A friend asked me a question this morning about how to pray for lost souls. The topic came up because a pastor they knew told them that because God predestines those who are saved by whom the Spirit draws, no one whom the Spirit draws can resist. It got them to thinking and it got them confused. Should we even pray for the lost?
This, of course, is a very Calvinistic position. If you’re not familiar with Calvinism, then you haven’t been paying attention recently. There has been a resurgence in recent years of what many are calling Neo-Calvinism. Traditionally a belief held only by Presbyterians, the ideology has spread rapidly among Baptists and non-denominational churches and theologians. Grossly oversimplified, most people associate Calvinism with “predestination.” Those whom God draws are unable to resist His grace, and those whom He doesn’t draw are unable to acquire it.
If you are interested to know more for yourself, you are free to Google “Calvinism” or “Arminianism.” The short version is that back in the early days after the Protestant Reformation, Calvin was confronted by his Catholic antagonists about his theology. A brilliant man, a prolific writer and speaker, he talked about how he believed God’s grace could not be earned, as the Catholic doctrine said (again, oversimplified), but that it was irresistible to those whom it was offered. Basically, we had no part in our salvation.
Not agreeing with the Catholic position, but also not agreeing with Calvin, a man named Jacob Arminius penned a five-point response to Calvin’s theology. After Calvin’s death, his followers penned his much more famous five points of Calvinism, commonly referred to as TULIP (look it up).
Men, for ages, have longed to wrestle complex problems and make them easily understandable. It is in our nature to uncover what is hidden and make it accessible. For decades, physicists have been looking for the Theory of Relativity, a seemingly unattainable equation to explain everything in the universe (yet again, very oversimplified). They haven’t found it yet.
Solomon had this to say about our quest for uncovering what is hidden:
2It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;
to search out a matter is the glory of kings.
3As the heavens are high and the earth is deep,
so the hearts of kings are unsearchable.
It is interesting that Solomon knew that God had hidden glorious things from us. Solomon called those who could search them out kings. What is even more interesting is that he said that a king’s heart is unsearchable. Somehow, Solomon said in two sentences that God can be figured out by those who can’t be figured out. That’s a paradoxical statement at best.
Solomon isn’t really saying that God’s wisdom is finite and man’s wisdom is infinite. He is speaking to the unknowable nature of what is out there—even thought God longs for us to uncover the things He has hidden. Even in the glory of discovery, there is always an element of secrecy—something more we haven’t found yet.
Calvinism and Arminianism both overlook this key nature of God. Even in our ability to know God and be fully known, we still see “only in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12). While I believe that it is a worthy exercise to search out the scriptures to know God, Calvinism and Arminianism both paint God into a corner that I think are unattainable. They are both, at their core, reactionary dogmas against arguments levied by antagonists. They do more to stoke our own pride and ego than they do to explain God.
I like how David put it.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
I encourage you to read all of Psalm 139. It is very clear here that David is speaking directly to this idea of God’s foreknowledge. David is saying, in essence, that the idea of predestination is very real, but that somehow God has chosen to give man a part too. How God can foreknow, predestine and at the same time allow man a choice makes David’s head spin. That makes me feel like I’m in good company, because it makes my head spin too.
I would go so far to say that if it doesn’t make your head spin, then you’ve really lost something. If you have chosen to fall in step with either Calvinism or Arminianism, then I think you have chosen to explain the unexplainable.
Yes, God is sovereign. Yes, man has a choice.
How the two work together are beyond me, but I am just fine with that.
For now, I plan to argue very little about it and take the issue up with the One who knows the answer when I meet Him. I assume it will take me a few billion years to get it through my thick skull, because I’m slow that way.
It’s okay, I’ll have time.