A liberating apologetic
God doesn’t care whether we think He’s fair
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There’s a contest underway in my mind: Which of my friends, Tim Lamer or Mickey McLean, is the stauncher Calvinist? Tim, World News Group’s executive commentary editor, is more a Puritan Calvinist. Mickey, our executive digital editor, is more in line with Scottish Calvinism. Our executive news editor Lynde Langdon (a Lutheran) says, “Tim is a 16th-century Calvinist, while Mickey is 17th century.”
So, it’s probably not fair to say one is more Calvinist than the other—although Tim did name his son Calvin, while Mickey did not name his daughter anything like, say, Calvina. So there’s that.
All this came up for me a couple of weeks ago when the doctrine of election arose at my Monday evening Bible study. If you want to discuss the finer points of election, ask a Calvinist. There are no Calvinists in my Bible study.
As you may have deduced from an earlier column, I came to faith in the spiritual tradition I fondly call Southern California Nondenominational Fish-Sticker Christianity. Lots of expository teaching, evangelism, mercy ministries, and stadium events, but light on church history. As a result, I had been saved for nearly a decade before I ever heard of Reformed Christianity, John Calvin, or any TULIPs of the non-floral variety.
But I had learned of election—from studying Scripture. It’s one of the most profound doctrines in the Bible, sparking worship, gratitude, humility, holiness, and attention to works of mercy. But the idea that God chose from before the foundation of the world all those who would be saved and passed over the rest is not very popular. At Bible study the other night, discussing this doctrine raised familiar objections: If God is loving, how can He save some but send the rest to hell? How is it fair for God to hold people accountable for sin if He predestined them not to trust in the Savior? People must have some kind of free will—or why evangelize?
The discussion sent me back to R.C. Sproul’s Chosen by God. I first read the book maybe 25 years ago. Last week, I read it again—then put out an all-call to my Calvinist colleagues: How can I explain some Scriptures that don’t seem to square with election? Compare, for example, the well-known John 3:16 and the less-studied Romans 9:11-20. There, Paul notes that God predestined Jacob and his brother Esau “though they were not yet born and had done nothing good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls.”
Then the tough blow: “Jacob I loved,” God said, “but Esau I hated.” How can a good God “so love the world,” but hate Esau before he was even born?
“That’s a rough one,” Tim Lamer told me. “But nobody deserves God’s mercy. The smartest Calvinists I know will say in debates about election or the existence of evil, ‘I don’t know why. I can’t square that one for you. I can only tell you what God says in His Word.’”
In my brain, a lightbulb flared. Unlike Tim’s smarter friends, when I find myself in a discussion about election, I leap to defend God. He is fair! He is just! Yes, He can be a loving God and allow millions of souls to pass into a fiery eternity!
Now, suddenly, Romans 9:20 hit me afresh: “Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” Translation: God doesn’t care what we think.
He doesn’t need my feeble defense. He wants me to tell people who He is—not who they would like Him to be. So next time I’m in an election debate, I’m not going to try to make God nice. I’m going to make Him God.
Say something like, “He is the sovereign King! The Ancient of Days! All-powerful. Untamable. Loving to His children but fearsome to His enemies. His decrees have stood for thousands of years, and He doesn’t care whether we think He’s fair. Believer, make your calling and election sure! Unbeliever, seek Him while He may be found!”
When our boys were young and railed against our parental decrees, I used to say, “Someday, years from now, you’ll understand. I’m willing to wait.”
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