July 29, 2013

Atheist Rhetoric: The Series

This is the index page of a new series that I am planning on doing. As the series progresses, I'll be adding links here to each installment. Like my series on Calvinist rhetoric, its length is not planned. I'll include new installments as I come up with them. The first installment will be up next week.

This series will be engaging in what is known as presuppositional apologetics (or in this case polemics) where the underlying assumptions of a position are considered as opposed to looking at evidence or surface level arguments. While I will be talking about some arguments in particular, that will not be my objective. Instead, I will be trying to assess why Atheists argue what they argue (even when it comes to decent arguments) based off of how Atheists tend to argue.

My current posts in this series are:

Each post has three sections: What I Mean By _____(where I explain the rhetorical phenomenon I'm talking about), ____ In Action (where I discuss briefly some Atheists arguments that use the rhetoric), and The End Result (where I talk about my analysis of rhetoric's effectiveness with Christians). You may also notice that each post has two titles: one which is silly and one which is serious. This is because I enjoy torturing people with my bad sense of humor. Please indulge me.

This series is meant to be neither comprehensive in terms of discussing all aspects of Atheist rhetoric, nor to be comprehensive in terms of each post applying to every single Atheist. Instead, this series is indicative of my experience interacting with Atheists and is meant to be representative of how, in general, Atheism is being presented.

July 22, 2013

How Being Anti-Abortion Is Like Being Anti-Slavery
An appeal to the Pro-Life movement

I am not the kind of person who is frustrated when my opponent makes a point that I am not prepared for. My reaction is usually, "Huh. I should research that." But what really grinds my gears is when an ally makes a really bad point.

I'm sure as fellow pro-lifers you can empathize with that. Here we are, trying to stop people from killing babies, and somehow we are treated as horrible people. With a vast majority of the media on one side, all they have to do is quote any pro-life advocate that misspeaks, or when a stupid person who happens to be pro-life... well speaks. This is why it is incredibly important for us to really focus on messaging, because there are millions of lives that count on us communicating our message well.

So I propose a two piece plan. First of all, we need to associate ourselves with a historical movement which was not only successful, but recognized as a good thing by the general public, as well as one that we have a legitimate association with. And lo and behold this isn't that difficult: slavery.

So similarities between Pro-Life and Abolitionism:
  • Both have to do with human rights. At the end of the day, that is all that we are fighting for: that the rights of a particular group of humans is recognized and respected. And not just the right to speak or anything like that, but the right to be treated as human beings.

  • Both have to confront dehumanization. I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not think that being Pro-Choice is anything like being Pro-Slavery. Abortion and slavery are very different institutions, and thus the defences for them are very different. That said, since both abolition and Pro-life are based on recognizing a group's humanity, opposition to us must include why that group isn't fully human. This means that we can look to how such dehumanization was combated in the 19th century, and see if any of it is translatable. And of course maintain the campaign of showing people how these children really are children through pictures and other such means.
  • Both are religiously motivated. I am not ashamed of this, but it is important to point out how religion plays a role in this debate. It is because the issue which really divides the two sides is whether or not an unborn child is human, and defining what a human is outside of religious circles is difficult. Indeed, the very notion of human rights was founded by religious circles, and it is questionable whether the concept can really survive when societies shift to secularism. But philosophy aside, when we are accused about being overly religious, we can look back and point out how important religion was to the abolitionists.

  • Both are driven by an uncompromising ethic. It is as difficult to compromise on the killing of children as it is to compromise on men, women, and children living in chains. Which means that we should be the first who are appalled by sex-trafficking, bigotry, and all denials of humanity that exist around the world. Don't let the liberals own those issues. Those should be our issues.

  • Both are movements championed by the Republican Party. Just saying. 
Right now the Pro-Choice movement gets a lot of distance by connecting itself to the feminist movement. We really should be using the same kind of rhetoric since we are really grounded in the same tradition as the abolitionists. So let us celebrate that heritage and proclaim it. 

The second piece of the plan is to stay on message. We are about human rights. The unborn child has rights. That's it. Any objection, and I mean "any", can and should be answered from that basic viewpoint. 
PC: What about in the case of rape?
PL: Does that justify killing the offspring?
PC: What if the mother's life were in danger?
PL: Yes, she also has the right to life. We don't ignore the women, and therefore there is not simple answer, but such a question should recognize that both lives are equally precious.
PC: It is the woman's body?
PL: There are two person's bodies in question here. Both should be respected
Just this simple rule would prevent us from saying anything dumb. Nothing more needs to be said. The argument stands for itself. If the conversation shifts to why is the child human, than that is exactly where we want it to go! Focus all of our energy on that one point. The Pro-Life movement stands or falls on that point. Therefore let it!

Thank you.

July 15, 2013

Abortion Is Not About Equality
An appeal to the Pro-Choice movement

OK, a couple of caveats. I don't want to be deceitful, so I'll come right out and say that I am Pro-Life and I am sure that affects how I view Pro-Choice rhetoric. But, to any Pro-Choice person out there, please don't reject my point here until I have actually stated it, because I may not be saying what you think I will be saying.

First of all, I completely acknowledge that it is proper to understand the Pro-Choice movement as defending rights, specifically women's rights. What I reject is the idea that just because we are dealing with women's rights that we are therefore dealing with equality. In reality, we are dealing with a moral issue that happens to only directly affect women.

Here is where I think you (that is pro-choice people) have a point. In most contexts, a person has the right to decide what medial procedures will and will not be done to them. The government should not have the right to say that a smoker who develops lung cancer should just deal with the cancer because it is the natural consequences of their choices. In fact, I think we pro-lifers actually undercut our message when our arguments seem to ignore this.

However, there are other notable exceptions to this: suicide and drugs for instance. I would also include prostitution here, though it isn't a medical procedure. But it is still true that there are exceptions to the idea that we are allowed to do whatever we want with our own bodies. It is also important to note that the above activities are illegal for both men and for women. It is not gender specific.

And, quite frankly, neither is the illegality of abortion. The fact that it only influences woman is a consequence of biology, not patriarchy. Any Pro-Life person would equally abhor a man killing a fetus if he were pregnant; it just only happens in movies. The morality of the thing falls on our belief that the fetus is a human being and thus should have human rights. I want the full rights and privileges of the mother to be maintained in tension with the full rights and privileges of the child.

But here is the Pro-Life position, and I'll wrap it up really tight so that there is no confusion: fetuses are children. To me, the distinction between a fetus and a newborn is no different than a newborn and a toddler. Morally they are equivalent. So in a nutshell, we want human rights for fetuses. That is it. Period.

I regret that making abortion illegal will force a long term medical situation on the mother, and that is not shallow regret. I really regret it. It is a horrible thing to force on someone, especially since pregnancy shouldn't be something horrible. It is the most beautiful thing in the world, and I hate the fact that it can become something ugly in a woman's life because it was forced on her. That is appalling to me. But so is killing children.

And that is what we are against: killing children whether by men or women. This particular means is only biologically available to women, so naturally restricting it would only affect women. Thus, it is legitimately a matter of women's rights: how should the mother's rights and the child's rights be resolved when they are in direct conflict? That is a very difficult question, but it has nothing to do with mean at all, and thus has nothing to do with equality or inequality. I believe that equality is a very important thing, and tying abortion into the category of equality both waters down the word, and can hinder legislation that is truly about equality under the law between men and women. This issue is a separate issue, and should be kept separate.

Thank you for your consideration.

July 8, 2013

Why I Am An Arminian
Part VI: Convinced by Scripture

In this final post, I'll look at the most important reason for believing any theology: why I think Arminianism is what the Scripture teaches. One thing that you may notice though is that I am not always using specific Scriptural passages, but rather looking at biblical themes. I have found that it is usually true for Arminians to argue thusly, and it is usually true that Calvinists focus on individual texts.

Personally, I find thematic arguments from Scripture to be far more important. Passages can be taken out of context, and as we saw in the last post, I believe that most of the "Calvinist" passages do exactly that. Scripture wasn't meant to be studied piecemeal like that. Most of the books in the Bible were meant to be read as whole works. Even the ones that are compilations (such as Psalms or most of the Prophets) have predetermined sections that should be treated as whole units. To focus in one portion is, to some degree, dishonest to the nature of Scripture. I recognize that we must do it for the sake of practicality in quoting, but it shouldn't be part of our theology building.

It is also important to note that the biblical themes listed here are not sufficient to develop the Arminian position. Arminianism is a theological system which attempts to balance several different themes in Scripture. No where does the Bible explicitly describe Arminianism (though all of its basic points are either explicit,such as universal atonement, or clearly implicit, such as the freedom of the will), so we need to keep that in perspective. In this post, I am not trying to construct Arminianism from the Bible, but I am demonstrating why I believe Arminianism is more consistent with the Bible than Calvinism is.

So here are the basic biblical themes and passages that I think point towards the Arminian position being more biblical:
Divine Laments

There are many divine laments in Scripture. The basic structure of it is that God proclaims that He regrets what it is that His people are doing. Inherent to the structure of most of the laments is the concept that God wanted one thing, yet His people did something else. A short list includes:

Calvinists argue that everything which happens, God wanted to happen. Indeed, He decreed that it would happen to establish His plans for creation. However, is that really biblical? Though there are many divine laments in Scripture, I would like to focus on a single set (a triad actually) of them from Jeremiah because not only does it cut directly to the heart of my point here, they also are firm proof against the Calvinist position IMO.

They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire--something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. -Jeremiah 7:31
See also Jeremiah 19:5 and 32:35 where Jeremiah repeats the same basic phrase. One question that I must ask is how much clearer does the Bible have to be that there are things which occur that God did not want? I have trouble with a theology that will take a verse like this and say "well it didn't enter into God's revealed mind, but it did enter into God's secret mind". The statement is pretty blunt: "in no way shape or form did I want this to happen." I know that Calvinists must interact with this text somehow, but I seem to just lack the imagination to think of how.

With that said, the entire collection of laments makes a similar point: there are things which happen which God does not want, i.e. God regrets. By regret, I don't mean to imply that God expected anything else, or that God didn't see things coming. He's omniscient. What I mean is that things happened that God didn't want to happen. This seems to me to be a consistent theme throughout Scripture, and especially the prophets. Calvinism must claim otherwise, and the only way to deal with these Scriptures is to argue that somehow God didn't really mean it (whether it be by accommodation theory, or the two will theory).

Imago Dei
What does it mean to be made in the image of God? Let us first consider the term in its original context:
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." - Genesis 1:26
It is interesting that the concept of being in God's image is directly tied to the idea of us ruling over the earth. It is very important to understand that God has given humanity responsibility over creation. We are charged with it. In this, we can understand that God's leadership style is that of delegation: He assigns responsibilities to various creatures.

This is not something which is in direct opposition to Calvinism, but it does stand in contrast to the Calvinist definition of Sovereignty (See link). We can see this basic delegation style of leadership in the parable of the vineyard. It is interesting that this seems to be the biblical model of divine sovereignty, yet Calvinist's insist that God must cause all things to happen in order to be sovereign. That simply doesn't make theological sense, and also has no biblical basis. I contend, as with my Arminian siblings in the Lord, that God is sovereign over His sovereignty, and can rule however He wants.

Potter Metaphor

Where does the concept of God being a potter originate from? Does it come from Romans 9? Actually it comes originally from Jeremiah, whose take on the metaphor is actually rather Arminian.
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

5 Then the word of the LORD came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. - Jeremiah 18:1-10
What Calvinists have right is that the potter metaphor is about God being sovereign. What it is not about though is absolute minute control of all things (something which Calvinists confuse with sovereignty).
The point of the passage and the metaphor is that God is not bound to Israel (indeed, the reverse is true). In the Israelite/God relationship, Israel has all the real obligations. Just because God has established Israel doesn’t mean that Israel is somehow exempt from God's law (amazingly the same point Paul was making in Romans 9-11). This implies... correction: explicitly states, that Israel can go against the will of God. God intends one thing for Israel, and yet something else happens.

This is the principle of "contrary choice": that one can do other than what they are instructed or intended to do. This is also the basic definition of libertarian free will. For those who don't know, libertarian free will is what non-theologians just call free will.

Now, I know what Calvinists would say here: "But there are two wills in God, and just because Israel could go against God's declared will doesn't mean that they could go against His secret will." Now apart from this being one of the most unparsimonious theological ideas ever, I have a couple of problems with this. First, God's secret will is so secret that He has never bothered to tell us it exists, so how do you know it even exists? Second, where in the Bible does it talk about God having two wills? Yes, God keeps some things a secret, but where does it say that God has a secret will which contradicts that which He has told us He wants? Third, I say that if God tells us He wants one thing, and He secretly wants something else, then He is lying to us (since the secret will is always His true will, since that's always the basis for what He does).
Ultimately, the 2 will theory is sophistry: an attempt to avoid texts like this where we do something other than what God wants us to do. I know many Calvinists would disagree, but hey, that's why I'm not a Calvinist.

Universality of Call/Atonement

Ok, time for a bit of prooftexting:
Do me a favor and don't take my word for any of those. Go in and look at the context. A proof-text isn't proof unless you know the context, so please look it up before being convinced.

Now, this is why limited atonement is the 5th point in 4 point Calvinism. It is really really difficult to justify in the face of Scripture. Mind you, people manage to do so, but you should never underestimate the creativity of the aptly self-deceived mind (a little saying of mine).

Conditionality of Reward/Punishment (assumed responsibility to the law)

This is one of the primary arguments that all Arminians, indeed all non-Calvinists, use, and there's a reason for that. Calvinists seem to believe that we believe in free will because we want control. I guess this makes sense from those that build their theology on the theme of control. But that isn't the primary issue for Arminians. Instead it is a matter of us being responsible for our sins, and God being true to His word.

It is important to note that this is distinct from us being responsible for salvation, because we aren't. Salvation comes to undeserving sinners by the grace of God. Indeed, both Calvinists and Arminians agree on these two basic points: we are responsible for sins and God is responsible for salvation.

However, one basic quality that is necessary (though not sufficient) for responsibility is the ability to do otherwise. It is inherit within the definition of responsibility, and Calvinists believe that human sinners could not have done otherwise.

But when we look at how the law is phrased in Scripture, we get a clear sense that conditionality is built into the law. The Jews were expected to do right, and not to do wrong. This implies some measure of free will.
I'll give Calvinists the point that implication is not the same thing as the Bible actually saying it. However, the idea that God expects someone who He commands to do something to have the ability to do it... is just a common sense reading of the text. You can try and get around this by man-made philosophical ideas like Calvin's accommodation theory (God needed to dumb things down for us... because He couldn't predestine us to understand) or the modern day two-will theory (God really wants us to do good, but really really wants some of us to not do good so He can demonstrate how just He is by condemning us), but none of these theories coincide with the simple reading of the text.

This idea of "the plain sense of Scripture" is known as perspicuity. The most perspicuous reading is not always the most "literal" (whatever that means) but the one which conforms most easily to the common sense of text, especially how it would have been understood by its original hearers. So let us consider the perspicuous reading of the following verses:
  • Deut 11:26-28: See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.
  • Josh 24:15: And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
  • Jeremiah 21:8: And to this people you shall say: 'Thus says the LORD: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death.
  • Ezekiel 18:30-31: Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?
(Again, please check the context of these verses. Do not take my word for it)

So, were the Israelites capable of doing other than what they indeed did? That is the question. In these cases, we see that God gives conditional demands, and then explains what He will do in one case, and what He will do in another. I don't see how someone can argue that the original hearers would understand this to mean, "Those who I preordain to do good, I will reward. Those who I preordain to do bad, I will punish." Anyone reading the plain sense of these texts will see this as a king's edict to His people, explaining how His government works. No king issues decrees explaining how and why he is doing things. He issues decrees on how he expects his subjects to behave.

It is interesting to me how the Calvinist definition of sovereignty fails to coincide with the common sense meaning of the word in English, or in any language for that matter. Likewise, they are forced to take such texts as these, and create some kind of interpretive framework within which they can be placed. However, as an Arminian, I can just take them as they are.

The Corporate Nature of Biblical Election

N. T. Wright and the New Perspective of Paul have done a lot in the area of election recently. It is important to note that election is a very minor theme in the New Testament (which raises the question as to why Calvinists focus on it). This means that it is rather inappropriate to try and form our understanding of election from a few isolated passages.

However, in the Old Testament, election is all over the place, if you take the time to remember that 'elect' and 'chosen' mean the same thing. In "My Basic Stances" (see top of page) I discuss my fundamental hermeneutical assumption (the basic idea upon which I base Biblical interpretation): that one should form a basic worldview from the Old Testament, and then allow the events and words of Christ to come in and challenge, reshape, and edify that worldview. Therefore, when building a biblical theology in regards to any subject, we are to first construct a basic understanding of that subject from the Old Testament, and then see how that subject is modified by the New Testament.

Election is no exception to this. It is interesting to note that there are no Old Testament passages on election that teach a concept of personal unconditional election to salvation. They don't exist (I don't really think they exist in the New Testament either, but I recognize that there are a couple that "sound" like they do [see last post]).

It is also important to note that within the New Testament, the concept of election is never explicitly laid out. Indeed, an understanding of election seems to be assumed within the texts, especially within Romans and Ephesians. As such, we must rely on the Old Testament to define the concept, and then see if it can be imported into the New Testament texts.

What results is some sense of corporate election: that God operates by choosing a singular man through whose line a people will be defined as God's people. In the Old Testament, this chosen one was Abraham; in the New Testament, it is Jesus. Thus, by being in Christ, i.e. the nation of Christ, we become part of the chosen: the chosen people of God.

More can be said on this of course, but if the biblical language of election refers to this corporate sense of election, rather then the defining tenant of Calvinism (individual unconditional election unto salvation) is void of any biblical support. Though I would not say that corporate election is a defining attribute of Arminianism, since it wasn't even held by Arminius itself, it is compatible with Arminianism. With Calvinism, though it does not contradict Calvinism, it does remove all sense of Scriptural support, making Calvinism nothing more than a free-floating man-made philosophy.

July 1, 2013

Why I Am An Arminian
Part V: Unconvinced by Prooftexts

Here I intend to go through certain Scriptural arguments that I have heard from Calvinists, as well as providing links to more extensive examination of them. In the post after this, I'll look at the Scriptural arguments for Arminianism which I think are quite solid:
Romans 9
Romans 9:8-24: This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son." 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad--in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls-- 12 she was told, "The older will serve the younger." 13 As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

19You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory-- 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
First, may I offer the traditional Calvinist interpretation. In the interpretation, the offspring of God are God's elect. Isaac and Jacob are examples of God's unconditional election and Ishmael, Esau and Pharaoh are examples of God's unconditional reprobation, as made evident by the fact that Jacob was chosen before Jacob and Esau were born, and the quote from Exodus. The potter metaphor is then employed to show that reprobation and election are God's creative purposes for individual people. Therefore, this is a glorious example of the might of God's sovereignty.

In all of this, I have to agree with one thing: this passage is about God's sovereignty. Paul's argument indeed is that God has the right and the power to do what He will, and to elect as He will. However, the problem with the above interpretation is that it does not properly engage with the OT references being made, and it does not properly appreciate the passage within its greater context in Romans.

First of all, Paul's thesis in all of Romans is to be found in Chapter 1, verse 16: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. " Paul's thesis is concerning what the gospel is: the means of God's saving grace. This thesis contains two parts. First, this grace is dispensed by faith, or belief. The second is that this grace is extended to everyone, both Jew in Gentile. Though he treats both sides of this thesis throughout the book, in Chapters 1-8, Paul is focusing on his first point. This is where you get the comparison's between faith and works.

But in chapter 9, and extending through chapter 11, Paul shifts topics and begins to focus on his second point: the inclusion of the Gentiles in salvation. If this is the case, why does Paul start with a discussion of God's sovereignty?

Well, he doesn't. Paul starts his argument back in verse 1, and it is verses 1-7 that provide the necessary context for understanding what Paul is saying. He starts with a beautiful description of Israel's elective status (verse 1-5) and then shifts gears, arguing that the present inclusion of the Gentiles by faith (his point from chapters 1-8) does not mean that God failed by choosing Israel. He is talking about what it means to be the elect people of God.

It is important here that we understand that by election, the Scripture is talking about the election of nations. This is evident if we assume that Paul is not taking these verses out of context. The first verse referring to Jacob and Esau reads: "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger." It is important to note that Esau never served Jacob, but Edom did serve Israel and it is only if we take this to be nations that we recognize that it was fulfilled. Additionally, the second quote from Malachi 1 is directly talking about God's historical commitment to Israel over Edom, not about the two individuals.

Thus it is important to note that the text is not trying to describe unconditional election, but is in fact denying election by lineage. The Jews thought that they were elect by birth and justified by works. In other words, the entered the covenant by birth, and maintained it by works. Paul's original thesis makes this clear. These examples are not examples of God choosing Isaac and Jacob, but examples of God not choosing Ishmael and Esau (as well as their descendants), even though they were sons of Abraham.

Thus, when we come to verse 14, this protest is not spoken by an Arminian or a Pelagian. These are not categories that Paul was familiar with (nor was Calvinism). Instead, this protest comes from the incensed Jew who was discovering that his lineage wasn't providing him with an in.

For more on Romans 9, view my thoughts and some links here and thoughts from Arminius here. Also, I found that one of the most fantastic and in-depth works I've seen on the subject is Brian Abasciano's doctoral thesis.

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Ephesians 1
Ephesians 1:3-12: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, for we are blessed in all spiritual blessings, in the heavenly things, in Christ, seeing that He chose us in Him before the inception of the world to be holy and unblemished within His presence in love, thus predestining us into adoption to Him through Jesus Christ, according to the good judgment of His will in praise of His glory and His grace by which He favoured us in the Loved One.

In Him, we have redemption through His blood: the excusing of sins according to the abundance of His grace which He teemed into us in all wisdom and understanding having revealed to us the secret of His will, according to His good judgment, which, through Christ, was preplanned for managing the fulfillment of times in order to coalesce all things in Christ throughout the heavens and the earth.

Furthermore, in Him we have been chosen by lot (being predetermined according to the plan by which all things are worked out and according to the purpose of His will) to be who we are, for the praising of His glory; we who first hoped in Christ.
This is my own translation.

To be perfectly fair, I totally get why Calvinists find this passage so convincing. In fact, I will say that this is the strongest passage the Calvinists have. However, I remain unconvinced. Why? Because nothing uniquely Calvinist is actually stated here.

I mean, sure, Paul talks about election, but he never defines it as being unconditional. He talks about predestination, but he never claims that God predestined everything that ever came to pass. Most Calvinists I have interacted with seem to believe that the mere mentioning of either election or predestination is enough to prove Calvinism. However, Arminianism confirms both of these concepts, and thus has no problem with the text at all.

However, there are a couple of other factors why I believe that this doesn't, in the end, serve as a Calvinist prooftext. First, the context is not doctrinal but liturgical. Paul isn't trying to lay down a foundation on the doctrines of predestination and election. Instead, he is using the concepts of predestination and election to praise God for the inclusion (or predestining) of the Gentiles in election.

Second, this text does not apply directly to all Christians (though indirectly it does). The text above is directly talking about the election of the Jews. God predestined the Jews to be the sons of God on this earth, and to establish them to be who the are. This is evident in verse 13 where Paul directly contrasts the "we" in the above verses with the Ephesians themselves. The text only applies to us in the sense that we are now given something that we didn't have before: inclusion in the promises of the Jews.

Third, the central themes here are also not election and predestination. Instead, they are revelation, redemption, and the dominion of Christ. When you begin to try and make this text to be a proof-text for Calvinism, you lose sight of Paul's heart.

Finally, to believe in unconditional election undermines Paul's whole point in the book of Ephesians. Paul makes his point most clearly in 3:5-6: In former generation this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Remember the paragraph in chapter 1. Paul was talking directly about the promises and the inheritance. This is because this was something that belonged only to the Jews, and now such divisions have been cast down. That wall of separation between the elect and the reprobate has been torn down and the two peoples have been made one by faith. However, in the Calvinist system, the wall isn't brought down, but merely moved. There isn't now one people, but two simply defined differently. This is simply not what Paul was talking about.

I have more thoughts on Ephesians here, and I highly recommend this articles as well: The New Perspective and Ephesians and Divine Election and Predestination in Ephesians 1.

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Romans 8:28
Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
OK, this is one of the silliest proof-texts that Calvinists use. First question, what does this text teach? It teaches that when bad things happen to God's people, God will take that bad thing, and turn it into something good. And an Arminian and a Calvinist both believe in this concept so this isn't a point of contention at all.

The difference is how we understand how God does this. For the Calvinist, they believe that when a bad thing happens to the elect, God caused it to happen in order to accomplish something good later on. In other words, all bad things have a good reason. This interpretation isn't in the text, but it doesn't contradict it either.

For the Arminian, we believe that though God punishes and chastises His people to correct them, no truly bad thing has an origin within Him. However, due to human sinfulness in the world, bad things do happen, but He is here with you through it, and ultimately He is in control and everything will turn out alright. It is also important to note that this interpretation also doesn't contradict the text. Thus the text cannot be considered a Calvinist proof-text at all.

I would also argue that the Arminian view is the plain sense interpretation of the text. If you look at the context, it is eschatological in view. The next couple of verses list all of the blessings that Christians receive from God (listed with a crescendo order, not a chronological order), ending in glorification which is the greatest in the list. Thus the basic sense of the text is that though bad things happen, we are going to be glorified, and that far exceeds any present pain or trouble. Any interpretation that doesn't have this sense as its base is taking the verse out of context.

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Ephesians 2:8
Ephesians 2:8 For you see it is from grace that you have been saved through faith; not from yourself. This is a gift of God, not from works so that none may boast.
Ah yes, we are all familiar with this verse. I think it is important to understand what Paul's theology is here really. It is important to note that the basic clause of the first sentence is "you have been saved through faith". Everything else in that first sentence, and even the entire above passage, relies on us understanding that this is the basic view that Paul has about the salvation process. Indeed, the fact of salvation by faith isn't even Paul's point; it is Paul's assumption.

Paul's point is that the fact that salvation is through faith instead of works is something worth celebrating. It is the fact that salvation is through faith instead of works that is a gift from God, and the cause of any boasting being void. When we remember that God has the sovereign right to decide upon what terms He is going to base salvation, and then realize that humans would expect it to be based upon works (hence every man-made religion doing so), we can then recognize how gracious it is for God to base it upon something as simplistic as faith!

And faith here doesn't simply mean mentally believing something. It is talking about utter reliance and trust on Christ. This is why it is impossible to boast about faith, because the very nature of faith is relenting our own power and abilities. It is saying, "I give up. Christ, You do it." Who can boast in that?

For more, please see this article on "the gift of God", and And I casually treat it in this article

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John 6:25-71
John 6:36-40 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 6:44-45 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.
I used an excerpt here because, although all passage is in purview here, these are the texts that Calvinists focus upon, and I am trying to be brief (though I know I am failing :)).

Quick run-down of the Calvinist interpretation (this is an oversimplification): The text is distinguishing between those that follow Jesus and those that do not. To be given to the Son implies that the Father unconditionally elected them and then gave them to the Son. Indeed this is emphasized with the word 'draw' in verse 44 which implies being dragged against your will and is thus a picture of irresistible grace. Therefore the point of the passage is the futility of these Jews trying to come to Jesus on their own, and Christ is telling them that they can't because the Father isn't drawing them.

The good thing about this interpretation: John 6 is one of the most enigmatic speeches that Christ ever gave, and most of us need some kind of model in order to even begin to understand what Jesus is saying here. The Calvinism interpretation, for all intents and purposes, works. It explains the oddities in the text while being consistent with itself.

The problem: While Calvinism easily answers many of our questions about John 6, it is purely eisogetical, not exegetical. In other words, Calvinism can be offered as a comprehensible explanation for the text, but one cannot claim that one can derive Calvinism from the text. The two terms in discussion here are never defined within the context, and are not even at the heart of what Jesus is saying. Therefore, it can't be a proof-text for Calvinism at all. There is a basic apologetic confusion here. Just because your position has an answer, it doesn't guarantee that your position is the answer.

Here's what the Calvinists get right. John six is absolutely differentiating between those that come to Jesus and those that don't. But the distinction being made is not one of unconditional election, but previous devotion. The disciples and others that are coming to Jesus during Jesus' ministry are doing so because they already are devoted to the Father and because of this recognize the Father in Christ. Those that don't come were never really committed to the Father to begin. Thus the call to them is repent.

If you think about it, it is kind of odd that Christ would waste this much time to convince the crowd that they didn't have a chance of coming to salvation. Saying that He said it so that it would be written and we could understand doesn't answer this either. He could have easily have explained things (clearer I might add) to the disciples when they were alone to accomplish that. Additionally, why did He say it so bizarrely?

This makes more sense if we see that Christ is trying to convince these people to look beyond their physical wants and needs and to focus on heavenly things. The entire rhetoric of the passage is Christ pushing them to go beyond their understanding, and to truly commit to God. Why would Jesus do this if they could not be saved?

Therefore, we understand the terms "be given to" to refer to the Father already having them in possession, and giving them over to Jesus. Indeed, "be given to" can only refer to this point in Jesus' ministry because of how Christ uses the term in John 17 (note the transition in verse 20). The term "to draw" doesn't refer to irresistible grace, but to the Father having taken possession of them. In other words, the Father must have them first. The resistibly is just never discussed.

For more details on John 6, I have a fuller breakdown of my thoughts here, Richard Coords has a good break down of the Calvinist argument, Daniel Whedon's commentary is a good read, and Eric Landrstrom's work.

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Acts 13:48
Acts 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
Here I used the KJV because the source of this being a prooftext for Calvinism has to do with the KJV translating tasso as 'ordained'. This is also what makes this verse easy to counter. The word tasso doesn't mean 'ordain'. It means 'to set' or 'to position'.

That's not the only problem. It also completely betrays the construction of the Greek text. The Greek runs as follows:
kai (and) episteusan (believed[aorist {or past} tense]) hosoi (as many as[nominative {subject}]) esan (were [verb]) tetagmenoi (positioned [nominative particple]) eis (into) zoen (life[direct object]) aionion (eternal[adjective])
The word order doesn't work in English, so there's nothing wrong with it being rearranged, but when you are interpreting a sentence, you first look for the verb, and then the subject. This sentence has two verbs ('believed' and 'were'), and two subjects('as many as' and 'positioned').

Let's talk a little about the participle. In English the participle (-ing) usually is used as an adjective: "This is a boring book", though occasionally it can be used as a noun (such as "human being") or present tense verb ("I am going to the store"). In Greek, it is usually used as a noun, usually meaning a thing which is defined by the action ("For the asking will receive, the seeking will find, and the knocking will have the door open for them"- Matthew 7:8). It is important that the past tense participle form of tasso is being used here as a noun (tetagmenoi), meaning "those who are positioned".

Given all of this, the common sense reading will assign the first subject with the first verb, and the second subject with the second verb. Therefore we would get this: "And as many who believed; the positioned in eternal life were." Well, that doesn't really make sense. However, with the verb 'to be' in the Greek, if the verb is being used to equate two things as the same, both words can be in the nominative form (i.e. the subject). Therefore it would read: "And as many who believed were those positioned in eternal life" or "And ones who believed were the ones that were set in eternal life". This is really the best rendering.

As such, we can see that the text doesn't blatantly say whether the positioning or the believing came first. It merely equates the two things: if you believe, then you are positioned in eternal life. Additionally, belief being mentioned first makes it the primary point of the text. Considering all of this, I find it very difficult to believe that Luke was trying to argue that "everyone there who God had predestined to have eternal life began to believe that day". That is really not doing the text justice. The text is clearly arguing that "everyone who believed that day was set to live eternally". If anything, the text simply implies that eternal life comes by faith.

For more on this text see Joseph Benson's commentary (highlight here), Dr. Whitby's Discourses on the 5 Points (highlight here), and this nice commentary on Wesley's thoughts.

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