Determined to Believe: There are Legitimate Non-Calvinist Interpretations of Scripture

(SeanO) #1

So, John Lennox takes Piper head on in this book and I did not understand the reason at first. Why mention Piper by name when you could just discuss the Biblical texts? So I found some videos where Piper addresses the difference between arminians and calvinists and was quite horrified to find that Piper makes a gross generalization about non-calvinists’ approach to Scripture. Piper says, in no uncertain terms, that all non-calvinists he has ever interacted with start with philosophy and bring their opinions to the text, while honest exegesis inevitably leads to calvinism.

I would never make such a generalization about calvinists - including Piper. I think he is doing his best to exegete the text itself. And I do not understand why he would make this type of generalization against brothers and sisters in Christ. I have provided below some legitimate non-calvinist interpretations of Romans 9 as evidence this generalization is not true.

But I want us to process this together as part of reading the book:

What do you think of Piper’s statements / generalizations? Is he being fair to both sides? What do you think of the alternative interpretations of Romans 9?

Please feel free to disagree, but let us do all things in love :slight_smile: Jesus be with us in our discussion!

John Piper Makes Generalization About Non-Calvinists

To my surprise, Piper says that non-calvinists are bringing their views to the Bible (eisegesis) rather than allowing the Bible to speak for itself and then accepting that God is beyond their understanding. I was very surprised that Piper made such a sweeping generalization.

Non-Calvinist Biblical Perspective on Romans 9

Paul’s burden, then, in Romans 9 is not to narrow the scope of God’s election but to broaden it. He wants to take in all who have faith in Christ Jesus regardless of their ethnicity. Election, then, is first and foremost a corporate notion: God has chosen for Himself a people, a corporate entity, and it is up to us by our response of faith whether or not we choose to be members of that corporate group destined to salvation.

Determined to Believe: Chapter 3 - The Moral Argument Invalidates Theological Determinism
(Mitzi Witt) #2

As for Pipers comments in the first minute or so , he affirms that in his THEOLOGY applied to the scripture,( listen closely) there is mystery, not something he can rationally understand.He says we may not have the ability to rationally press through.

So my question is how can he insist on a “doctrinal certainty” stance, ( no mystery in his proposition), and reject another ( arminian/wesleyian) if it is mystery and not rational? That was my first thought but I listened to it all. I found he really did not think it a mystery but a certainty, and perhaps a philosophy applied, not unlike what he said the Arminian does.

I think THAT is more the mystery.

(SeanO) #3

@mitwit Yes, Piper seems to be saying that the mystery we cannot rationally press through is how to reconcile predestination with human responsibility while asserting that predestination is a doctrinal certainty. For Piper, predestination is obvious to any honest, educated student of Scripture. Of course we disagree and John Lennox’s exposition of Scripture I expect will be a case in point, as are the others I linked. I was a bit taken aback that Piper did not acknowledge any counterexamples to his generalization.

(Mitzi Witt) #4

I think it is often the case when one with a firm viewpoint of a bible subject/topic speaks to others with the same strong stance, he has no need to say anything but that which fortifies his own and others already held conviction. I see this in all kinds of speaking.

Which makes it hard to have a discussion or an honest loving debate from different perspective . Things can become not questionable!, but presented as if the fiery finger of God writes in stone the side He is on and not to be questioned. It means, 'Who do you think you are?!" I think, " well, I can’t think I’m something if I’m nothing". So silence is the main course in my life.

Sorry for the edgy tone, I don’t mean it that way, but what I wrote is the usually how things are even with my closest loved ones. Because of that silence, I am not proficient always in writing clearly what my deep heart truly thinks.

I am thankful to read these discussions and hear others and continue to learn and even at times speak up! Not easy for me.

I do learn a lot from Witherington’s books, and have gone through all of Craig’s Reasonable Faith series. So helpful! Have been much exposed to Sproul/ Macarthur/some of Piper as well.Try to glean the encouragement and silently disagree with what makes no sense.

All of which has nothing to do with the book, so I will set myself back on subject! Sorry for the personal interlude!

(SeanO) #5

@mitwit I’m encouraged you are learning to express your own opinions / thoughts and to think critically. I think that is crucial to growing in our Christian walk and Connect is a safe space for doing so :slight_smile: May the Lord Jesus continue to teach you wisdom in the inner heart!

(Jimmy Sellers) #6

Are we on chapter 3 or are you starting a companion discussion? Just asking, you usually put the chapter number in the title.

(SeanO) #7

@Jimmy_Sellers This was a pre-chapter 3 discussion because as I was reading chapter 3 I realized Lennox addresses Piper directly, which surprised me a bit. So I just wanted to flesh out why and provide an opportunity to discuss here so that we can avoid rabbit trails in the actual chapter discussion.

(Donna Gremillion) #8

I’ve been reading the book and would like to comment and get some feedback from the group. When someone first introduced me to Calvinism many years ago, it literally made me cry, I found it so disturbing. So I started researching it for myself on and off for several years. I was able to listen today to the Ben Witherington clip, but not yet to the Greg Boyd one. I tend to agree with Witherington.

I am a history teacher and have found to ignore the historical context does a great disservice to any text. We know that in the early church, the question of the Jews and Gentiles was a big deal. The Jews had long been the people of God (even though that never meant only they could be saved). They were so full of themselves as the exclusive chosen ones of God they called Gentiles dogs. When Gentiles started to get saved (and the Jews reject), the question really was what was going on? Paul said the Israelites were the ones given the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the law, worship, and the promises, etc (Rom 9:4). Now, it seems they’ve been dropped out of the program. Paul uses their own history to explain that God has always been making choices - not ever for salvation, but for the lineage of the Promised One. It would be Isaac, not Ishmael, Jacob and not Esau, no matter what their parents wanted or people expected. Now God is making yet another choice by turning to the Gentiles for now. It was a “mystery” that was for foreknown by God and now being revealed (Gal 3:1-6).

I also think history can give us insight into why the early Reformers read the scriptures in a Calvinist way. In those days, there was much about your life that WAS predetermined. Either you were born into nobility or born a peasant. There was absolutely nothing you could do about it. And they believed God had set you in your place. Even your occupation was usually determined for you. If your father was a cobbler, you would be a cobbler. Goodness, even your spouse was chosen for you, haha. So it wouldn’t have been a big surprise to them that their salvation had also been predetermined for them also.

These are just my thoughts. I welcome any comments that can clarify any of them. Thanks!

(Kelly) #9

Thank you Donna for your post and Sean for the videos. I find Calvinism so very disturbing. After watching the Piper video, I’ve been unsettled all day. Your post and the following videos were extremely helpful in settling the confusion of how God could possible be considered a loving God and yet be the author of such evil… Happy to be learning so that I can hopefully share with others who struggle with this intense conversation.

(SeanO) #10

@donnagremillion Great thoughts! I had never considered your point that in the days of the Reformers many things felt predetermined to them - station in life, job and spouse. We need to consider not only the historical context of the Scriptures, but also of people who are seeking to interpret them. History is a critical subject :slight_smile:

(SeanO) #11

@kelelek May the Lord Jesus bless you as you grow in the grace and knowledge of Him and share His love and truth with others :slight_smile: I too was shocked by Piper’s comments on this topic, though I fully expect to be worshiping alongside him one day soon with the Lord and pray that we may worship our Lord in unity of spirit!

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(Jimmy Sellers) #12

I can’t help but hear Lennox in my mind:

…it is common for determinists to try to convince non-determinists to convert to determinism. But that assumes that the non-determinists are free to convert, and therefore their non-determinism is not determined in the first place. The cost of holding human free will to be an illusion would appear to be impossibly high, as it entails the invalidity not only of human morality but also of human rationality. Page 54


(SeanO) #13

@Jimmy_Sellers Lol, yes, it is a bit ironic to exhort someone to use their reason if their choices and beliefs are already determined. I know some Calvinists believe we have free will in regard to everything except salvation while others approach full on determinism down to what we wear on a given day. The former could still hold to our capacity to reason. I am uncertain exactly where Piper falls on that spectrum.

(Kelly) #14

My daughters went to Christian school that was Calvinistic in their high school years. Here’s the thing about why they try to convince you and why they have missionaries. This comes from one of her classmates/teachers. As humans, we don’t know who God has “chosen”, so we preach to everyone knowing that faith comes by hearing. They preach and trust God to bring to faith His chosen ones. So, if a Calvinist is trying to reason with you, they do so because, hey, you just might be one of the chosen ones.

This explanation may not be true across the board for all Calvinists, but that is how they responded when asked by my daughter when she was in school.

(Jimmy Sellers) #15

One thing I did want to add or perhaps clarify I do believe in the supernatural work of God and that is indeed is a mystery. I would not lay claim to being a full on rationalist nor do I believe that rational thought alone will get you to the ‘promised land’. I think I have said this before, full on rationalism has no room for the supernatural and all that that entails, fideism has no room for reason as reason will take you to doubt and as fideist you can have no doubt.

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(Carson Weitnauer) #16

Hi friends,

I am sympathetic to all of the concerns that have been raised about Calvinism. Any theological position can be presented in a way that is harmful or discouraging to our faith.

At the same time, though I am not currently persuaded by Calvinism, when I was, I found it to be a great comfort! The knowledge that my salvation was totally secure, as it was foreordained by God, is a relief. Also, it took the pressure off in evangelism - I am called to be faithful, but the responsibility to save someone is entirely on God.

Also, I want to recognize and honor that many participants in RZIM Connect are ardently Reformed in their theology.

Two questions to prompt further empathy and understanding of the Scriptures:

  1. What do you see as potential weaknesses or abuses of an Arminian understanding?

  2. What do you see as some strengths of Reformed theology?

I think these questions can help us appreciate the best and strongest understanding of one another’s theological position in this area.

(SeanO) #17

@kelelek I have heard that perspective as well. I am glad that, whatever their reasons, they do seek to spread the love and grace of Jesus :slight_smile:

(SeanO) #18

@Jimmy_Sellers Yes, I believe revelation and the testimony of God’s Spirit are essential in the process. As it says in I Corinthians, by its wisdom the world did not know God - only the spirit of a man knows what is in him and only God’s Spirit knows the things of God :slight_smile:

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(SeanO) #19

@CarsonWeitnauer Out of curiosity, how did you know you were one of the elect when you were a Calvinist? I have met a number of Calvinists who really struggle to be sure they are ‘in’. One guy I knew in college even had a mental breakdown.

Also, how did you handle the reality that many other people were ‘out’ and had no means of coming ‘in’? Did that cause an emotional burden?

My personal opinion is that the worst abuse of either of these perspectives is when people who hold the opposing view are thought to be less godly / sincere. Arminians sometimes accuse Calvinists of creating a monstrous view of God and Calvinist sometimes accuse Arminians of having a low view of God - I do not find either of these statements helpful.

(Carson Weitnauer) #20

Hi @SeanO,

I fear I will be making up things because I’m not sure how well I remember even my own state of mind 10 or 15 years ago!

I imagine both of those caused me some doubt and struggle. I still think I’m part of the elect! I know and experience the love of God in a personal, intimate way that brings joy to my soul. It is such a gift of grace and I thank God for his kindness to me! However God has worked out my salvation, I am so thankful to be his beloved son! He is marvelous and wonderful in seeking me out and bringing me to himself. As best I can tell, whether my theology has tended towards a Reformed or Arminian perspective, this friendly knowledge of God and a desire to serve him would assure my heart that he loved me.

That some are out with no way in is something perplexing. But, at the same, to me the paradox is how anyone can be saved. I don’t think anyone is ‘out’ without just cause. There might be some mystery there, but firmly convinced of God’s goodness (in my own experience, in considering Creation, the Cross, the sending of the Spirit, etc…), I trusted his justice in matters of judgment.

I think we can also look to find some other ways that Reformed theologians have addressed this tension - surely better than I have here (!) - and even if we can’t see it the same way, appreciate that they have thought it through with rigor and care.