with during my studies. I have not included a very inclusive list of references as this is mainly just a summary. I can however list the many references/scripture passages I have studied to come to these conclusions if so asked.