• About TWIM


    The Warfare Is Mental (TWIM) reflects the mental warfare of an author, screenwriter, publisher and member of the Writer's Guild of America. Family, friends, health, humor, art, music, science, faith, fun and knowledge are some of the things that are important to me.



    TWIM is the first and only theist blog listed on the Atheist Blogroll, which currently contains over 1,000 blogs. It goes without saying that I don't endorse hardly any of the views of any of them. Contact Mojoey for more information.



    Ironically, TWIM won an award for "Best Atheist / Skeptic Site" from this site. Much obliged.



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    You and your commenters are a feast of thinking — great stuff.

    -C.L. Dyck
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I have no need to engage with racists, so will ignore cl’s further diatribes.

    -faithlessgod,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    cl resists following through on a thought even to provide a solid opposing position, and thus stifles many conversations. It’s a shame since it seems like cl has some brain power that could be applied to the topics at hand.

    -Hermes,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [faithlessgod and Hermes] fit my definition of trolling. I didn’t take any of those attacks against you seriously, and quickly categorized them as trolls.

    -JS Allen,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [cl] is, as many have noticed, a master of this warfare. I’ve been following him for quite some time and he’s one of the most effective Christian trolls out there. No one can completely destroy a conversation as effectively as he does, and with such masterful grace and subtly that he rarely gets banned. This isn’t a blunt-force “U R Hitler!” troll, this is the Yoda of trolling.

    -Eneasz,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    This seems to imply that cl is, at least in part, disingenuous in terms of how he responds/what he claims. Is this most likely true, supported by evidence, or merely a subjective claim?

    -al friedlander,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ...I wanted to get a message to you outside of the context of specific discussions on CSA. You make good, insightful contributions to that site, and since I often agree with you I'm glad there is someone else there defending my positions better than I sometimes can. However I don't think anything of value would be lost if you stopped engaging in personal combat with juvenile snipers.

    -Zeb,
     CommonSenseAtheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Thank you for your wonderful response - so reasoned in the race of [Waldvogel's] blustering.

    -Annie Laurie Gaylor
     Freedom From Religion Foundation
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Thanks for a great Op-Ed.

    -Marianne Ratcliff
     VC Star
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ...as atheists we need to make sure that someone like cl and any Christian readers of [An Apostate's Chapel] don’t come away with the perception that the atheists caved in or were incapable of responding. I’m sure that a lot of Christians who find cl incomprehensible at times and don’t even bother reading him themselves will come away with an assumption that cl is that sort of rare intellectual theist who can prove that gods exist. And that’s how those inane rumors about the feared xian intellectuals start…

    -bbk
     An Apostate's Chapel
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are in so over your head here, you are embarrassing yourself...
    I am well versed in many aspects of evolution biology, through my academic background, and my professional life. Unless your academic degrees and background match mine, cease and desist. Return to philosophy and rhetoric, or whatever it is you perceive your strengths to be. They are definitely not science, even at the high school level.

    -R.C. Moore
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You're doing a fine job.

    -Prof. Larry Moran
     Dept. of Biochemistry
     University of Toronto
     re: R.C. Moore & others
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Phyletic change and vicariance (or, drift and selection versus population isolation), as cl points out, are much better ways of describing what are unfortunately more commonly known as micro- and macro- evolution, respectively.

    -Dan
     Biology postdoc
     Univ. of Cyprus
     re: R.C. Moore & others
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    cl says, “The minute you call yourself a Christian or an Atheist or whatever the heck else, you automatically get painted by other people’s interpretations of those words, which are almost always different and almost always distorted.” cl’s point couldn’t be more on. As cl points out there is an important reason for not claiming any real religious (or lack thereof) belief. It puts logical constraints on one's arguments due directly to the bias of the individual that is translating the English to mind ideas of what it means to be religious.

    -Bobaloo
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Just who in the bloody hell do you think you are, you Christian piece of garbage, to come here barking out orders? You're an arrogant, condescending piece of shit. You seem to think you're an intellectual of sorts, when all you are is a Christian who's read a few books. John, everyone, this really is the limit. BR, I'm more than a little annoyed that you continue to engage him. I'm out of here. I have better things to do than to waste my time with these cretins.

    -Cipher
     Debunking Christianity
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    How old are you CL? I'd guess you have not yet experienced much life. I'd say you were under the age of 21, too young to be here. I don't give a damn what you think of me or my deconversion at all. You're too stupid to realize that regardless of it you must deal with the arguments in the book. They are leading people away from you [sic] faith. I'm seriously considering banning you cl, as I've heard you were banned on other sites. You are much too ignorant for us to have a reasonable discussion.

    -John Loftus
     Debunking Christianity
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I admired the way you handled yourself in the discussion on John's blog. I'm not patient enough to keep my sarcasm in check with some of them blokes, but appreciate those who are.

    -David Marshall
     re: Debunking Christianity
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    cl, I have to say, while I fundamentally disagree with you, you are an individual which I highly respect. I think your responses are always well thought out and your insights always well thought out and pertinently derived.
    [Y]ou have made me a stronger atheist in my regards to critical thinking and debating. I really can’t wait to hear more from you. Hell, I’d even buy you a drink, good sir. Cheers!

    -Parker
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Bottom line? Sometimes I think he's right about certain arguments, and I don't have a problem admitting that. Other times, however, I think he's wrong, and I've called him on that. But I have found he can be pretty reasonable if you (1) don't overstate your case, (2) make concessions when you have, and (3) insist he do the same.

    -Lifeguard
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I like it when [cl] makes me stop, think and question if I am making unfounded assertions or if I am being sloppy. What has been annoying me about cl of late is that he is being excruciatingly anal...

    -seantheblogonaut
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I really can't thank you enough for catching me on my error in rhetoric. I always love a good debate! And I always enjoy your posts, as well! Keep up the great writing and the excellent eye for detail!

    -BZ
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You make me smarter...

    -Mike G.
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ..thank you, cl. I discovered your blog on a random web search and saw it as an oasis amidst a vast desert of seemingly intractable theist-atheist debate.

    -Sung Jun
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    It's good to be able to discuss with people who are open and respectful, and know that disagreement does not mean disrespect... You are to be congratulated, not only for your patience, but also your ability to hold an ever-growing debate together with an impressive degree of structure.

    -Ritchie
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    My tone is derogatory... [cl is] ignorant and credulous and deserves to be mocked... In the time he's been here, he's shown a consistent pattern of antagonizing everyone he comes in contact with, monopolizing threads, derailing discussions with perpetual complaints, quibbles and demands for attention, and generally making arguments that display a lack of good faith and responsiveness... it's become intolerable. I'm not banning him, but I'm putting in place some restrictions on how often he can comment.

    -Ebonmuse
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    This is no defense of the annoying cl, but what a self-righteous, prissy atheist you turned out to be, Ebonmuse. I'm disappointed in you, stealing a strategem from the theists.

    -The Exterminator
     to Ebonmuse
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I certainly didn't get any bad impression about cl, and I can't relate his comments with any of the things (Ebonmuse) said above. I actually thought it was quite interesting to have him around.

    -Juan Felipe
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Please continue to allow
    cl to post his views and make it clear that he is still welcome. And let me be clear, cl is not a lunatic.

    -Curtis
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    With one exception, you are the most coherent and intelligent theist I've seen on this site...

    -Steve Bowen
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I'm rooting for cl. I hope he perpetually manages to skirt the rules enough to do his damage, forcing rule revision after rule revision, ad nauseum. Awesome! Let's watch as Ebon, ever more frustrated, continues to struggle to figure out how to keep his precious private blog neat and tidy as cl keeps messing up his papers while one by one, readers leave due to an every increasing administrative presence. Outstanding! Well I won't go. The thought of this sounds like the most entertaining thing that probably would have ever happened on Daylight Atheism. Hot damn!

    -PhillyChief
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Your visit has been something of a reality check to me. It seems that when you present rational arguments and criticisms, many commenters feel territory slipping and then work up vaporous or leaky responses. I also want to remark that your presence here has considerably moved me to try being a more careful and understanding debater...

    -Brad
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I do have a lot of respect for you too. You seem to be a very intelligent and thoughtful individual with a knack for getting to the bottom of a problem, cutting through all the bullshit rhetoric on the way down. The fact that many other atheists seem to unreasonably despise you bothers me a lot, because I think that maybe they aren’t acting in good faith.

    -Peter Hurford
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I am not going to waste any more time parsing your comments to decide if they've crossed the line or not... So I banned you.

    -Greta Christina
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Be rude... cl invites rudeness. Would you want an incontinent little puppy coming into your house?

    -(((Billy))) the Atheist
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Note to all my regular readers: Since An Apostate’s Chapel is a free-speech zone, I don’t censor conversations.
    As it appears that cl is a troll, please note that I will not be responding to him any longer. I ask that you refrain from doing so, as well. Please don’t feed the troll!

    -The Chaplain
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    …I can’t reconcile being a "freethinker" with banning speech. [cl's] comments are not offensive in the normal understanding of that term, and he poses absolutely no threat except perhaps to some imagined decorum. Why can’t atheists lighten up, for no-Christ’s sake?

    -The Exterminator
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Is it going to distract from my meal when crazy uncle cl starts blathering out nonsense, pick his ears with a carrot or start taking his pants off? No. In fact, it might actually heighten the experience in some amusing way. So no, I don't see cl's work as damage.

    -PhillyChief
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I am beginning to suspect that you are a troll cl. Albeit an evolved troll, but a troll nonetheless. Perhaps we should all stop feeding the troll?

    -GaySolomon
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [cl is] is either a sophist or an incompetent when it comes to the english language... (sic)

    -ThatOtherGuy
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I’d say cl is pretty sharp... it may be tempting at times to think that “the other guy” is arguing out of some personal character flaw rather than a sincere desire to acknowledge the truth, I still think it’s better to debate respectfully... It is disrespectful to make unsupported accusations against people, e.g. by suggesting that their views are caused by an intrinsically corrupt and immoral nature.

    -Deacon Duncan, 3-9-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [cl] cannot refute my facts, so he needs must find (sic) some scapegoat in order to claim that he has confronted the enemy and proven them wrong... cl, sadly, has proven himself to be the sort of guest who comes into your living room and sneaks behind your couch to take a crap on the floor, just so he can tell all your neighbors how bad your house smells and what an unsanitary housekeeper you are... an interesting case study in the negative effects a Christian worldview has on a reasonably intellectual mind.

    -Deacon Duncan, 6-17-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I strongly discourage discussion of the character, abilities, motives, or personal ancestry of individual commenters, as tempting as such comments may be at times. I discourage the posting of comments that make frequent use of the pronoun “you,” as in “you always…” or “you never…” or “you are just so…”, when directed at a specific individual.

    -Deacon Duncan, 4-9-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I won’t be publishing your most recent comment because it’s a return to the same sort of schtick you’ve pulled here before: re-writing other people’s arguments to make yourself look misunderstood and/or unfairly accused, taking “polyvalent” positions so that when people address your points you can claim to have said something else, distorting other people’s arguments, trolling for negative reactions, and so on.

    -Deacon Duncan, 10-8-09
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    [E]gomaniacal troll.
    You win... You’re a disingenuous sophist through and through, cl. And a friggin’ narcissist to boot! Since I’ve thoroughly and purposefully broken the Deacon’s rules of engagement, I shall consider my right to post henceforth annulled, and move on - dramatic pause, lights out.

    -jim
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    He either thinks in a very weird way or he's quite the con artist.

    -mikespeir
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I will gladly admit that I have a boner for cl. Maybe some day I’ll even earn a place of honor on cl’s Blog of Infamy.

    -Eneasz
     Evangelical Realism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Long time reader first time poster... I like reading what you
    have to say over at Daylight Atheism so I figured I'd pop in here.

    -Pine
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    He's just a jerk
    that likes to argue.

    -KShep
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You’re not a reasonable thinker in my book. You’re simply an arguer, for better or worse. I’m Michael Palin, you’re John Cleese. You’re just a disputation-ist, bringing everything into question...

    -jim
     Reason vs. Apologetics
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    Motherfucker, this is an interesting blog... Quite the group of commenters.

    -John Evo
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are very articulate, and I can only assume that it's a result of high intelligence; an intelligence that's interested in, and can understand, healthy debate. However, at every turn, that's not what I or others seem to get.

    -ex machina
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are a troll, a liar, and a useless sack of shit. Not only that, but you're still wrong even after moving the goal posts and trying to re-write history. So, you can stop cyber stalking me now and trying to provoke me. I know what you are doing, and you are doing it so that you can whine about how I'm being irrational and mean to you and stroke your pathetic martyr complex. You're a pathetic attention whore and I've already given you too much attention. So, back the fuck off, stop following me around the intarwebs and trying to provoke me, and fuck off.

    -OMGF
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I would just like to say that, OMGF, having read the debate as a neutral observer, some of the things cl says about your style of argument are true, IMO. It is quite hasty, which means you occasionally haven't got the central point cl is trying to make...

    -John D.
     Daylight Atheism
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    ...this is a difficult question that deserves more than a kneejerk reaction, not to imply that you're kneejerking. You're the least kneejerking person I've met.

    -Quixote
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    If you’re here playing devil’s advocate, then, hey, you do a great job at it, it’s a service, keep us sharp... You’re a smart guy, but those are exactly the ones who give the worst headaches!

    -Lifeguard
     An Apostate's Chapel
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    You are a waste of time, cl. A big fat black hole of bullshit sucking in everyone who comes into contact with you.

    -Spanish Inquisitor
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    As for all that harsh invective that's come your way, umm... I gotta say, I've seen some of the invective, but I haven't seen the behavior on your part that called for it. Maybe I've just not seen enough? I don't know... from what I've read, I can tell that you're a smart person, and whether you deserved any of that treatment or not is quite frankly immaterial to me; I just want to deal with the smart person at the eye of that storm.

    -D
     She Who Chatters
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    I now think that you’re an atheist, just having fun at other atheists’ expense. If that’s the case, kudos.

    -The Exterminator
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
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Jesus & His Kingdom: Introduction

When I asked readers to suggest writing topics for 2011, Matt and Garren both suggested sticking with book reviews. Matt also alluded to my previously stated interest in developing content that explores what the Bible actually says about various topics.

A few weeks ago at CSA, I began to notice several intelligent and well-reasoned comments from a believer named Mike Gantt, who caught my attention with the following :

…the heaven-or-hell theory of afterlife promulgated today largely by evangelical Christianity… is not biblical. The Bible actually teaches that everyone is going to heaven and everyone is judged for their sins. Therefore, whether you believe in this or not, you will go to heaven when you die. However, the degree of enjoyment you have with that life there will be based in large part on morality with which you lived your life on earth (including the kindness you showed others who were less fortunate). [Mike Gantt]

As is the case whenever anybody makes a claim I’m skeptical of, my initial reaction was to ask Mike for the evidence that he felt justified his position. He replied with links to a book he’s written on the subject, titled Jesus and His Kingdom: The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven. I gave his links a perfunctory read, decided I couldn’t agree based on what I’d seen, then figured that would be the end of it. A week later, Mike left a comment here that contained the same claim: everybody goes to heaven. For some reason, this time, I felt the need to reply.

So, perhaps you can see where all of this is going: Responding To Universalism will be one of TWIM’s new book review series’ for 2011.

The idea that everybody goes to heaven is commonly referred to as universalism. The doctrine has also been referred to as apokatastasis or final salvation. Support for this doctrine intensified in the postapostolic Christian period, persuading a subset of notable church fathers including Gregory of Nyssa, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. Support for universalism waned during the Middle Ages and was later revived in the sixteenth century. Notable opponents of the doctrine include Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, and John Calvin. Today, universalism finds expression primarily in the teachings of the Unitarian Universalist organization, influenced by the theologian Clarence Skinner.

Many, many people have doubted and even outright rejected Christianity due to the concept of eternal punishment. I must admit, universalism is certainly more appealing to my emotions, and I would really like to believe that everybody is going to heaven. What a tremendous burden that would be lifted if I could believe this were true! However, I can’t force myself to believe a doctrine when it seems contrary to the clear teaching of scripture, no matter how badly I wish it were so.

About three paragraphs into tonight’s post, I questioned my motives for embarking on this effort. I’m still unsure. Although I do believe universalism to be in error, successfully demonstrating my claim would seem likely to lead people away from the Bible rather than towards it. It’s really quite the conundrum: to argue what I believe will likely turn more people away from it.

Nonetheless, what should be interesting is that, in contrast to years of debating atheists, this will be the first time I’ve devoted sustained effort into critiquing the works of a fellow believer. To be honest, I’m looking forward to it. Breaking from the norm is often productive. Although, I must say, I’ve seen some pretty nasty discussions between universalists and traditional evangelicals before. The last thing in the world I would want is for our discussion to devolve into something like this. Then again, Mike strikes me as a pretty amiable guy, so, I’m optimistic that if he’s interested in engaging, things will proceed with mutual respect.

That said, feel free to give Mike a warm welcome. I’ve already read over half of his book, and we’ll start examining the arguments for and against his position shortly.

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41 Responses

  1. Sounds like a cool discussion. Though I really think the Bible gives us an impression that there is condemnation after this life it’s not something I relish the idea of. I’m often excited to read a Biblical case for universalism (Mike isn’t the only one who puts one out there, many emergent Christians do) because I would personally like to believe that and am disappointed when I find the arguments unconvincing.

    One thing I do agree with universalists on is that we don’t have as much knowledge from the Bible as we think we do about the afterlife.

    Here are some other takes I’ve read across the internet about the issue that you might enjoy (if you haven’t already read them):

    http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2009/10/why-i-am-not-universalist.html (the comments are the interesting part)
    http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/FaithMatters/story?id=4330823&page=1

  2. Although I think Mike’s reasoning is incredibly erroneous, he is indeed at extremely calm and amiable guy. One of the threads on his website had countless comments calling him stupid and deluded and in his responses not once did he stoop to that level so I really commend him for that.

    Cl, I don’t know if you have the book, “Contending with Christianity’s critics” edited by craig and copan, but there is a chapter on hell in there, and if the rest of the book is anything to go by then it will be extremely well reasoned and nuanced.

  3. I’m happy for the attention to my message and welcome your critique. The truth will always withstand honest scrutiny.

    For those who’ve not yet read what I’ve written on this subject, be aware that I did not learn any of this from universalist sources nor am I involved, or have I ever been involved, in any universalist circles.

    I am uncomfortable with the label of universalist for two reasons: 1) I don’t know what all universalists believe and therefore don’t want to be responsible for defending things I don’t believe, and 2) There is more to my message than everyone going to heaven (e.g. judgment is upon us and we all should repent) and I don’t want people to miss these elements.

    I do not write this in protest of the post title or of anyone who chooses to use the term. I only want to appeal to the open-minded not to prejudge my message by ascribing to me baggage that belongs to that label.

    If you don’t remember anything else from what I write, remember this: Jesus Christ is Lord.

  4. I always thought universalism just meant belief that everyone was saved. I did not know that there was supposed to be more to it than that and that universalism covered a diverse set of beliefs until I saw the Dangerous Idea posts. The wikipedia page still seems to suggest that universalism is open ended though.

    One thing I’ve noticed about the Unitarians I knew growing up (I grew up near a Unitarian church in Southern California) was that they are more like pluralists now than universalists. They seem to believe that all religions preach some kind of truth and I even knew people who attended their services who were atheists.

  5. I was obsessed with this topic as a Christian, so I look forward to future posts.

    Just a note: you may want to refer to it as “Christian universalism” to distinguish it from the vague Hollywood religiosity in which everyone who isn’t a murderer naturally goes to a good afterlife. Christian universalism still requires Christian salvation…but without God giving up on everyone if they haven’t figured things out before dying.

  6. Matt,

    So I was resting at home with a pinched nerve in my back, and had some time to explore the links you provided. I made it about half-way through the comments you mentioned, and I’m sure I’ll be returning to all of this as this discussion develops.

    The following from Ken Collins struck me as especially salient:

    The second way [people can choose to go to hell is] when people think that because they have a choice of opinions, they have a choice of facts. For example, if I don’t believe in the theory of gravity, I’ll still die if I jump off a cliff; and if I do not understand aerodynamics, airplanes will still fly. It is possible to have an opinion that is just plain wrong. In other words, you have the right to be wrong. If people abuse their intellectual freedom by misreading the “priesthood of all believers” as if it were the papacy of each believer, in which the criterion for truth is subjective and “whatever works for you” is true, then they turn the Church and the Bible into a make-up-your-own-religion kit. They find that they cannot even speak to each other, because there is no common language, and they cannot have fellowship with each other, because there is no common ground. Or to put it a different way, if everyone chooses their own conference room, they cannot have a meeting, because they aren’t in the same room. They each go in a different direction, like people chasing butterflies, each choosing their own reality. They do not choose to live in the heaven in which there is a Truth independent of anyone’s opinion, in which God is the authority, and in which we all live in fellowship with each other. Instead, they choose to live in their own private universes in which the truth is whatever pleases them, in which they are the ultimate authority and thus their own gods. [Ken Collins, brackets mine]

    This is one reason I find the argument from religious dissonance unpersuasive. Surely you’ve heard an atheist argue that lack of coherency amongst Christian doctrine constitutes sound evidence against the truthfulness of the scriptures, right? Yet, these people don’t equally argue that lack of coherency amongst the various theories of gravity constitue sound evidence against the truthfulness thereof, do they?

    Collins kind of lost me on the “third way,” but, nonetheless, it was a thought-provoking read. For me, the take-home points were the “hell contains only volunteer residents” part, and the “no one can forgive you of something if you don’t admit it is your fault” part. I especially liked Collins’ interpretation of the adulterous woman. He approached the scripture with a keen eye for detail, as evidenced in his noting that those who were about to stone her walked away of their own volition, presumably because of their pride, whereas the woman they were about to condemn remained, as a result of her humility.

    Michael,

    One of the threads on his website had countless comments calling him stupid and deluded and in his responses not once did he stoop to that level so I really commend him for that.

    Yeah, unfortunately, one finds that kind of stuff frequently. I see it as the equivalent of intellectual road rage to be quite honest. In the same way emotionally disturbed drivers tend to “fly off the handle” because they feel safe in their cars, emotionally disturbed commenters tend to “fly off the handle” because they feel safe on the other end of their computer. I’ve seen this on many blogs, and this type of behavior seems on the rise over at Common Sense Atheism. Nonetheless, I look forward to an amiable discussion with Mike, too.

    Mike,

    I am uncomfortable with the label of universalist for two reasons: 1) I don’t know what all universalists believe and therefore don’t want to be responsible for defending things I don’t believe, and 2) There is more to my message than everyone going to heaven (e.g. judgment is upon us and we all should repent) and I don’t want people to miss these elements.

    Acknowledged. I was careful not to describe you as a universalist, and I use the term universalism only in its most general sense. However, as Garren notes, something like Christian universalism is really what’s under scrutiny here, and, as you note, your position is larger than that. I think the main point is that we all know what the other person means by the words they’re using, and in that I find some reassurance.

    I only want to appeal to the open-minded not to prejudge my message by ascribing to me baggage that belongs to that label.

    That’s completely understandable, and this is the major reason I’m reluctant to describe myself as a Christian at all. It’s an emotionally-charged keyword with as many interpretations as there are people who use it. I sympathize with your desire to not be categorized and I’ll do what I can to avoid the “packaging” of your message.

    In the meantime, perhaps you can share some of your exegetical criteria and/or guidelines? For example, what principles do you abide by in your interpretation of scripture? That sort of thing.

    Garren,

    Just a note: you may want to refer to it as “Christian universalism” to distinguish it from the vague Hollywood religiosity in which everyone who isn’t a murderer naturally goes to a good afterlife.

    LOL! Noted.

  7. “this is the major reason I’m reluctant to describe myself as a Christian at all.”

    You and I are on the same page regarding that term, too.

    “I’ll do what I can to avoid the “packaging” of your message.”

    You’ve done fine so far, so don’t fear that I’ll be excessively sensitive about this issue.

    “perhaps you can share some of your exegetical criteria and/or guidelines? For example, what principles do you abide by in your interpretation of scripture?”

    I read the Bible as I do any other book, doing my best to let it speak for itself. I rely very little on commentaries and avoid “isms” and “schools of thought” on how to interpret specific passages. I look for themes that are repeated, expanded, and amplified by both the prophets (i.e., the OT) and the apostles (i.e. the NT), and, by contrast, do not feel comfortable building an understanding on an isolated verse here and there.

    If this answer is insufficient, I’ll be happy to answer specific follow-ups.

  8. cl,

    I have enjoyed reading your blog the past couple of months. That said, you wrote:

    //Although I do believe universalism to be in error, successfully demonstrating my claim would seem likely to lead people away from the Bible rather than towards it. It’s really quite the conundrum: to argue what I believe will likely turn more people away from it.//

    I do not believe in universalism either, but I will be very interested in how you describe the doctrine of total depravity as well as your perception of faith.

    Keep up the good work.

    Blessings,

    Me

  9. Mike,

    If this answer is insufficient, I’ll be happy to answer specific follow-ups.

    No, you gave enough to go on, at least for now. You’ve also prompted me to ask myself the same question, so, I’ll probably explain this in a future post before getting too deep into our discussion of your book.

    Ronin,

    I have enjoyed reading your blog the past couple of months.

    Hey thanks.

    I do not believe in universalism either, but I will be very interested in how you describe the doctrine of total depravity as well as your perception of faith.

    Feel free to drop a line or ask for specifics anytime. One of my goals for 2011 is to spend more – if not most – of my time writing to believers, and, more believers asking questions will help that. When it comes to my writing about religion / philosophy / science / etc., I’ve been debating and catering my writing to atheists for years now, yet, before that, I use to write almost exclusively for believers. I’m hoping to incorporate the best of both worlds here in 2011, which means I’ll be breaking out lots of old pieces, too. I’m excited to get out of the rut.

  10. cl,
    “You’ve also prompted me to ask myself the same question, so, I’ll probably explain this in a future post before getting too deep into our discussion of your book.”

    I’ve been asking myself that same question too. I came to faith before I read much of the Bible or understood the diversity of interpretations. Because of that I’ve always had a habit of reading my theology into the text instead of the text itself. On top of that the translators often have a habit of mixing their theology into the translation (I’ve heard this criticism especially of NIVs from seminary students, they often call it the “Nearly Inspired Version”). It’s often surprising to see how scholars will come away with completely different views of what a passage means based on their understanding of the language, historical context and literary genre than what a layman will come away with from a straightforward reading colored by his theological assumptions about what the Bible says.

    Because I teach the Bible to children I feel like I’ve failed them if I neatly pound the passages into the dogmatic framework I’ve been trained to read it with or add components to the text that are not there to better harmonize it internally or with history and science (though the dogmatic approach makes motivating them to follow it much easier as being intellectually honest can come off as wishy-washy). I’m not as resistant to -isms or schools of thought as Mike is because I think we need to know what the author’s world looks like to understand the meaning of the text and to my understanding that’s what some of the schools of thought are about.

  11. Matt, I share your interest in “what the author’s world looks like to understand the meaning of the text.” However, I see that more as a part of letting the text speak for itself than I see it as a part of letting someone else’s theology encroach on your reading.

    Further to your point, understanding the historical context of a writer is very helpful, and sometimes critical, to getting his meaning. For example, having Acts as the backdrop for the epistles is wonderful. I think you and I see this issue very similarly.

    I also share your concern about English translations and current theological mindsets that can slip into the wording. That’s why I have always leaned toward the more literal translations (NASB, ESV, KJV, NKJV, and so on). Also, the more literal translations enable those of us who aren’t fluent in ancient Greek or Hebrew to use references tools, like Strong’s concordance, that get us closer to the words the biblical writers used.

    That’s terrific that you teach the Bible to children for that causes you to reach understandings that are simple and practical. And, as Jesus said, we have to be as children to enter the kingdom. If we would all just practice what we teach the children, we’d all be stronger for the Lord.

  12. Thanks for clarifying Mike. I see we have the same goal.

  13. cl,

    Perhaps something on the following would be great:

    Is God really calling everyone into repentance? And/or did He subjectively select His elect?

    *If* our nature does not allow us to believe in Him and He had to literary drag us into a new nature (regeneration) first, how is God not being arbitrary in His selection? No one can be justified by works but by faith, right?

  14. My two cents on repentance: God is calling everyone to repent, and He gives everyone the ability to repent.

  15. Mike wrote:

    “My two cents on repentance: God is calling everyone to repent, and He gives everyone the ability to repent.”

    If God is calling everyone to repent and does give the ability to repent to all, then, the Reformed perspective on what God’s grace is and what total depravity means cannot be correct.

  16. Ronin, I think you’re right.

  17. So, I’m feeling better, and it’s time to answer the comments I couldn’t get to last time. There are some on other threads, too, but for now, I’ll start here:

    Ronin,

    I’d like to add some thoughts here, but, before I do, can you summarize what you have in mind when you say, “the Reformed perspective on what God’s grace is,” and also, “total depravity?”

    As you know, there are many different people who interpret many different things many different ways. I figure let’s skip all that and address the terms exactly as you use them.

  18. Several things you should know about me before we get started:

    1.) I come from a Protestant background, but I hold to the position that the Body of Christ is and will be those who believe Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior. Meaning, the Church includes Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, etc., and I reserve judgment as ONLY God knows the heart of the individual.

    2.) I think this “debate” about Calvinism and Arminianism is a Protestant illusion, because we see/read these theological discourses before the Reformation in Rabbinical thought. Moreover, the Protestants were influenced by Augustine’s writings on God’s grace.

    3.) I do not think there is any coincidence that Luther saw the writings of James as straw compared to Paul’s writings.

    4.) Regarding exegesis and interpretation of Scripture. There has been no self proclaimed Calvinist that I have spoken to who thinks God changes His mind (note that there are some verses that imply as much). Why am I mentioning this? Well, I have encountered certain people who want to press specific Bible verses (i.e. John 6:44) on a wooden literal translation of the verse, but they at the same time would like to forgo a wooden literal translation on the verses that seem to portray God in a negative light (He changes His mind). So, first I need to understand the modus operandi of the person I am in dialogue with.

    cl writes:

    //I’d like to add some thoughts here, but, before I do, can you summarize what you have in mind when you say, “the Reformed perspective on what God’s grace is,” and also, “total depravity?”//

    Grace:
    “In accordance with this decision he graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of his chosen ones and inclines them to believe, but by his just judgment he leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen.”

    http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/canons_of_dordt.html

    Total Depravity:
    “The Bible teaches the total depravity of the human race. Total depravity means radical corruption. We must be careful to note the difference between total depravity and “utter” depravity. To be utterly depraved is to be as wicked as one could possibly be. Hitler was extremely depraved, but he could have been worse than he was. I am sinner. Yet I could sin more often and more severely than I actually do. I am not utterly depraved, but I am totally depraved. For total depravity means that I and everyone else are depraved or corrupt in the totality of our being. There is no part of us that is left untouched by sin. Our minds, our wills, and our bodies are affected by evil. We speak sinful words, do sinful deeds, have impure thoughts. Our very bodies suffer from the ravages of sin.”

    http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sproul/depravity.html

    BTW, it seems Sproul wants to have his cake and eat it to. He wants to imply that we are “totally” depraved, but then, he also wants to assert this totality is not absolute.

  19. I forgot to mention, “I am pleased to read that you are feeling better.”

  20. Ronin,

    I forgot to mention, “I am pleased to read that you are feeling better.”

    Hey thanks. The days are definitely sunnier over here, that’s for sure.

    As far as the discussion, you had said to Mike:

    If God is calling everyone to repent and does give the ability to repent to all, then, the Reformed perspective on what God’s grace is and what total depravity means cannot be correct.

    Matthew 22:14 states that “…many are called[.]” 1 Timothy 2:4 states that God, “…desires all people to be saved[.]” In John 6:44, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him[.]”

    So, I seem to agree with Mike that God is “calling” all people to repent. Although Matthew 22:14 seems to plainly state that “many” are called, and “many” is certainly distinct from “all,” 1 Timothy 2:4 seems to provide clarification: God desires all to be saved. So, at present, without going to the Greek, I interpret things as such: God wants or desires all to repent, and calls many, where “call” amounts to something above and beyond desire; something like enabling. The “call” could be the very “softening of the heart” alluded to in your supplied definition of grace, and the very “enabling” Jesus alludes to in John 6:44.

    Mike had also written that God, “gives everyone the ability to repent.” I’m hesitant there, because I’m unsure of what Mike meant. Now, if Mike simply meant that God would be willing to give anyone the ability to repent, I don’t see any challenge to scripture, or your supplied definitions of grace / depravity. However, if Mike meant that all people currently possess the ability to repent, I would disagree, appealing to Jesus’ words in John 6:44. Perhaps Mike will clarify what he meant.

    Lastly, I don’t see any contradiction between anything I said and the supplied definition of total depravity: we may certainly be “corrupt in the totality of our being,” but this doesn’t mean God can’t “call” people by “softening their heart,” thus “enabling” them to see grace.

    However, on account of John 6:44, I do see a contradiction between the claim that everyone currently possesses the ability to repent, and the supplied doctrine of total depravity.

    I hope that helps.

    Mike,

    I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts and/or clarifications as well.

  21. cl writes:

    //Matthew 22:14 states that “…many are called[.]” 1 Timothy 2:4 states that God, “…desires all people to be saved[.]” In John 6:44, Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him[.]”//

    The problem that I have with you quoting 1 Timothy 2:4 and holding to the definition of total depravity (as defined by Sproul) would be as follows: God ought to know such things are not possible. So, I am going to have to doubt God’s desire for all people to come to knowledge of the truth as well as being saved.

    Most Calvinist(s) that I have spoken to take the “all” in 1 Timothy 2:4 to mean some people but not all as in the whole world. The Greek word is generic so it can be used as such, but I do not think such a proposition bodes well for God’s character.

    cl also writes:

    //So, I seem to agree with Mike that God is “calling” all people to repent. Although Matthew 22:14 seems to plainly state that “many” are called, and “many” is certainly distinct from “all,” 1 Timothy 2:4 seems to provide clarification: God desires all to be saved. So, at present, without going to the Greek, I interpret things as such: God wants or desires all to repent, and calls many, where “call” amounts to something above and beyond desire; something like enabling. The “call” could be the very “softening of the heart” alluded to in your supplied definition of grace, and the very “enabling” Jesus alludes to in John 6:44.//

    As I alluded above, it would seem to me that this “call” is NOT genuine, because those whom God withholds His grace are “unaware.” Moreover, it appears that in order to have a relationship with God we have to be forced into it—since this “enabling” means one is being dragged into a new nature.

  22. cl and Ronin,

    Regarding your request for my thoughts on John 6:44, I believe it is taken out of context when used to say that everyone doesn’t have the ability to repent. Rather, in context Jesus is defending His ministry to critics and pointing out that the only people coming to Him are those being drawn by God (“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him”). In other words He was saying that as a man He had no drawing power of His own, it was His faithfulness to God that was drawing Him a crowd.

    As for Calvinism and Arminianism, I believe they are theological constructs that become limiting lens through which their adherents read Scripture. As a result, it becomes harder for such people to see plain and simple truths that the Bible teaches because if anything doesn’t fit their respective theological constructs, they tend to throw it out.

    If Calvinists and Armininians would trade in their zeal for theological construct (e.g. TULIP) for a zeal for the word of God, they would be mighty for God indeed.

  23. Ronin,

    The problem that I have with you quoting 1 Timothy 2:4 and holding to the definition of total depravity (as defined by Sproul) would be as follows: God ought to know such things are not possible.

    How would the fact that such things might not be possible preclude God’s ability to genuinely desire that all be saved? I genuinely desire all sorts of things that I don’t believe to be possible. It seems to me there’s no reason to treat those as mutually exclusive.

    As I alluded above, it would seem to me that this “call” is NOT genuine, because those whom God withholds His grace are “unaware.”

    While I’m not exactly what you mean by the “unaware” part, the way I look at it, God’s desire for all to be saved can be genuine, despite the fact that many will reject grace.

    …it appears that in order to have a relationship with God we have to be forced into it–since this “enabling” means one is being dragged into a new nature.

    I disagree strongly. If I enable my daughter to do something, I am not forcing her into it. Rather, I’m opening the door, and she can step through if she so desires.

    I really don’t see any contradiction or difficulty here, but, maybe I’m missing something.

    Mike,

    I’m with you when it comes to hesitancy towards theological constructs. In general, I try to stay away from “isms” and factions at all costs. I completely agree that they can encourage allegiance to doctrine over truth. That said, I need some clarification before I can adequately respond to the rest of your comment.

    When you said that God “gives everyone the ability to repent,” did you mean that that God would be willing to give anyone the ability to repent? Or, did you mean that all people currently possess the ability to repent? Or, something else?

  24. cl,

    I’m sorry but I don’t understand the difference between the two answer options you have given.

  25. //How would the fact that such things might not be possible preclude God’s ability to genuinely desire that all be saved?//

    That’s because God has to “draw” by force but fails to draw everyone.

    The hearts of those who God decided to bypass are still totally depraved, then, how do you suppose God truly wants them to be saved? Of course, I am arguing from your definition of total depravity.

    // I genuinely desire all sorts of things that I don’t believe to be possible. It seems to me there’s no reason to treat those as mutually exclusive.//

    Yet, you are a mere human and I am talking about God. So, we are not talking about the same thing by any stretch of the imagination.

    //While I’m not exactly what you mean by the “unaware” part, the way I look at it, God’s desire for all to be saved can be genuine, despite the fact that many will reject grace.//

    Which grace would that be? You obviously are not talking about the following:

    “In accordance with this decision he graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of his chosen ones and inclines them to believe, but by his just judgment he leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen.”

    There was NO grace given to those whom He hardened and judged. Unless, I am missing something, because the above seems to imply that only those who He inclines to believe shall believe. Meaning, they are totally dead in their nature, and unless God forces them out of that nature they can’t and won’t believe.

    //I disagree strongly. If I enable my daughter to do something, I am not forcing her into it. Rather, I’m opening the door, and she can step through if she so desires.//

    Once God softens the hearts of the individual all the individual can do is believe. Unless, you are saying God can soften my heart and I can reject His calling, which would mean God predestined me to His drawing but I rejected it.

  26. Mike Gantt,

    What I meant was, do you mean that everyone has the ability to repent in the same way that everyone has the ability to choose pants over shorts when they get dressed for the day? As in, do you think all a person has to do is use their own will, much like they would in any other decision?

    Ronin,

    You seem to be arguing that God overrides the free will of those who convert. If so, I disagree.

    The hearts of those who God decided to bypass are still totally depraved, then, how do you suppose God truly wants them to be saved? Of course, I am arguing from your definition of total depravity.

    I didn’t give a definition of total depravity. I used the one you supplied, and still, I don’t see an inconsistency there. Are you saying that since God doesn’t “force” everyone to convert, that God doesn’t want everyone to convert?

    Here’s another analogy: I want the best for my friends and family. Really, I want the best for all people. It bothers me to see people laying around on the street suffering. However, I know that many people are going to persist in their suffering unto their death. The fact that I know many won’t change doesn’t mean my desire isn’t genuine. Right?

    The way I look at it is like this: we’re all “dead in our nature” by default, via the fall. God desires all to repent. God calls many to repent. Of those called, few are chosen.

    Is your complaint that that seems unfair? If not, what exactly is your complaint?

  27. cl,

    “What I meant was, do you mean that everyone has the ability to repent in the same way that everyone has the ability to choose pants over shorts when they get dressed for the day? As in, do you think all a person has to do is use their own will, much like they would in any other decision?”

    Yes. When God commands “Repent!,” the grace to obey Him is implicit, and conveyed to the hearer, in His command.

  28. //You seem to be arguing that God overrides the free will of those who convert. If so, I disagree.//

    Once God softens the heart of an individual, do you believe the individual can lose faith in Christ?

    //I didn’t give a definition of total depravity.//

    You agreed with the definition I gave. Right? If so, then it’s your definition as well. Right?

    //Here’s another analogy: I want the best for my friends and family. Really, I want the best for all people. It bothers me to see people laying around on the street suffering. However, I know that many people are going to persist in their suffering unto their death. The fact that I know many won’t change doesn’t mean my desire isn’t genuine. Right?//

    cl, that is quite an oversimplification of the matters at hand, don’t you think? But, let’s examine your analogy. First, what do you mean people are going to persist in their suffering unto their death? Second, I happen to work for a government agency that deals with what you are talking about here (I work for a Housing Authority). What I see happening with the families is that the parents of the children we help have been psychologically affected in a negative manner. Why? Their parents before them failed to give them the appropriate attention and proper tools in order for them to be productive in society. So, these parents pass uneducated information to their kids and it becomes a vicious cycle. However, we give them the tools they need to succeed in their communities and abroad (budgeting, helping them find jobs, etc.). And, if they are able bodies then they have to work for 20 hours or more, or they have to do 20 hours of community service in order for them to keep their subsidized assistance. Now, we cannot reach all the people, but we help the most people we possibly can (this means we are limited to our resources and we can only do so much), but (once again) I am talking about God. God has the ability to soften everyone’s heart, but God does not soften everyone’s heart according to Reformed theology. So, God’s desire is not genuine (under Reformed theology), because He does not educate or try to give the homeless a chance at life (hypothetically speaking).

    //The way I look at it is like this: we’re all “dead in our nature” by default, via the fall. God desires all to repent. God calls many to repent. Of those called, few are chosen.//

    How does God desire all to repent if those whom He chooses were dead in their nature (which is when one can only repent), but those whom He does not chose are still dead in their nature?

  29. Mike Gantt,

    Gotcha. Personally, I don’t think that view is compatible with a plain reading of scripture. Towards this end, you wrote,

    Regarding your request for my thoughts on John 6:44, I believe it is taken out of context when used to say that everyone doesn’t have the ability to repent.

    Yet, Jesus plainly states that nobody can come to him unless God enables them, and other verses seem to affirm this. There was one other thing I wanted to comment on earlier:

    If Calvinists and Armininians would trade in their zeal for theological construct (e.g. TULIP) for a zeal for the word of God, they would be mighty for God indeed.

    I think that’s a pretty harsh over-generalization. I don’t think it’s fair to throw all Calvinists and Armininians in that category. I know of people in that category who have great zeal for the word of God. Second–and please don’t take offense here–but it seems to me that this criticism could also apply to yourself. It seems to me that you are abiding by a “theological construct” that is plainly at odds with the verses cited. To me, it takes more “zeal for theological construct” to interpret the aforementioned verses the way you do, as opposed to a plain reading. Again, though, no offense intended. I just think we might want to be more careful of sweeping generalizations about entire groups of believers.

    Ronin,

    Once God softens the heart of an individual, do you believe the individual can lose faith in Christ?

    Yes, I most surely do. I think the legion of deconverted essentially prove as much. In no way do I believe that God overrides the free will of the person who believes. I’m open to verses or arguments that would seem to suggest otherwise, however.

    You agreed with the definition I gave. Right? If so, then it’s your definition as well. Right?

    I used the definition you supplied. That doesn’t make it mine. No big deal there, though.

    …that is quite an oversimplification of the matters at hand, don’t you think? But, let’s examine your analogy. First, what do you mean people are going to persist in their suffering unto their death?

    No, I really don’t. By “persist in their suffering unto their death,” I simply mean that many people will remain in their ways until they die, despite the fact that assistance is available.

    God has the ability to soften everyone’s heart, but God does not soften everyone’s heart according to Reformed theology.

    This, I think, is the gist of your criticism. It seems to me that everything written thus far distills to this single line. Surely, God has the power to override everybody’s free will and force them to believe, but, in your opinion, why doesn’t God do that? Is the fact that God does not do this equally unfair?

    So, God’s desire is not genuine (under Reformed theology), because He does not educate or try to give the homeless a chance at life (hypothetically speaking).

    Again, and no offense here, but I think that’s a misstep in logic. I’m not trying to “defend” Reformed theology, either. I’m just doing what I can with [what I take to be] basic logic and a straight-forward reading of scripture. It seems we’re doomed to forever talk past each other here, too, because you seem unwilling to accept any human analogies, but I think the ones given thus far hold quite well.

    How does God desire all to repent if those whom He chooses were dead in their nature (which is when one can only repent), but those whom He does not chose are still dead in their nature?

    Why does God seem to choose one over another? I don’t know, but that such is apparently the case doesn’t necessarily entail that God does not genuinely desire all to repent. I would imagine that given a different attitude and/or set of actions, the situation with Pharaoh could have been different. It seems to me that pride and vanity might be blocks. Still, this doesn’t mean that God wouldn’t prefer–and genuinely desire–that Pharaoh repent. Like I said, though, I don’t think God is in the business of forcing people to repent, and that seems to be among our chief differences here.

  30. cl,

    No offense taken. Apparently, at least in this case, one person’s “plain reading” is another person’s “theological construct,” and vice versa.

    By the way, in reading your comments on this subject it seems you are a “TUL” but not an “IP” Calvinist. Please correct or confirm. Thanks.

  31. //I used the definition you supplied. That doesn’t make it mine. No big deal there, though.//

    If your definition is different in some sort of way perhaps you can explain it; in order for me to under understand your position better.

    //No, I really don’t. By “persist in their suffering unto their death,” I simply mean that many people will remain in their ways until they die, despite the fact that assistance is available.//

    How do you suppose they know to seek the help if they have not been regenerated? That is why your analogy does not work (IMO).

    Do you think someone can seek God out of their own free will? Or, do you believe God regenerates them first then they believe? Or, do you think it’s a cooperation between God and man?

    //This, I think, is the gist of your criticism. It seems to me that everything written thus far distills to this single line. Surely, God has the power to override everybody’s free will and force them to believe, but, in your opinion, why doesn’t God do that? Is the fact that God does not do this equally unfair?//

    Um, I don’t believe God “forces” anyone into believing. I believe God wants everyone to repent, and His relationship with us is not forceful. However, if you are asking me why God does not “regenerate” all men (prior to believing) under Calvinism, then, (IMO) it must be that God does NOT want all to be saved (since all are totally depraved and cannot seek His help (believe in Him)).

    //Again, and no offense here, but I think that’s a misstep in logic. I’m not trying to “defend” Reformed theology, either. I’m just doing what I can with [what I take to be] basic logic and a straight-forward reading of scripture. It seems we’re doomed to forever talk past each other here, too, because you seem unwilling to accept any human analogies, but I think the ones given thus far hold quite well.//

    Perhaps I misjudged your view. I don’t mind human analogies, actually. I will be interested to see how you answer the questions I posed above.

  32. Mike Gantt,

    Apparently, at least in this case, one person’s “plain reading” is another person’s “theological construct,” and vice versa.

    I respectfully disagree. By your own admission, you seem to be reading, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” as, “anyone can decide to come to me in the same way they decide whether to wear pants or shorts when they get dressed for the day.” I don’t think that can qualify as “plain reading” by any definition of the phrase. On what grounds do you support such an interpretation?

    As far as the TULIP thing, I’m hesitant to answer without knowing exactly what you mean, but, I’m willing to try given a more precise question.

    Ronin,

    If your definition is different in some sort of way perhaps you can explain it; in order for me to under understand your position better.

    I don’t have a definition of “total depravity” at all. I’m using the one you supplied. I’m not sure where the disconnect is.

    How do you suppose they know to seek the help if they have not been regenerated?

    What does “regenerated” mean in that sentence? In my view, regeneration occurs after God has enabled the believer to come to him, at the precise moment the believer repents and becomes indwelt.

    Do you think someone can seek God out of their own free will?

    Yes, but I do not believe that anyone can attain salvation / regeneration by their own free will.

    Or, do you believe God regenerates them first then they believe?

    My answer to this question depends on what you mean by “regenerates,” so I’ll wait for that. If your “regenerates” is identical to Jesus’ “enables” in John 6:44, then, yes, but that is not how I define “regenerates.”

    Um, I don’t believe God “forces” anyone into believing.

    Hmmm…. here’s where I got that impression:

    How would the fact that such things might not be possible preclude God’s ability to genuinely desire that all be saved? [cl]

    That’s because God has to “draw” by force but fails to draw everyone.

    Where did I go wrong? Did you simply mean that under Calvinism, God has to draw by force? If so, how so? If not, what did you mean?

    I believe God wants everyone to repent, and His relationship with us is not forceful.

    Then, we seem to agree there, but, if God’s drawing is not forceful, doesn’t that undermine your previous objection that God’s desire for everyone to be saved cannot be genuine?

    As far as the rest, I’ll need to re-read this thread and then clarify my own thoughts before I dig us into a deeper hole… :)

  33. cl,

    All I meant on the TULIP question was that I was inferring from your comments to me and others that you accepted Calvin’s view of total depravity, unconditional election, and limited atonement while not accepting his view of irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints. I’m not trying to box you in or set you up; I’m just looking for clarity.

    I should add that in a previous comment you said you shared my lack of appetite for “isms.” From that I inferred too much. That is, I inferred that you did not embrace Calvinism. I’m trying to avoid the same mistake now by seeking a better understanding of your view. It seems to be not a full embrace of Calvinism but merely an embrace of some of its tenets. Again, my only purpose is to better understand you – and that with view to improving communications.

    I will get to your other question later today.

    Thanks.

  34. cl,

    I respectfully disagree. By your own admission, you seem to be reading, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” as, “anyone can decide to come to me in the same way they decide whether to wear pants or shorts when they get dressed for the day.” I don’t think that can qualify as “plain reading” by any definition of the phrase. On what grounds do you support such an interpretation?

    I don’t support such an interpretation. I don’t even think this verse speaks to Calvinist-Arminian disputes one way or the other. Please let me explain.

    Consider Lydia in Acts 16. She was a worshiper of God.who happened to be present just outside Philippi when Paul was preaching the gospel. Luke says that “the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” Paul could have later responded to anyone who challenged him about Lydia’s following him, “Lydia could not have come to me unless the Lord who sent me drew her.” He would not have been making any comment about Calvinist-Arminian issues; rather, he would have been saying that Lydia’s predisposition to God is what allowed her to be drawn to the preaching of Paul.

    Similarly, I believe Jesus was pointing out to the Jewish leaders who were critical of Him that His disciples only became devoted to Him because they were first devoted to God. That is, they were – like Lydia – worshipers of God. We could parenthetically say that Nicodemus distinguished himself from Jewish leaders of that day by his interest in Jesus, which was a sign that he was indeed a worshiper of the one true God (which his fellow Sanhedrin members were obviously not).

    In a more general sense we see Paul outline this principle in 2 Corinthians 3 when he says in verse 16, “But whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” He is speaking there of the Jews inability to see Christ in the Old Testament. However, his redemptive point is that if any of those Jews would turn toward heaven with an open heart, they would subsequently be able to recognize Christ in the OT because God, in whose hands they would have put their hearts, would be opening their eyes. Proverbs 21:1 speaks of this principle as well.

    Moreover, I have seen this principle at work in my own life. I can look back and see times when my heart was hardened toward God. When I confessed my sin and opened myself in honest seeking, He then began to open my eyes to things in the Scriptures and in my life to which I had previously been blind.

    Thus I do not believe John 6:44 speaks to, much less settles, Calvinist-Arminian disputes.

    I do not expect that you will embrace my view on this. However, I offer all it in the genuine hope that you will, going forward, grant me the courtesy that this is indeed my “plain reading” even if you think I am plainly wrong.

  35. I don’t have a definition of “total depravity” at all. I’m using the one you supplied. I’m not sure where the disconnect is.

    Okay, moving on.

    In my view, regeneration occurs after God has enabled the believer to come to him, at the precise moment the believer repents and becomes indwelt.

    To be clear, are you saying a person comes to faith by believing first and then becomes indwelt? Or, are you saying the person has faith by believing and becoming indwelt simultaneously? Or, are you saying God enables a person first, then, the person believes and becomes indwelt?

    Yes, but I do not believe that anyone can attain salvation / regeneration by their own free will.

    So, does it boil down to some sort of cooperation between God and man?

    My answer to this question depends on what you mean by “regenerates,” so I’ll wait for that. If your “regenerates” is identical to Jesus’ “enables” in John 6:44, then, yes, but that is not how I define “regenerates.”

    “A cardinal point or Reformed theology [Calvinism] is the maxim: “Regeneration precedes faith.” Our nature is so corrupt, the power of sin is so great, that unless God does a supernatural work in our souls we will never choose Christ. We do not believe in order to be born again; we are born again in order to believe. (Chosen By God, pg. 72)”

    Did you simply mean that under Calvinism, God has to draw by force? If so, how so?

    Yes, I meant under Calvinism. See above.

    Then, we seem to agree there, but, if God’s drawing is not forceful, doesn’t that undermine your previous objection that God’s desire for everyone to be saved cannot be genuine?

    No, because I don’t believe in this so called total depravity, rather, I believe we are depraved.

  36. Sorry for the extended absence. I comment on other blogs quite a bit, and, when we hit our stalemate, I thought it might help to do some reading and come back with fresh eyes.

    Mike Gantt,

    Are you saying that only those predisposed to God come to God? Here’s why I ask:

    Consider Lydia in Acts 16. She was a worshiper of God who happened to be present just outside Philippi when Paul was preaching the gospel. Luke says that “the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” Paul could have later responded to anyone who challenged him about Lydia’s following him, “Lydia could not have come to me unless the Lord who sent me drew her.”

    Actually, I don’t think he could have. He could have said, “Lydia could not have come to Christ unless the Father who sent me drew her,” and this would be in accord with John 6:44 as far as I can see, but this is a minor point and doesn’t seem to challenge your broader message–at least, not that I’m aware of.

    Similarly, I believe Jesus was pointing out to the Jewish leaders who were critical of Him that His disciples only became devoted to Him because they were first devoted to God.

    This may be the case, but is it true that Jesus’ disciples were already devoted to God? That might be an assumption, and, I would be hesitant to rest on that if it were.

    In a more general sense we see Paul outline this principle in 2 Corinthians 3 when he says in verse 16, “But whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” He is speaking there of the Jews inability to see Christ in the Old Testament. However, his redemptive point is that if any of those Jews would turn toward heaven with an open heart, they would subsequently be able to recognize Christ in the OT because God, in whose hands they would have put their hearts, would be opening their eyes. Proverbs 21:1 speaks of this principle as well.

    I agree completely. However, I don’t think the Jews’ inability to recognize Christ in the OT necessarily speaks on the issue we’re discussing. You write:

    Moreover, I have seen this principle at work in my own life. I can look back and see times when my heart was hardened toward God. When I confessed my sin and opened myself in honest seeking, He then began to open my eyes to things in the Scriptures and in my life to which I had previously been blind.

    But, if you “confessed your sin,” then you had already come to believe, right? Or, are you saying that before you believed, your heart was hardened, then you confessed, and then the veil was lifted?

    Thus I do not believe John 6:44 speaks to, much less settles, Calvinist-Arminian disputes.

    I don’t know that it does, either. Surely, people interpret Calvinist-Arminian disputes differently. My only point is that a plain-reading of the verse seems to imply that man cannot “find God” of his or her own volition, that God has to “draw” or “enable” those who come to him, and, as far as I can see, you seem to be affirming this. When you equated the decision to repent with one’s decision to wear pants or shorts in the morning, I got the impression you mean that God’s “enabling” or “drawing” need not occur at all.

    We might just have been talking past each other this whole time.

    Ronin,

    To be clear, are you saying a person comes to faith by believing first and then becomes indwelt? Or, are you saying the person has faith by believing and becoming indwelt simultaneously? Or, are you saying God enables a person first, then, the person believes and becomes indwelt?

    I see it going like this: God enables whoever God enables for whatever reason. Then, should they accept, they repent. Either at that point or at the point of baptism, they receive the Holy Spirit. To be honest, I’m a little fuzzy on that latter point, and I need to read more. Obviously, the disciples received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. I’m open to suggestions, lest I speak presumptuously with the Bible.

    So, does it boil down to some sort of cooperation between God and man?

    I believe it boils down to acceptance of what God offers, e.g., initiates.

    A cardinal point or Reformed theology [Calvinism] is the maxim: “Regeneration precedes faith.”

    That snippet alone rubs me the wrong way, because I define regeneration as the process of becoming indwelt by the Holy Spirit, ala 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” However…

    Our nature is so corrupt, the power of sin is so great, that unless God does a supernatural work in our souls we will never choose Christ.

    …that part, taken alone, I have no problem with, and that statement seems perfectly compatible with John 6:44. Then, going back the other way…

    We do not believe in order to be born again; we are born again in order to believe.

    …that rubs me the wrong way. Talk about a mess!

    …I don’t believe in this so called total depravity, rather, I believe we are depraved.

    How do you define the difference?

  37. I see it going like this: God enables whoever God enables for whatever reason.

    Do you think God enables everyone in order for them to repent?

    Then, should they accept, they repent. Either at that point or at the point of baptism, they receive the Holy Spirit. To be honest, I’m a little fuzzy on that latter point, and I need to read more. Obviously, the disciples received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. I’m open to suggestions, lest I speak presumptuously with the Bible.

    I am open to suggestions too and I have no problem with the quote above.

    I believe it boils down to acceptance of what God offers, e.g., initiates.
    I am fine with that as long as we are saying God “initiates” something for everyone to accept or reject in order to be saved. [i.e.] God reveals himself to a Muslim in a dream, and he/she gets the option to either hear the Gospel at a church or not go to hear the Gospel at a church.

    I would like to note in passing that we also find God answering prayers from people who had NOT heard the Gospel. For example,

    He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God…[Acts 10:2-48 (NRSV)]

    cl, I don’t know what to say regarding the rest of your comments until you answer my first question at the top of this reply.

    How do you define the difference?

    I had said, “BTW, it seems Sproul wants to have his cake and eat it to. He wants to imply that we are “totally” depraved, but then, he also wants to assert this totality is not absolute.”

    *If* depravity is NOT absolute then we are not totally depraved, though, I am willing to accept the term as long as God’s character remains intact, which under Calvinism it does not.

  38. Well, it appears I goofed on the “blockquote” and I cannot edit, sorry.

  39. “We might just have been talking past each other this whole time.”

    cl, this sounds like a good place to end this particular thread as I don’t like to engage in the Calvinist-Arminian dialectic.

  40. cl, I thought it might be useful to your post on this subject if I were to connect you to another blog that is also taking a look at universalism (though not my version of it). The site is The Tentative Apologist which is written by Randal Rauser. Randal is Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Taylor Seminary in Edmunton. He’s an evangelical Christian who holds to the traditional heaven-or-hell scenario. That is, he is not a universalist. However, I think his views on the subject are quite interesting, and I thought you might appreciate knowing about them. Here are some of his recent posts that are relevant (they’re in chronological order with the most recent at the bottom – there is a logical flow):

    Universalism isn’t a four letter word

    Does universalism have a chance in hell of being true?

    Hopeful Universalism and the Lottery Illustration

    How exclusive should Christianity be?

  41. Mike,

    Thanks for the links…

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