Zero Point Calvinism

Confessions of a Zero Point Calvinist

Excerpted from an article by J. B. Nicholson, Jr. in the “Uplook” magazine October 1999. Scripture quotations from NKJV.

I grew up in a passionately evangelistic assembly (church) where we were taught the “railroad track” view of divine sovereignty and human freedom.  I deeply admired the brethren who taught me the Word and consider it one of the best Bible schools I could have attended.  These men took every word of the Bible seriously.  They did not harp on particular doctrines and did not press exotic views.

It was not Calvinism we heard, for man could freely accept or reject the gospel.  Christ died for all, and the gospel was offered to everyone.  However, having accepted Christ, we were told, a new believer discovered that he was destined for heaven before time began. 

Was it a real choice?  Yes, they insisted.  He must repent and believe the gospel in order to be saved.  But could this elect person actually choose to perish?  Theoretically, yes, but actually, no.  God had elected him.  These are parallel truths, they told us.  Like railway tracks, they appear to meet at the horizon but they would only actually "meet" in the mind of God. 

I could not help wondering what would happen to that “train” of thought when the lines actually met.  In these discussions I felt more like an engine spinning on a turntable.  I saw the words "elect" and "chosen" in the Bible, but what did they actually mean?

In those days I rarely heard the words Calvinist or Arminian.  But a caricature developed in my mind of the two views: Calvinists believed God saved you, and you couldn't lose it; Arminians believed you chose to be saved, so you could also choose to "unsave" yourself. 

And everyone was in one camp or the other, it was said.  If that definition held, I would be with the Calvinists.  But it doesn't.

Don't get me wrong.  Some of my friends are unabashed Calvinists.  Others reject the tag but believe the teaching, or most of it.  And I'm surrounded by fine, hard working Calvinists here in Grand Rapids (In this area of the country I regularly “tiptoe through the TULIPs[1].”)  As well, many leading representatives of evangelicalism - R. C. Sproul, D. J. Kennedy, John Stott, J. I. Packer, and now John MacArthur - promote Calvinistic soteriology.[2]

Where did Calvinism come from?  John Calvin (1509-1564) systematised the teachings of the Reformation, largely based on Augustinian theology.  Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), a scholar in the Reformed Church (who admired Calvin) questioned certain of his teachings.  His followers called on the Dutch theologians to consider whether Calvin's teachings were biblical at five points.  At the Synod of Dort (1619), Arminianism was rejected, and the answer stated five points as the Church's position. 

After careful study, I find myself a zero-point Calvinist.  Why?  Let’s consider the five points of Calvinism one at a time:

1.  Total Depravity (Inability)

The notion is not that every man exhibits his depravity as thoroughly as he could, but that the guilt of Adam's sin rests on everyone, and the corruption of sin extends to every part of man's nature, making him incapable of responding to God's offer of salvation.  The Calvinist believes man is not only separated from God but insensible to God, "unable of himself even to stretch forth his hand to receive salvation.” (Baker's Dictionary of Theology, p.109).  Thus, God must “quicken” man before he can believe.[3].  

What does Scripture teach?  That man has been damaged in every part by the Fall, and does not seek God by his own initiative (Rom. 3:10-18).  But God has come seeking sinners.  How many sinners?  The world!  His light lightens every man who comes into the world (John 1:9).  Paul could preach to the pagans at Mar's Hill: "He [is] not far from each one of us," and "God commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:27, 30).

The verse, "There is none who seeks after God," (Rom.3:11) is an important verse, but it is not the whole Bible.  What of, "Seek the Lord while He may be found... " (Isa. 55:6)?  See also Acts 15:17; 17:27. 

But, says the Calvinist, man is dead and cannot respond to the offer of the gospel.  Reformed scholar Loraine Boettner writes: "If any person believes, it is because God has quickened him; and if any person fails to believe, it is because God has withheld that grace."[4]  Yet the passage which is the basis for this view (Eph. 2:1-5) speaks of the dead walking, and “fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.”  (v.3)

It is true that man is spiritually dead, but to think of death as inability to receive God's gift is wrong.  Death in the Bible is separation.  Man is still morally responsible and capable of responding to invitations—"come," "believe," "trust," "receive"—the list is extensive.  The Judge at the last trial declares the basis of His judgement in John 3:16-19—not because they are non-elect, or because they were not given faith,[5] but because they chose darkness over light.  See also Jn. 20:31;  2 Thess. 2:10;  Heb. 10:39.

2.  Unconditional Election

This is said to be the act of God in eternity past, to choose to save certain ones whom He fore-loved, entirely apart from any cause in them or choice by them. 

God has indeed chosen some (Christ, Israel, the Church) but for a role - to be the means of accomplishing His purposes.  The basis of that choice is found in 1 Corinthians 1:23-31 (see also Jas. 2:5).

Dr. James Orr states: "Electing love, one comes to see, is never election to the exclusion of others, but election with a view to the future larger blessing of others."[6]  M. R. Vincent, in his Word Studies in the New Testament (Vol.4, p.16) writes, "Election...and the kindred words, to choose, and chosen or elect, are used of God's selection of men or agencies for special missions or attainments; but neither here (I Thess. 1:4) nor elsewhere in the N.T. is there any warrant for the revolting doctrine that God has predestined a definite number of mankind to eternal life, and the rest to eternal destruction."

It should be noted that multitudes in Israel (including Judas Iscariot[7]), though elect, perished, while some non-elect (like Rahab and Ruth) were saved.  The election of Christ obviously had nothing to do with His being saved.

What of "chose you for salvation” in 2 Thess. 2: 13?  Lightfoot, Kittel, and Arndt & Gingrich all concur that this is not the usual word for election.  Plummer writes: "The verb (eilato) is rare in Biblical Greek, and is not used elsewhere in the N.T. of election by God...It does not imply predestination to final salvation..."[8]  The word "chosen in the Lord" (Rom. 16:13) is translated as "eminent" by Vine[9] and by Young as "the choice one."[10]

Believers are not elected and therefore put into Christ any more than Israelites were chosen and therefore put into Israel.  In the last dispensation, election was based on natural birth; now it is based on spiritual birth.  The sphere of our choosing is "in Him" (Eph. 1:4).  How does one come into that sphere of privilege?  “… through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13; see also 1 Pet. 1:2).

3.  Limited Atonement

This is the idea that the death of Christ was only for the elect, that His death not only provided salvation, but accomplished it for the elect alone. 

But what does Scripture teach?  “For God so loved the world” (Jn. 3:16);  “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2);  “even the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe" (Rom. 3: 22).  The last invitation in the Bible says: “And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely." (Rev. 22:17).

4.  Irresistible Grace

The idea that everyone on God's "list" will be saved and cannot resist God's grace when He "sweetly forces" us in.  This because God's sovereignty cannot be thwarted. 

But what does Scripture teach?  The Lord Jesus wept over Jerusalem, saying, "I wanted … but you were not willing."  Why was He weeping?  He wanted them – but they did not want Him.  He let them have their way.  To those in His day, Jesus said, "But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life" (Jn. 5:40).  They might have had life, but they would not come.  Stephen declared, "You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did" (Acts 7:51).  Notice also Heb. 10:29.

5.  Perseverance of the Saints

At first, this appears to be the biblical doctrine of eternal security.  But this point teaches not merely that the saints will persevere (or be preserved, more correctly) but that the proof that you are a saint is that you persevere.  

This is necessary in the Calvinistic system, because if not only the provision but the procurement of salvation is all of God, how do I know when I am saved?  As stated in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, "The fruits which accompany salvation supply to us men the proof of God's election" (p. 179). 

While it is true, that fruits supply proof to others: “…by their fruits you will know them,” a recipient of the gospel does not need to wait until fruit develops in his life to assure him that he is saved.  God's promise is our proof: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”  (John 1:12)

Conclusion

God sovereignly chose to give man a will.  Christ has fully provided salvation for all who are willing to receive His gift, a gift to which we contribute nothing.  

The Holy Spirit must initiate the process, and has already done so - He has come to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgement, John 16:8-11.

Faith comes to the individual, not as a special gift to some, but by hearing the Word of God. (Rom. 10:17).  There is no merit in the sinner's empty hand receiving this wonderful gift.  To believing sinners come all the blessings; to God be all the glory.

Recommended Reading

John F. Parkinson, The Faith of God’s Elect, Gospel Tract Publications 1999, 128 pages.  Shows the unscriptural nature of the Calvinist doctrine of election.  Endorsed by Dr David Gooding

George L. Bryson, The Five Points of Calvinism – Weighed and Found Wanting, The Word for Today 2002, 117 pages.  A clear, simple refutation of Calvinism.

Samuel Fisk, Election & Predestination, Penfold Book and Bible House 1997, 192 pages.  Quotes from over 100 great Bible teachers including Harry Ironside, W.E. Vine, Sir Robert Anderson and C.H. Spurgeon.

Dave Hunt, What Love Is This? Calvinism’s misrepresentation of God,  Berean Call, Second edition 2004.  573 pages.  A powerful biblical refutation of Calvinism.  Highly recommended.  Available from the Berean Call website:  www.thebereancall.org

George W. Zeller, The Dangers of Reformed Theology, The Middletown Bible Church, 32 pages.  This is a good introduction to the subject.  Visit www.middletownbiblechurch.org

Laurence M. Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism, Vance Publications 1999, 788 pages.  A detailed historical and biblical critique of Calvinism.  Helpful material, but could be more irenic -- if you have strong arguments you don't need strong rhetoric!  Available from the GES website www.faithalone.org

[1] “TULIP” is an acronym made up from the first letter of each of the 5 points of Dortian Calvinism which are listed later in this article.
[2] Soteriology means “theology of salvation.”
[3] Are sinners quickened (or regenerated) before they believe?  "Hears... believes... has everlasting life" (Jn. 5:24).  See also the order in Lk. 8:12; Jn. 20:31; Acts 16:31.
[4] The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, pp.166-167.
[5] Is faith the gift in Ephesians 2:8?  Not according to Alford, Robertson, Bruce, Vine, Sir R. Anderson, and others (Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom by Samuel Fisk, pp.32-36).
[6]  Sidelights on Christian Doctrine, p. 34.
[7] "I have chosen you" (Jn.15:16) should be compared with Jn. 6:70.
[8] Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, pp. 75-76
[9] Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
[10] Young 's Literal Translation.