Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Checkmate For Hell - Part 7: Move 12

This is part of an ongoing series of blog posts, meant to be read in order.  In the first post, I introduced the concept of Universalism, and introduced the concept that I would be defending my position through a series of "chess moves".  I mentioned that I believe I have checkmate in 2 moves, but because a lot of questions would be left, I would use a series of further moves to keep the king in checkmate while I systematically removed the rest of the pieces from the board.  I would highly suggest you read the previous parts of this series before reading this one: 
Part 1: Moves 1-3
Part 2: Moves 4-5
Part 3: Moves 6-7
Part 4: Move 8
Part 5: Moves 9-10
Part 6: Move 11

Chess Move #12 
Calvinism is totally depraved.

One of the issues with trying to dispel notions of hell as a place of eternal conscious torment is the fact that people seem to have built layers upon layers of psychological walls around this idea.  You can’t even begin to get through to them because they bring up all this other doctrine behind which they protect their faulty views of hell.  So it becomes necessary to attack the faulty doctrine they are using to protect their hell as well.

I believe that one of the false sets of doctrine that Hell hides behind is Calvinism.  Calvinism has 5 points, referred to as TULIP:
  1. Total depravity (which should actually be referred to as total inability) 
  2. Unconditional election 
  3. Limited atonement 
  4. Irresistible grace
  5. Perseverance of the saints

Let me boil this down for you in a way that is simple: you are an evil robot, incapable of choosing good, and God forces himself upon you (psychologically rapes you) if He has decided to elect you to be saved.  God decided from the beginning of time that some people would go to Heaven and some people would go to Hell, and if He has chosen you for Heaven then you can’t resist, but if He has chosen you for Hell, you can’t do anything to get out of it.  Calvinism also extends the guilt of Adam – not just the results of his sin (death), but the guilt – upon the whole human race.  In other words, as soon as you are conceived, you are guilty without having ever done anything.  Now, you may already be seeing how this doctrine is constructed in such a way as to be a trap that one cannot ever escape from.  But I am eternally hopeful that all people will come to know the truth eventually, so let’s move on.

There are all kinds of logical and scriptural problems with this doctrine.  I’ve already shown in the earlier sections of this exploration the Biblical and logical problems with limited atonement – the belief that atonement only covers those whom God has elected.  But what is kind of interesting is that Calvinists actually get some things kind of right – they just don’t understand the nuances.  We’ll get to that in a minute.

First, let’s talk about total depravity.  Total depravity teaches that all men are horrible – they’re gross, disgusting, awful, evil creatures who are incapable of doing anything good or right.  God rightfully looks down on these disgusting creatures and says “eeeewwww!”  This doctrine is used in a big way to defend the depraved belief in eternal conscious torment.  Perhaps even more serious, this doctrine is often used by Calvinists as a shield against outsiders - Calvinists will often say that, because we are all totally depraved, that means we shouldn't listen to anyone who is not a Christian, because it's not possible that they could be right about anything.  Is that really a loving way to deal with people?  

But there are some serious logical problems with Total Depravity that I'd like to address. 

Here’s the first question I’d like to ask Calvinists: if you believe in total depravity of the human intellect, how can you be certain that you’re right about total depravity?  This question aside, Calvinists like to insist that total depravity is not the same as absolute depravity – while the latter allows for no good in humans, the former merely means that every aspect of a human being is besmirched.  Um…no, I don’t see the difference either.

Here’s another problem with the doctrine of Total Depravity – if one is totally depraved, how does one know that God is good?  In other words, what if Satan is really the good guy and God is an evil tyrant, and we can never know because we were made in such a way as to be unable to distinguish between good and evil?  Think about it – if one believes that an infinitely powerful God predestined some human beings for eternal punishment, and others for eternal reward, and constructed these humans in such a way that they could never do anything to change their fate, and in fact predestined all things…then isn’t God the author of evil?

Now, I will readily accept the universality of man’s tendency towards sin.  But this is better explained as human fallibility – the ever present tendency to err – not total depravity.  Think of it this way: now I’ve talked already about how God is love (I John 4:8).  So I’d like to ask my readers: are any of you parents?  Good.  You love your children, right?  Good.  But you love them imperfectly, right?  Well, God loves us all perfectly.  So now I’d like you to imagine something: imagine telling your child “you are totally depraved.  This means every aspect of you is contaminated by your evil nature.  You are incapable of doing anything good by your own will – actually, everything you do will be bad unless I have predestined you into my special club of goodness.  If you try to do something good, and I haven't predestined you, it will actually be bad.”  Can you imagine telling them that, while also thinking about how much you love this child?  Is this a loving way to talk to a child?  Now, if you - in your imperfect love - cannot imagine teaching a child such a debilitating principle, do you really think the perfectly loving God would talk to us that way, or see us that way?  No, I think the way God would lovingly speak to us, His children, would be better pictured in the way I have observed my wife talking to my son after he has gotten in trouble.  Often, when my son gets into trouble he will say he is sorry for being a bad boy, and my wife will respond in this manner: “oh, no!  You are not a bad boy!  You are a good boy!  And I love you so much!  No, you are a good boy – you sometimes make bad choices, and those bad choices hurt me and your sister, and I want you to make good choices.  But you are not a bad boy.  You are a good boy, and I love you very much.  I know you can make better choices, because I love you and I know you are my good little boy.”

The Calvinist’s view of Total Depravity is not loving – it is a debilitating, self-loathing view that has a tendency towards self-fulfilled prophesy and viewing "outsiders" with disdain.

But let’s move on and talk about the combined teachings of unconditional election and irresistible grace.  These doctrines are born from a misunderstanding of the Biblical concept of predestination.  In Romans 8:29-30, we are told:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

This same word, predestined, is used in Ephesians 1:5 and 11.  So clearly, predestination is a Biblical concept.  However, I believe that it is a concept that has been distorted by Calvinism.  You see, Calvinism twists predestination into a teaching that there is no such thing as free will.  But there are many examples in the Bible where people are asked or told to make a choice.  Jesus is always telling people to repent, and telling them to believe in him.  The literal definition of the word that is translated as “repent” is a 180 degree turning – it is changing one’s mind and altering one’s course of action as a result.  Now, aren’t “believing” and “repenting” indications of free will?  Of course, the logic trap of Calvinism will say “but God predestined that man would make that choice, so it wasn’t really a choice….”  Nice circular logic, there.  You can’t win an argument with a Calvinist when they twist everything like that – the cognitive dissonance is so strong with them.

But the Bible has other examples of choosing.  Deuteronomy 30:19 says:
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. (emphasis mine)

And in Joshua 24:15:
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (emphasis mine) 

I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I have set my heart on your laws. (emphasis mine)

There are other examples I could give, but I’ll stop there.  Clearly, choice is a Biblical concept as well, and thus we can deduce free will. 

The biggest problem with combining the belief in election/predestination with the concept of total depravity (implying that there is no free will) is that the combination of these two beliefs is completely paralyzing if you take it to its ultimate conclusion.  The only way to cope for people who believe this is to act like it isn’t true.  I know this full well, having gone to a Christian college where most everyone was a Calvinist – dating sucks at such a place.  The most common rejection/breakup line, for men and women both (in a predominantly Calvinist culture) is: “I’m sorry, but I just don’t think this is God’s will for my life.”  But I always wanted to follow such people around and show them how silly it is to believe this way, and how inconsistent they are by tormenting them with this logic: for example, if we went to a fast food restaurant I would torment them with questions like “are you sure that double cheeseburger is God’s will for your life?  How can you know?”  Or “are you sure that Dr. Pepper is God’s will for your life?”  “Are you sure sitting there is God’s will for your life?  Maybe he wanted you to sit in this seat, or maybe at another table altogether!”

The problem with Calvinists who believe in predestination but don't "believe" in free will is that they don't act like they believe what they say they believe - they're always going around making choices.  If you don't believe in choice, then I say: stop making choices, I dare you!  (I don't really mean that - I'm just demonstrating that you can't.  If you tried, you'd probably die of starvation, which is not something I want.)  Whatever you believe, you ought to be able to act like you believe it.  If you can't act like you believe it, then you don't truly believe it!  "Practice what you preach", as the old adage says.  As James 2:20 says: faith without works is dead!  This implies that if what you believe does not result in positive action that shows evidence that what you believe is true, your beliefs are dead, and thus you don't truly believe them!

The biggest problem with combining the belief in election/predestination with the belief in limited atonement and total depravity is this: you can never be sure you’re one of the elect.  Oh, they will rationalize this fear with logic like: “well, you know you’re one of the elect because you believe in Jesus – you wouldn’t believe in Jesus if you weren’t.”  But what if one got things wrong?  What if you believed in the wrong "Jesus"?
"Dear Lord Baby Jesus, lying there in your...your little ghost manger, lookin' at your Baby Einstein developmental...videos, learnin' about shapes and colors...."
"Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed!"

If Calvinism were right, you could never know for sure if your beliefs were correct, because you're totally depraved and incapable of being able to tell the difference between what is true and what is not!  And if you believe in limited atonement, you can never really be sure if you're one of the elect, and will always live in fear!

So what is the answer?  I believe the answer is not found in an either/or.  It’s not a question of “either predestination or free will.”  It’s a both/and – both predestination and free will are true.  But how?  It works like this: without the love of God to heal us, we have a natural tendency to make bad choices: we choose death.  And because love does not demand its own way (1 Corinthians 13:5), God allows us to make those bad choices.  But God’s love will not allow this to be the end, and love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8).  God’s love heals us and wakes us up – makes us more aware so we see more clearly.  Without God’s love to awaken us, we cannot see clearly.  But when God’s love heals us, we become more aware, and then we make better choices.  The more God’s love heals and fills us, the better choices we make, and in the end, all will choose God – every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Phillipians 2:10 and Romans 14:11).  As the title of Rob Bell’s excellent work of linguistic art puts it so elegantly and simply: Love Wins.

If you have time for it, and wish to understand more of the arguments against Calvinism, I would highly recommend watching the following video:

Tune in next time for:

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