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Just to set the stage for this question, Jesus said that the gate is narrow and there are few that find it. As this question has to do with the Calvinist understanding of Election (and the flip side which is Reprobation), I wanted it to be clear that the Elect are few and that, correspondingly, most people are not Elect.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. - 2 Peter 3:9

Here we have the divine desire regarding the eternal destiny of each person expressed as both positive and negative:

Negative - God does not wish (will, desire) that any should perish

Positive - Goes does wish (will, desire) that all reach repentance

Calvinism teaches (and I realize that this is condensed) that every person is completely unable to repent, to respond to the gospel in faith, to seek God or approach Him in any way unless God specifically gives that person the ability.

Calvinism also teaches that God does give this ability, but only to some. These are called the Elect. The Elect repent and escape death because, and only because, God has given them the ability to do so. Everyone else, the non-elect (or reprobate), not only don't repent and escape death but literally can't because God has withheld the ability to do so from them.

Since the Elect are those who have "found" the narrow gate we can easily deduce that God has actively enabled few individuals and prevented most from escaping death and reaching repentance.

Setting this Calvinist premise beside the stated desires of God we have:

  1. God - I do not desire that any should perish

1a) Calvinism - God actively ensures the death of most

  1. God - I desire that all should reach repentance

2a) Calvinism - God actively prevents most from repenting

Does Calvinism recognize that it has God working at cross purposes to His stated desire? If so, how is the phenomenon biblically justified?

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    The question seems to hinge on whether failing to remove an obstacle is the same as placing the obstacle there. If the obstacle is our sins and we are responsible for them, then it is not God but we who created the problem. Aug 6 at 18:16
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    I've not downvoted the Q but it seems to have misunderstandings about predestination / election. You seem to be putting forth your own interpretation of the verses in question. Now, if you had asked whether Calvinists have considered that they seem to be working at cross purposes to God's desire, based on your view of the texts, that would not hint at you having a foregone conclusion e.g. for your 2a) God actively enables faith that leads to repentance, but why not to all? would be a question, not a conclusion. There are other parts of your Q that could benefit from such re-wording, I suggest.
    – Anne
    Aug 6 at 18:17
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    Calvinists do not teach that God actively prevents people from repenting - there is a fundamental asymmetry in predestination.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 6 at 22:51
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    Since no one else has, I feel compelled to point out the wonderful "cross purposes" pun in the question Title. Aug 9 at 1:05
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    @Anne I am with you almost 100%. Can one say that a stone refuses to lay an egg? Of course not, the stone has no such ability. In the same way, Can a Calvinist say that a person refuses to repent who has no such ability unless God grants it? All throughout the theology there appears the language of choice and responsibility alongside a denial of same. Aug 9 at 12:29
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In my experience, though it would be difficult to quantify the matter, most 'Calvinists' would repair to the Authorised Version (KJV) to respond to this question, therefore :

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. [2 Peter 3:9 TR/KJV]

The TR, Textus Receptus, has εις ημας (toward us), ἡμᾶς being the plural of the first person (us).

The Westcott & Hort/Nestle Aland text has εἰς ὑμᾶς, see Biblehub and this is rendered 'toward you', ὑμᾶς being the second person plural.

This, as many of the differences are between these two Greek texts, is a subtle difference.

For Peter to say 'us' means himself and that small body of persons whom he addresses, the saints - believers.

For Peter to say 'you' widens the context to (possibly) any group of persons he might address at any time : it is indiscriminate.

Which is exactly the point of the doctrine.

God's gospel is preached to all nations, Matthew 28:19,20. The literal Greek conveys the 'discipling of the nations'. Out of those nations, some will believe. These are to be baptised. Then - and only then - are they to be taught to observe all things that Jesus commanded.

It is clear that Peter addresses his second epistle to 'them that have received like precious faith with us', 2 Peter 1:1, that is to say , those who have , out of the nations, shown 'obedience to the faith' Romans 1:5.

Of these, and of these alone, Peter says :

[God is]... not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. [TR/KJV]

Paul the apostle preached and taught election and predestination.

So did Jesus himself.

They were not invented by John Calvin.

Whether election matters or not is clear by its frequency in scripture : over 25 times (election and elect) mentioned across twelve different books in the New Testament writings. Jesus speaks of it, reported by three different authors, Paul speaks of it in six different epistles, Peter speaks of it in both his epistles. John also mentions it.


The doctrine of Christ is known by the preaching of those who are sent of Christ to preach it and is known by those who experience salvation under that preaching.

The divide and the argument that prevails over this issue (Calvinism/Arminianism) is resolved by being obedient to the Apostles (and not changing the text of what they uttered) by hearkening to the preaching of genuinely called Ministers of the Gospel, and by humbly receiving the truth and receiving the concomitant ministrations of the Holy Spirit which accompany the Word of God.

In thy light - shall we see light, Psalm 36:9.

If the light that is in us be darkness - how great is that darkness, Matthew 6:23 and Luke 11:35.

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  • I agree with you that election is a very important, perhaps critical doctrine, given it's prolific mention in Scripture. Is it not possible for the "to us-ward" of v. 9 to be inclusive of all, since the immediate context includes the scoffers that will come in the last days. Additionally, verse 9 says God desires all (of the "us") to come to repentance. If "to us-ward" is only incorporating believers this desire seems strange since believers have already come to repentance. Aug 8 at 12:59
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    I cannot make it plainer @MikeBorden . How you manage to squeeze 'scoffers' who Peter says are 'willingly ignorant' into the 'context' of 'beloved' (3:1 and 3:14) is beyond my capability to understand, brother. Repentance is a gift. It is given. And his gifts and calling are without (his own) repentance and are sure. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (and his household) but the whole of the rest of that world perished. Trust in the Lord, and receive his gifts. As for others, their destiny is determined.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 8 at 14:22
  • Why would God desire the ones who have already repented to come to repentance? In this understanding the "us-ward" has to actually reference, not current believers but future believers...those yet to repent. Aug 8 at 15:54
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    @MikeBorden . . . . . . or it could be retrospective.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 8 at 16:59
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My favorite personal conceptualization:

  1. God gives us free will. Although it's too weak to fully effect faith in Christ, God still foresees this little movement. In this way, all who are serious enough to believe Christ (cf. Mark 9:24: "I believe, help my unbelief") will become the elect.
  2. God then moves back in time, makes me one of the elect, and gives me all the irresistible graces to come to faith as well as to persevere to the end.
  3. Since my free will is too weak, I need an infusion of God's grace for everything good I do (including choosing Christ). So for this little "work" (if Calvinist wants to label mere choosing "work") I have no basis to boast, and can instead admit (almost) Total Depravity.
  4. Please note that this view still give room for God to elect people who don't even have this "little movement" (100% Total Depravity).

Therefore, God doesn't have to work at cross purposes with His desire.

Admittedly, this view is not full 5 point Calvinism because:

  • the 'U' is replaced with a 'C' (Conditional Election Based upon God’s Foreknowledge)
  • the 'T' is not full total depravity either, to allow for that little desire for faith. I imagine this is like someone with a New Year's resolution to lose weight but needs God's grace to keep it.

I found a 2013 paper God's Will & Man's Will: Predestination, Election & Free Will, but this view is not among the five described. Maybe it should be called the Catholic view which is based on Catholic interpretation of St. Augustine.

I'll leave this answer to be deleted by a moderator if it is deemed not Calvinist enough :-).

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    Doesn't Calvinism ultimately teach that no one wishes to believe Christ prior to God's enabling? I think Calvinism would view that "little movement" as a work meriting God's favor and reject your conceptualization. Aug 6 at 20:27
  • @MikeBorden I think you are right about what Calvinism teaches. That's why I'm not a Calvinist. I updated my answer to address your charge that the "little movement" is "work" as well as showing to show how this view (in my opinion) is still close enough to Calvinism. Another caveat is I hold the "prescient" interpretation of Rom 8:29a (the first meaning in section 2 of John Piper's sermon Those Whom He Foreknew He Predestined). Aug 6 at 22:00
  • @MikeBorden I'm going to thoroughly revised my answer to be more aligned with Calvinism. Resources that I will use: 1) excellent book chapter Are There Two Wills in God?: Divine Election and God's Desire for All to Be Saved by John Piper (it's long but worth reading in its entirety), 2) How being careful of the context of the 3 "Arminian pillar texts" 1 Tim 2:4, 2 Pet 3:9 and Eze 18:23 will change the meaning that you implied in the OP. Aug 7 at 3:06

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