Is it possible that Calvinists (who believe in predestination) and Arminians (who don’t) could both be right? Well, that depends on how right it’s necessary to be, and how insistent they are regarding every little point. I guess the biggest little point here is the doctrine of eternal conscious torment or its variant, conditional immortality (annihilation). I’ve believed in nearly all of these things during my lifetime. I like to think I’m running the race set before me, and hopefully getting somewhere (and that the somewhere isn’t off-track!)
There are three propositions in question here:
- God is love in His very essence. God loves all people.
- God is all powerful. Nothing He decides to do can be denied Him.
- Some people will either be annihilated or will suffer eternal conscious torment.
Arminians choose #1 & #3 and reject #2 on grounds of free will. Calvinists choose #2 & #3 and reject #1 on grounds of God’s sovereignty. Christian Universalists choose #1 & #2 and reject #3 on grounds of universalistic scriptures. All of these groups have history in the church that goes way back to New Testament days; none of the them is new.
So what can the Calvinists be right about? It’s their turn first. Is it possible that God really is all powerful? As it turns out, they do have scripture for this:
But He is unchangeable; who can oppose Him? He does what He desires. (Job 23:13 HCSB)
I know that You can do anything and no plan of Yours can be thwarted. (Job 42:2 HCSB)
Our God is in heaven and does whatever He pleases. (Psa 115:3 HCSB)
The LORD of Hosts has sworn: As I have purposed, so it will be; as I have planned it, so it will happen. (Isa 14:24 HCSB)
And there are many more. I think the Calvinists are on pretty good ground with this one. You can see why they’ve concluded that since we all know some will spend eternity in torment, God must not love everyone. Therefore He loves only the elect. So the Calvinists are right about God’s power. Do they have scripture for the idea of an elect people?
For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified. (Rom 8:29-30 HCSB)
He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, (Eph 1:5 HCSB)
We have also received an inheritance in Him, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will, (Eph 1:11 HCSB)
Again, there are many more like these. Clearly the Calvinists have a point. Is that it then? No hope for those who are not among the elect? Does that leave everyone else out, literally without a prayer? You can see how first Augustine, and then Calvin came to believe this doctrine. Maybe it wouldn’t have happened, but for a little word that was mistranslated “forever,” when it should have been rendered “an age or eon.” (more on that here)
But wait! We haven’t heard from Arminius yet. P’rhaps there’s still hope.
Next time . . .