The following is a response to material found within the Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity (4th Edition), a work which was edited by Baptist missionary David W. Cloud and which claims on the cover to be “Based upon the King James Bible and written from an uncompromising, Bible-believing position.” Specifically, the material to be examined comes from the article “Elect” and can be found on pages 188 and 189.
Four years ago, I could have been described as a resounding echo of men like David Cloud. Such fundamental Baptists helped shaped Christianity for me, and anytime I had a question about the Bible, I would rush off to a website, such as WayOfLife.org, in search of an answer.
For the majority of my early Christian life, I wasn’t so much a Bible student as I was a Baptist student. I knew all the right verses to make everything from television to drums seems satanic, and I fit neatly into the tiny little groove which is independent, fundamental Baptist doctrine and practice. This held true with my soteriology–my understanding of salvation–as well.
I was led to believe that Calvinism was a terrible evil that rivaled sacramental systems; I wasn’t an Arminian, though. I was taught that whatever I was (or should be) didn’t have a name other than Baptist and Christian.
Imagine my surprise when I stepped away from my Baptist influences and looked at the Bible from a fresh perspective, one of sola Scriptura. I’ve learned a lot–almost too much to take in at times–since embracing sola Scriptura for the first time in my spiritual life, and I want to apply what I’ve learned to one of my former favorite resources, the Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible and Christianity. David Cloud lists four verses which are used by Calvinists and gives his response to the Calvinistic understanding of the verses.
This is the first in a series of responses to Brother Cloud, in which I will deal with his notes on John 6:37 and a handful of other verses from John. His original text will be block quoted while my responses will be in standard type.
John 6:37 “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” This verse is used by Calvinists to teach that God chooses who will be saved, and when He chooses that a person will be saved, that person will definitely come to Christ. Thus, this verse is used to support the Calvinist doctrines of Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace. How do we know that the Calvinist interpretation is wrong? The verse must be interpreted in light of its context. If the verse were left isolated from all the rest of the Bible, it could be interpreted in a Calvinist manner, but it must be interpreted in light of the rest of the teaching of Christ in John. Verse 40 explains verse 37.
Brother Cloud doesn’t give us verse 40, so I will quote it here for us, from the King James Version for consistency with what he has written already: “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” Now, back to Cloud for the remainder of this section:
It is God’s will that every one that believes on Christ will be saved. The ones that God the Father has given to the Son are those who believe on Him. This is the consistent teaching of John’s Gospel. See John 1:11-12; 3:15-18, 36; 5:24; 6:29; 11:25-26; 20:31.
Let’s begin where Cloud did, with John 6:37 itself. Within the context of the verse itself, we see that everyone that the Father gives to Christ will come to Christ, and He will in no way cast them out. Can you see that? The Father gives certain people to Christ, and those people will come to Christ. That is what the verse says.
By implication, then, we can ascertain that the Father does not give to Christ anyone who does not come to Him. This is so because, as stated, all that the Father does give to Christ will come to Him. Within the context of the verse itself, then, we come to understand that those who die in an unregenerate state do so because the Father does not give them to Christ.
However, this “Calvinist” interpretation is rejected by Cloud; he points us to verse 40, quoted above, as proof. What can we say to this?
Verse 40 shows us that it is the will of God that all those who believe in Christ have everlasting life and that He (Christ) raise them up on the last day. Brother Cloud asks us to understand this: those who believe in Jesus are the ones who the Father then gives to Jesus. Belief precedes the act of God. But is this necessarily the case? As Brother Cloud says, we must look at the rest of Scriptures rather than letting verses stand alone.
We are given the example of Lydia, a dealer in fabric. The Lord specifically acted in her heart in order to open it so that she would hear the teachings of Paul (Acts 16:14). Her listening to the teachings of Paul were the direct result of her heart being opened by the Lord. In other words, if the Lord had not first made a change in her heart, she would not have heard or understood the gospel message being presented to her. God had to act first, and in so doing, He made a choice for Lydia. He was not obligated to open her heart to His message, but He did.
Brother Cloud finishes this segment with a listing of verses from the Gospel of John, a listing which he claims will establish that throughout the Gospel, it is taught that those who the Father gives to the Son are given to Him as a result of their faith in Him. Or, to put it in a clearer manner, because of a person’s belief in Christ, the Father gives them to the Son. We’ll go through each of these verses quickly:
He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.
While it is certainly true that when we believe in Jesus Christ, we are given the power to become the sons of God, it is equally true that only those who are born of God will believe. Verse 13, which Cloud doesn’t cite here, shows that this process is one which has nothing to do with the will of blood, flesh, or man, but solely of God. Why were we born again? It wasn’t because we chose to be–it was because God willed it.
That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Here we have one of the greatest, if not the greatest, example given to us of the general call of the election. Here, all are invited to be saved, if they would only believe. However, a universal offer does not preclude a particular election. We know from other passages in John that it is only those who God choose which come to Christ.
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
The elect will believe and have life; the unchosen will not believe and will remain under the wrath of God. I fail to see how this verse in any way undermines a Calvinist understanding of salvation.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
Another example of the general gospel call, a call which is extended to the whole world. This does not undermine that only certain ones are given to Christ by the Father, and it is those who Christ will raise up on the last day.
While we’re on this verse, let’s pause to consider this: Why, if salvation comes to the chosen only, is the gospel call a “whosoever will” message? Going out into the world and proclaiming, “All of you who are called by God, accept salvation and come forth,” wouldn’t make any sense to them. How would they know they are the called of God? This is why we have a “whosoever will” message. Belief is the evidence of an unseen salvation. If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, then that is evidence of your being one of the elect. This is why when speaking to unbelievers, the gospel call is different than the message to Christians to make our calling and election sure. The unregenerate cannot discern spiritual truths, and an understanding of election is one of the meatier doctrines, to be sure.
John 6 is one of the most “Calvinist” chapters in the Bible. Learning the teachings of John 6 is what caused me to abandon a freewill soteriology.
Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.
And as we can see here, Jesus did just call our act of believing on Christ “the work of God.” I certainly don’t take credit for my faith: the Bible places that solely upon God, going so far as to call Jesus Christ the Author and the Finisher of our faith! What right have we to lay claim to it? What right have we to say, “I believe” and ascribe it to an act of our own will and not to the marvelous work of the Lord within us!
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
And her faith was authored by Christ Himself. That she believed Him isn’t to her praise, but to God’s. We also again see the general Gospel call in action.
But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
The general call is seen in effect once again. What none of these verses can do is override the message of the Bible that our faith is the result of God and not our own will. Our hearts are deceitful above all things–any faith which comes forth from it will surely be misplaced, as evidenced by the myriad of false religions and false Christianities and so on. But a true, saving faith is the handiwork of a merciful God who has chosen us for His glory’s sake.
This concludes the first article in the “Some Verses Used by Calvinists” series; it is my hope that this material will prove edifying and worthwhile to my brethren, whether we are in agreement regarding Calvinism or not. I welcome any and all comments you may have, and would be happy to discuss any point further. Lord willing, you can find me Friday nights in channel.
Quotations from the Way of Life Encyclopedia are used in accordance with fair use copyright law, which allows for the critical examination of texts.