Election: My Dad’s Not Saved, Are You Smarter Than He?

Derek Ouellette —  June 2, 2011

Sometimes I wonder what motivates people to believe certain things. I think if we are honest with ourselves we all must admit that we tend to accept or reject certain things based on other factors besides the weight of the evidence alone. And often when examining evidence that seems could go one way or another, it is logical to assume that other factors must be involved in the tipping of the scales.

There is a particular guy I used to be connected to on facebook. He is a Calvinist, but not just any Calvinist. He is a particular brand of Calvinist of an exceptionally calloused caliber. He is mean in a way that makes other mean Calvinists (and mean Arminians) seem like lovable Mother Theresa’s. He justifies his mean-spiritedness by saying that he is zealous for the truth and in defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But for him, that means Calvinism.

He more or less called me the spawn of Satan because I reject the distinctive of his particular understanding of theology. And he is convinced that if you are not a Calvinist, you are not a Christian at all.

Needless to say, there was no value in keeping someone like on my facebook account.

My friend, however, did stay connected to him and they got into another debate. I watched from the sidelines as they went back and forth, and something “Curious” – I’m going to refer to this particular Calvinist by the pseudonym of “Curious” – something Curious said caught my attention.

“My dad is not a Christian! So are you smarter than he is?”

My friend believes that salvation is the free offer of God’s amazing grace to whomever will receive it by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). This same terminology is used by Calvinists too, but to mean something different: faith itself is a functional gift given to those who are already saved.

While we cannot judge the motives of why someone so strenuously holds to a particular belief system, sometimes if you listen closely enough they will give you a clue that they themselves may not be aware of. Whether Curious has reflected on this or not, it seems that is exactly what he has done here, given us a window to peek into his motives.

His father is not a Christian.

For someone who passionately believes in Hell as a place of eternal torment and separation from God, and who believes that God is sovereign in a particular sort of way, how is he to understand that his father is on his way to eternal torment? How does he justify that in light of his understanding of God?

What’s really sad is that in understanding the nature of God the way he does, he has absolutely no understanding whatsoever of the Arminian doctrine of salvation that he so vehemently rejects. He has so convinced himself that Arminianism is Pelagianism and he believes that salvation according to an Arminian understanding is a matter of being “smart enough”.

So then, rather than accept the Arminian testimony that salvation is God’s free gift offered to all, yet must be received by faith, he would prefer to consign his dad to eternal torment based on God’s arbitrary selection. This, evidently, gives him a sense of satisfaction to know that at least his dad is just not that dumb.

But I would posit that his dad is not stupid at all. I don’t know him, but I would go so far to say that his dad is probably quite smart. But since salvation is not based on how smart a person is, I can’t help but feel an immense amount of pity for how Curious views this whole issue of his dad’s salvation.

Note: this discussion is based solely on this particular case and is not meant to reflect upon the wider and more nuanced discussion of Calvinism and Arminianism throughout the ages. I in no way intend Curious’ particular understanding, character or arguments to reflect Calvinism as a system, or those who hold to it.
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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James

    Hey Derek,

    I first off have to say I completely agree with all you say in this post, and totally understand where you’re coming from.

    At the same time, how does one explain to a Calvinist that Arminianism doesn’t equal pelagianism? You might say you aren’t smarter than your friend’s dad, but could he not possibly substitute some other adjective, like “faith-filled”, or whatever it is that’s part of your nature/character that means you came to Christ and your friend’s dad didn’t.

    If I were to put myself in the Calvinist’s shoes for a moment, I see there being two possibilities:

    1.) There is something to your nature/character that allowed you to come to faith in Christ that your friend’s dad didn’t. This means that the ultimate deciding factor about getting into heaven is your character, rather than God’s grace, thus, it is somehow “works-based” (i.e., you did the work of making the smarter decision, or making the more faith-filled response to God, etc.)

    2.) Your decision to come to faith did not come from your nature/character, and therefore it either came ex nihilo, or from God, or randomly. If this is true, then you being saved instead of your friend’s dad is just as arbitrary (or possibly more arbitrary) than the Calvinist view.

    So to take your friend’s comment charitably (and I admit, perhaps more charitably than it deserves), I can still see his point, and even as a non-Calvinist, I’m not 100% sure how to respond to this. What are your thoughts?

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Well the first thing I’d suggest is that the term Pelagianism is abused and misused.

      The second thing I’d suggest is the concept of “works” itself is misused. If we do anything it is considered a “work” as in a “merit” unto salvation. The common example is the person who is drowning in the ocean and is rescued by someone who throws in a life preserver and then they hoists him up into the helicopter. Did the man save himself by accepting the preserver? (I’m sure you are aware of this scenario.)

      Calvinist would say “yes” since he did something and therefore that “doing” was a work unto salvation and not all of grace. But since everywhere the scriptures condition grace on faith, and nowhere (I don’t think) is faith conceived of bleakly as a “merit” unto salvation, I would posit that Calvinists misunderstand “work”.

      Back to the scenario: work is not receiving the life preserver, work is rejecting the preserve and those who offered it (by grace) and choosing rather to attempt to swim to the nearest continent.

      Calvinists would posit that to receive the preserver is the same as attempting to swim to the nearest continent. I reject the premise (and of course I think scripture weighs heavily on my side) that the act of receiving salvation is a work.

      Back to your question regarding the post: I had more things in mind then a persons nature and character. I also had in mind circumstances. But I would suggest that no matter what nature, character or circumstances exist, God offers saving grace to all, and has enabled all to accept it.

    • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James

      Thanks Derek,

      I find your analogy most helpful! In a sense you’re saying that Christ has saved us from our rebellion from the Law, but we can still rebel against His grace, and *that* would be a work, that pulls us away from salvation. (Don’t pick that apart too much; I’m mainly thinking out loud.)

      “But I would suggest that no matter what nature, character or circumstances exist, God offers saving grace to all, and has enabled all to accept it.”

      If God enables all to accept it, then why don’t all accept it? You mention circumstances as a possibility (and it’s hard to deny if you just look at how religious views relate to geography). If circumstances are the reason why one accepts while another does not accept (in at least some cases), doesn’t that make the Arminian view even more arbitrary (at least in some cases) than the Calvinist view?

      On a side note, if you say, God “has enabled all to accept it”, doesn’t that rule out circumstances? If all are enabled to accept it, regardless of circumstances, than it doesn’t seem like we can attribute circumstances to accepting or rejecting the gospel. At the very least, we can’t say it was accepted or rejected purely on circumstances, for if it is rejected purely on circumstances, then I don’t think you can say that God “has enabled all to accept it.”

      I guess I’m saying your response was immensely helpful, but doesn’t quite settle everything in my mind. I’ll have to think on it more.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Haha! I’m with you there because my own response doesn’t settle everything in my own mind. :)

  • Josh

    Thank you guys for this discussion and your honesty!
    For me this (“arbitrary” or circumstantial salvation?) is another really good reason why I think the “problem of hell” topic is so important.

  • Josh

    And Derek, I know exactly which “discussion” you are referring to. 😉