Book Review of For Calvinism, Michael Horton, 2011
Disclaimer: while this review is critical in nature, it’s not my place to judge Michael Horton’s motives, sincerity, or faith. All believers will stand before Jesus Christ very soon to give an account —starting with myself. The critical standard applied to Mr. Horton’s book should be equally applied to my review based on the Word of God.
To simplify this review, all Calvinists are five pointers, while non-Calvinist believers are Arminian. I acknowledge that all Calvinists are not five pointers, and that many non-Calvinists (such as myself) don’t care for the Arminian title. The best title is “Christian,” if Christ defines our identity.
In this 208-page book, Horton makes the case that Calvinism is the same faith practiced by the early New Testament church. He writes, “It has become a habit to speak of ‘the Reformed faith,’ but properly speaking there is no such thing. There is only the Christian faith, which is founded on the teaching of the prophets and apostles, with Jesus Christ as its cornerstone . . . Reformed churches do not add any new doctrines to the Christian faith, but claim that they are merely recovering the clear teachings of Scripture that had become obscured in the medieval church” (Michael Horton, 2011, Kindle Ebook, location 235 of 4016).
But is today’s Calvinism synonymous with the early New Testament church? There are at least two ugly truths about Calvinism that their theologians regularly omit. First, God’s Word, when interpreted using good principles of interpretation doesn’t support Calvinism, but counters it, as this review will establish.
Secondly, today’s refined Calvinism began with Augustine and not the New Testament church. There is no record of Calvinism’s existence from the early church (approx. 33 A.D.) to Augustine (354-430). This gap of hundreds of years is a black hole containing Arminian writings that Calvinists cannot deny. There is no conclusive evidence that any of the five pillars of Calvinism were taught before the heretic Augustine appeared on the scene.
Because God’s Word is the final authority for faith and practice (not church history), this review won’t enter into evidence numerous Arminian quotes up to the time of Augustine.
Horton appeals to John Calvin 501 times for support in his book, overshadowing Jesus Christ who is only mentioned a merely 133 times. Further, more space is dedicated to quotes from the Reformers than to the Word of God. To Horton’s credit, the title of the book, For Calvinism, accurately describes its emphasis on John Calvin.
For Calvinism, Chapter Two
Chapter Two, Regents and Rebels: The Human Condition
Total depravity is the first pillar of Calvinism and the engine that propels the entire system (in my opinion). If Horton doesn’t establish this pillar from Scripture, then Calvinism collapses.
So what passages does Horton enter into evidence for the Reformed doctrine of total depravity? He provides at least 14 passages (those inside quotes are excluded). Most of these will be examined.
The Scripture must prove the doctrine of TOTAL depravity —beyond reasonable doubt —that sinners cannot respond favorably to the grace of God. This inability should be evident starting from Adam (after the fall), and ending in Revelation.
He writes, “Do they [the unsaved] at least have the ability to believe in Christ of their own free will” (location 593)? He answers this question on the next page: “After the fall we still have the natural but no longer the moral liberty to do so” (location 603). In other words, because of the severity of the fall, the unsaved are incapable of responding favorably to God’s grace to be saved.
He writes, “A person who is dead in ‘trespasses and sins’ (Eph. 2:1) and ‘does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor. 2:14) has lost this freedom for righteousness before God” (location 503).
Remember, Horton is trying to demonstrate that Calvinism is the historic faith. He fused two half verses together for doctrinal proof. The Bible only has meaning in context; it’s wrong to hijack a passage from one context and artificially implant it into another context. The Bible becomes a Home Depot to build any heresy one wants when the most fundamental rules of interpretation are ignored. Let’s examine these passages one at time.
“And you were [in the past] dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (ESV).
Before salvation we “were dead in the trespasses and sins.” Something happened that brought us life. Verse five has the answer: “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Salvation brought life to us who “were dead.” There is nothing in this passage that backs total depravity –unless approached with a presupposition.
John 3:16a states, “For God so loved the world.” The “world” represents the dead unsaved, and the invitation is open-ended (“whosoever“).
The spiritual “dead” must believe to be saved: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever [open-ended] hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death [“dead”] to life” (John 5:24). Who has passed from “death to life“? The dead who “hear” and “believe.” Undeniably, the unsaved (“dead“) can respond favorably to the grace of God.
Would a Holy God command the unsaved to believe if they weren’t capable? Of course not! “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands ALL people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30).
Here is the next proof text provided by Horton: “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:12-14).
The context isn’t that the unsaved are incapable of believing the Gospel (Calvinist argument). In contrary, Paul identifies why the “natural person” isn’t able to “accept” and “understand.” He is without the Holy Spirit of God for discernment. According to verse 12, “we” in contrast, have the Spirit of God “that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (vs. 12). Paul says, “we might” (v. 12). This seems to indicate a possibility. We must study God’s Word for understanding.
Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit teaches us “all things.” The unsaved don’t posses the Spirit of God required to learn what is “spiritually discerned.”
Additional proof texts provided by Horton for the doctrine of total depravity are examined:
“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:4-5).
A casual reading of verse five seems to explicitly state the Augustine doctrine that sin begins at conception. This view is not without controversy. David regularly used figurative language —even in the same chapter. In verse one, David writes, “blot out my transgressions” (51:1b). David wasn’t literally asking God to blot out his sin. Verse two continues, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (51:2). David isn’t requesting God to come down and literally “wash me.” Verse seven states: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (51:7). In biblical times “hyssop” was used for cleanings and purifications. God didn’t literally use hyssop on David and he didn’t turn “whiter than snow.” You surely get the point; this chapter is overlaid with rich poetry.
In light of heavy poetry, verse five isn’t literally teaching that sin begins at conception without confirmation from additional passages. Any interpretation that doesn’t consider genres of grammar for the establishment of church doctrine should be discarded.
In Psalm 58:3, David wrote, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” According to this verse, babies speak lies the moment they exit their mother’s womb. Calvinist’s wouldn’t take this verse literally but have no problem taking David’s poetry literally about being conceived in sin. The Psalm’s contain hundreds of verses where poetry is used. It’s theologically dangerous to take the poetical expression of Psalm 51:5 literally when there isn’t support for this doctrine (sinful at conception) in the entire Bible.
For the sake of argument, if we are sinners in the womb before we commit our first sin (Reformed view), it still doesn’t teach the unsaved are incapable of responding to the grace of God unless assumptions are added.
Another problem with “original sin” is that several passages establish our guilt based on sins committed after we are born. The context leading up to Psalm 5:5 establishes this very thing. David said, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4).
There exists a more biblical explanation of why we sin. We are sinners because we sin (Romans 3:23; 6:23), not because we were born guilty without ever sinning. The reason we are sinners is that we are born with a sin nature (world dominated by sin) that is contrary to God. “For all have sinned [not born sinners] and fall short [because of our sins committed] of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “But your iniquities [not your guilt acquired at birth] have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins [again] have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men [why:] because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).
The Calvinistic interpretation for Psalm 51:5 (sin acquired at conception) is a theological necessary. This interpretation was not taught before Augustine (to my knowledge). I’m unaware of any other passage in the Bible that supports this doctrine.
Finally, the context surrounding Psalm 51:5 is David’s confession for the sin of adultery —not concerning a new teaching (guilty at conception).
Here is another proof text for the doctrine of total depravity:
“You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened. For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a rebel” (Isaiah 48:8).
In Isaiah 48:1-7, God speaks to the house of Jacob. He confronts them for their oaths, which they don’t keep, their stubbornness, and idol worship, etc. In verse 8, God describes the house of Judah as a “rebel” before (some translations after) being born. There is absolutely nothing in this passage that comes close to the level of proof required for the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity. Of course if assumptions are added, the Bible can “walk across a table” and prove about anything.
Here is another proof text:
“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Romans 5:12-18).
In this account from Paul, the consequences of Adam’s sin are stated (“condemnation for all men“). Once again, the level of depravity required for total depravity (sinners unable to respond to God’s grace to be saved) is not found unless we bring learned theology to the text.
Another proof text provided:
“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:9-12).
Non-contextual snips from the passage above are frequently used as for proof of total depravity. The phrases used may be, “none is righteous“, “no one understands“, and “no one seeks for God,” etc.
The Bible contains different styles of language called genre. One style used often by Jesus is called hyperbole. Hyperbole involves exaggeration to make a point. Jesus declared that we couldn’t be His disciples unless we actively hate our parents (Luke 14:26). Jesus exaggerated to emphasize the cost of following Him is great.
In most (if not all) languages, exaggerations (to make a point) are used daily, without much thought. For example, someone who loves pizza might say they can smell it a mile away. Of course they don’t mean this to be taken literally!
In Romans 3:9 above, Paul made the point that Jews and Gentiles “are under sin“. To cement this case he follows with seven verses containing hyperbole.
Paul wrote, “None is righteous, no, not one” (vs. 10b). If we take this literal without considering hyperbole (the Calvinist view), we have BIG problems; because Paul and his recipients were “righteous”! Further, the book of Romans has been called “the righteousness of God.” Furthermore, Paul spoke of the righteousness available from Christ in the same chapter (v. 21)! If we zoom out, we can see that thousands of sinners became “righteous” at Pentecost.
One indicator that hyperbole is being used is when exaggerations taken literally would make something untrue. Verses 10-17 include exaggerated untruths (hyperbole from the Old Testament) to make Paul’s point. Here is the passage again with exaggerations highlighted:
10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one [not true]; no one understands [not true]; no one seeks for God [not true]. All have turned aside [not true]; together they [all] have become worthless [not true]; no one does good [not true], not even one [not true]. “Their throat is an open grave [not true for all]; they use their tongues to deceive [not true for all].” “The venom of asps is under their lips [not true for all].” Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness [not true for all].” Their feet are swift to shed blood [not true for all]; in their paths are ruin and misery [not true for all], and the way of peace they have not known [not true for all]. There is no fear of God before their eyes [not true for all].”
Calvinists take this passage literal for the sake of their theology while they would surely admit (if pressed) that the literal definition was not Paul’s intent. Paul painted broad strokes of general truths —not universal absolutes, applicable to every human being.
In biblical interpretation we can’t take verses literally or figuratively based on theology necessity without toxic effects. This is a double standard. Rules of interpretation should be applied consistently in Scripture and not changed midstream for a theological necessity.
The Bible contains beautiful interwoven consistency when interpreted from Genesis to Revelation without a man-made theology like Calvinism, Dispensationalism, Free Grace Theology, or any other theological arrangement. God commanded Noah to preach before the universal flood because God is “not wishing that ANY should perish, but that all [contrary to Calvinism] should reach repentance” (2 Peter 2:9)
Here is another verse offered as proof that the dead unsaved cannot believe:
“Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34).
With Calvinistic colored glasses, the verse above means that slaves of sin = inability to respond to God’s grace. Once again to arrive at this interpretation requires reading into the text —not drawing out the meaning as intended by its author. If Calvinists were consistent, they would have to agree we could be slaves of sin after we were saved (Romans 6:16).
Another proof text:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44).
This verse doesn’t even come close to teaching total depravity and it will be covered in another chapter.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25).
This passage, like others, doesn’t teach total depravity without introducing suppositions.
““I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
Once again, no admissible evidence is present. Why would God “search“, and “test” man who is unable to even believe the gospel?
For Calvinism, Chapter Three
Chapter Three: Loved Before Time (Election)
After failing to establish total depravity, Horton moves on to unconditional election. He writes, “It is impossible to read the Bible without recognizing God’s freedom to choose some and not others — and the fact that he does in fact exercise that right” (location 796).
Horton called “impossible” that anyone would disagree on the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. So why did he write this book? He needs to come down to earth.
Romans 8:28-29 is a problem passage for both the doctrine of unconditional election and eternal security. Here is the passage:
“And we know that for those who love [active verb; love right now] God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).
The golden chain begins in verse 28 with “love.” It’s a present tense participle verb. What this means in everyday language is that these people “love” God in the present. It doesn’t describe those who don’t love God anymore. The chain links that follow (“foreknew“, “predestined“, “called“, “justified” and “glorified“) are only true if the first link in the chain (“love“) is active.
Horton apparently has a problem with the first link (“love“) being conditional in nature. He writes his own extra-biblical qualification: “if any of these links depend ultimately on us, the whole chain could fall apart” (location 1673).
The inspired order of the links is not coincidental. It begins with a present tense love. Next comes, “foreknew.” So those who love God right now were “foreknew” in the past. Next, comes “predestined.” So those who love God today were “foreknew” in the past and were “predestined” by God. And finally, those who love God today, were “foreknew“, were “predestined“, “called“, “justified” and “glorified.“
Based on the context of verse 28, foreknowledge logically precedes predestination. Both the context and the inspired order should dismiss the teaching that God in eternity past unconditionally elected individuals, independent of their actions. God’s selection (“predestined”) is consistent with His omnipotent character (“foreknew”).
The importance of context is paramount for doctrinal truth. The Bible is properly interpreted when the author’s intent and the recipients understanding is the objective (not pillars of a man-made theological system). In context, (again) the chain links that follow “love” are only true when love is active.
Paul’s choice of verbs and tenses are inspired by God and unchangeable. It’s significant that the verb “love” is not in the past tense. Many wrongly teach that those who loved God in the past are guaranteed a future justification and glorification, even if they go on to “shipwreck” their faith. This false teaching ignores the most fundament rules of biblical interpretation that consider context, grammar, and the author’s intent.
So what evidence does Horton submit as proof that election is unconditional? One tactic is to overlook the requirement to believe in Christ, which is conditional. A consistent diet of Calvinism ignores free will choices while highlighting God’s sovereignty. This diet is unbalanced.
Many Calvinists claim that the unsaved have a free will while at the same time denying its reality. Horton writes, “There is no sovereign necessity imposed by God that makes it impossible for a person to believe in Christ. It is not because they are bound by God’s sovereignty to reject Christ, but because they—like all of us — are bound by sin in their intellect, will, and emotions” (location 1136).
There is zero evidence biblically that man’s sin equals no free will. Jesus said, “Come to me, all [open ended] who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
He writes, “No one can deny that God set his favor on the descendants of Abraham and that this sovereign choice distinguished the Jews from every other people” (location 795).
There are two ditches to avoid —the sovereignty of God only ditch, and the free will of man only ditch. A balanced, middle of the road view acknowledges that God remains sovereign while man has a free will.
While Horton is correct that God chose the Jews to be His own people, the Jews were not God’s chosen solely based on birth. Further, each Jew and Gentile needed to exercise free will in Jehovah God to be saved. Joshua stated to the Jews, “...choose this day whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15b).
Salvation was not just for the Jews in the Old Testament. There are several examples of non-Jews who came to believe in the Messiah. Matthew who penned the bloodline of Joseph includes several Gentile women. Thousand of non-ethnics Gentiles joined the Jewish bloodline and left Egypt (Exodus 12:38, 48-51). Horton’s argument based on ethnic Israel as God’s exclusive people is a half-truth. There is no justification from Scripture that some Jews and most Gentiles in the Old Testament were born unable to believe on Jehovah for salvation (Calvinist view).
Paul stated, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Romans 2:28-29).
It’s amazing how much Calvinists traffic in Romans 9 to build their theology. There is no other chapter in the entire Bible that Calvinist draw more from (in my opinion) to legitimize their one-sided view of God. They find meaning in a chapter that no one found prior to Augustine (to my knowledge). Truth be told, Romans 9 only has meaning consistent with the entire Bible. Horton referenced Romans 9 at least 26 times —far more than any other chapter in the Bible!
Paul’s teaching in Romans 9, and Calvinist interpretation of it, merit an answer. Because an exegetical explanation (with Old Testament background) would be lengthy and go beyond the scope of this review, a shorter explanation is provided.
The answer must consider the Scripture as a whole. A valid interpretation of Romans 9 needs to harmonize the melody of the entire canon. Because of space considerations, here is part of the passage:
“For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:9-16).
Horton writes, “As Paul reminds us in his defense of God’s sovereign mercy in Romans 9, God has always exercised his freedom even within the covenant family. He chose Isaac and rejected Ishmael, and then Jacob rather than Esau” (location 817).
Horton sees God’s sovereignty in Romans 9 but doesn’t see man’s free will. Both sides deserve consideration for a balanced, objective interpretation. The passage above doesn’t say that sinners are saved apart from free will choices. While Horton is correct that “Paul reminds us in his defense of God’s sovereign mercy in Romans 9,” we should also consider that God issues a call to sinners that they accept or reject. In Romans 9:11, Paul writes, “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls.”
Salvation has always been by faith. Our actions both “good” and “bad” don’t save us. Verse 11 (above) referenced God “who calls.” Salvation is conditional on responding to God’s call. According to Matthew 22:14, not all who are called respond to the offer of salvation (“For many are called, but few are chosen“). Summary: “God’s purpose of election” isn’t “because of works but because of him who calls.”
Paul explains why most Jews weren’t saved and didn’t fault God for not electing them (Calvinist view). Paul writes, “but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone” (Romans 9:31-32). Most Jews were unsaved because they pursued salvation by works.
Paul further clarified that God wasn’t unjust for Jews being unsaved. He writes, “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (9:14:16).
Please observe the two outcomes. Group “A” attempted to attain salvation based “on human will or exertion” (works; “my way”, etc.). Group “B” obtains salvation by accepting the grace offered by God’s Son (“compassion“). Group “A” is proud (“human will“) while group “B” humbled themselves before a Holy God “who has mercy.“
After quoting 9:10-13, Horton states, “This provokes the charge of injustice [the Calvinist view that some were elected, while most were not, thereby being dammed for eternity], but Paul reminds us that mercy is something that God shows to those who are at fault. By definition, no one deserves it” (location 825).
First, Paul is not writing the Calvinist view that is read into Scripture under the lens of Calvinism. Secondly, Horton tries to defend the unjust God view (Calvinism) by reminding that sinners deserve God’s judgment. While Horton is correct that sinners are deserving of death, they can escape this judgment by accepting God’s gracious offer of salvation (John 3:16). The unjust God view of Calvinism is just that. It perverts God’s holy character and falsely teaches that the unregenerate are incapable of responding to the grace of God.
Further evidence that the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 is in error comes from the Old Testament background. Paul, a Jew, wrote primarily to Jews in chapters 9-11. Christian Jews (in Paul’s day) surely understood Romans 9 in light of its Old Testament background.
He writes, “The other side of election is reprobation: God’s decision not to save some. In passages already cited, especially Romans 9, God is said to be free to choose and to reject, to save and to harden, ‘to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use (Rom. 9:21)” (location 848).
The Calvinist doctrine of reprobation paints God as an evil monster. Horton uses Romans 9:21 as justification. In this verse, Paul references two Old Testament passages. Jeremiah 18 states:
“So I [Jeremiah] went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. . . . Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds” (Jeremiah 18:3-8, 11).
The potter delights in producing good vessels (people) that are righteous (vs. 4). God desires to produce godly vessels (vs. 6). God will withhold destruction of a nation if they chose to repent (vs. 7-8). God wants to save Israel of imminent disaster, if they repent (vs. 11).
From our quick overview of this narrative, it should be evident that God’s judgment (“destruction“) depends on people’s free will decisions —not on reprobation in eternity past to hell. In fact, their salvation depends on their willingness to trust in Jehovah God, which results in turning from wickedness to righteousness. This passage opposes the Calvinistic interpretation of Romans 9:21.
Horton writes, “It is impossible to believe that God chose us based on foreseen faith and obedience if no one is in fact morally able to trust and obey” (location 838).
The quote above is one of potentially hundreds, throughout the book without any conclusive Biblical proof. The teaching that spiritually dead sinners are unable to respond to God’s grace is false with huge ramifications.
He writes, “As it is, God’s election saves not only a remnant of Jews but a remnant of Gentiles as well from all the nations —people who would never have chosen him (vv. 24-29)” (location 825).
How can Horton make such a declaration? These people DID respond to God’s grace and mercy and chose Him. His thesis once again is not supported by a contextual, grammatical interpretation of Scripture. No one has become a Calvinist by reading only a Bible. It took hundreds of years of refinement to create this man-made theology, which subsequently becomes a learned theology.
He writes, “Election reminds us that God is always on the giving end and sinners are always on the receiving end of grace” (location 835).
The Calvinist God passed over most sinners, thereby sealing their eternal destiny. Truth be told, the Calvinist God is NOT “always on the giving end.“
The Calvinist’s God predetermines every detail in advance to be sovereign; even the fall in the garden. This means that human beings don’t make true, free will choices. If they did, God would not be sovereign (Calvinist view). In the book called The Sovereignty of God, Arthur Pink writes, “To argue that man is a free moral agent and the determiner of his own destiny, and that therefore he has the power to checkmate his maker, is to strip God of the attribute of omnipotence” (location 258). Did Pink believe in a two foot God? Because, if sinners had a free will, they would “checkmate” Him.
The GOD of the Bible is AWESOME, OMNIPOTENCE, OMNIPRESENCE, OMNISCIENCE and without sin! Any limitation imposed on His greatness (such as found in Calvinism) is to diminish His character.
Horton believed that if salvation was conditional, God would not be sovereign and salvation would be of man; he writes, “In short, with conditional election you get foreknowledge without purpose: [no sovereignty] salvation is finally of us, not of the Lord” (location 910).
Horton continues weakening God’s character, he writes, “Mere foreknowledge without foreordination means that God does not have any larger purpose, that every natural disaster or human aggression is meaningless or random” (location 901). What Horton is saying is that the God of the Calvinist making can only have control by determination. He is powerless if people make their own decisions.
Horton asks if the Calvinist version of election is fair. He appeals to two parables that are not about election (uncontextually) for support (Matthew 20:1-16 22:1-14). It’s apparently okay to hijack a passage out of context to help prop up the Calvinist system.
He writes, “In 2 Timothy 1:9, Paul makes God’s purpose, not our decisions or effort, our source of election” (location 966). But verse 9 is part of one long sentence that ends in verse 12; in verse 12 Paul is clear that he “believed” to be saved. Calvinist’s love to champion an unconditional election apart from “our decisions or effort, [is] our source of election.” There are over 100 verses in Scripture, which clearly indicate that salvation is conditional on man’s belief. A denial of man’s responsibility is an attack on God who created a salvation that is conditional, and yet God remains sovereign.
A fundament flaw of Reformed Theology (of many) is the problem of God and sin, and the double talk required for separation. Sometimes Horton emphasizes the holy, sinless character of God. At other times, he hints that God decrees or at least approves of sin. God is not light and darkness, Holy and yet the author of sin. This is illogical and impossible.
For Acts 4:27-28, Horton writes, “Once more, this passage does not tell us how God can decree their sin while holding them responsible; it simply states that this is the case” (location 1000). To Horton’s credit, he admits a problem that many Calvinist deny exists —that God decrees sin.
An examination of Acts 4:27-28 doesn’t even hint of God’s involvement with sin —unless one wears Calvinist glasses. Because God’s plan (v. 28) involved people who had a free will (Arminian view), this passage doesn’t smudge the Holy character of God.
As further evidence of how Calvinism makes God sinful, he writes, “All Calvinist’s agree that the fall was included in God’s plan, that this decree in relation to the fall was permissive rather than active, and that reprobation (the rejection of the non-elect) was not capricious or arbitrary but took account of sin” (location 853).
After Horton credits God for the fall in the garden (decree), he attempts to justify God’s sinful plan by claiming it was permissive. God’s decrees are not permissive. The very word decree means an order given. A decree that involves sin is an order; this taints God with sin. Any decree that God orders will come to pass, period. Naming it “permissive” when it’s a decree doesn’t get God off the hook. Light and darkness are not two of the same. This is irrational, illogical and “double talk.”
We as non-Calvinists don’t believe that God decreed (ordered) the fall in the garden. God gave Adam and Eve a free will. Even though God knew in advance what would happen, He did not decree it.
For Calvinism, Chapter Four
Chapter Four: Mission Accomplished (Atonement)
He provides three possible outcomes for Christ’s death: universal salvation, Christ’s death made it possible for every person to be saved (Arminian view), and Christ died for the elect (Calvinist view), (locations 1507, 1518, 1538).
It appears that Horton purposefully presented the Arminian position deficiently to elevate the Calvinist view. He built a hypothetical outcome of Christ’s death that few of us would accept. For example, he writes, “It is generally recognized by Arminian Theologians that if Christ actually accomplished the salvation of sinners at the cross (beyond making their salvation possible), then all for whom Christ died are actually saved” (location 1528). The majority of non-Calvinist Christians don’t believe in universalism. This makes his hypothetical thesis a mute point outside of reality.
The third possible outcome of Christ’s death is the Calvinist view. He writes, “...Christ’s death is of ‘infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world,’ although Christ objectively and effectively bore the sins of the elect alone” (location 1537).
What we have is more conflicting, double talk. If the sacrifice of Christ was of “infinite worth and value” for “the whole world“, then He did not “objectively and effectively bore the sins of the elect alone“.
Horton goes on to build his case for the Calvinist position that “Christ redeemed all of the elect.” The only authority for faith and practice is God’s Word. For example, he writes, “Scripture nowhere teaches that Christ came into the world to make salvation possible, much less that it becomes actual because of faith in Christ” (location 1547).
Biblical declarations should take precedence over speculations (“Scripture nowhere teaches…”). The Bible doesn’t state many things explicitly, to include that Christ ONLY died for the elect (Calvinist view), and that our election is unconditional (Calvinist view), etc.
Secondly, the Scripture disagrees with Horton’s notion that Christ didn’t come “into the world to make salvation possible” (location 1547). God’s Word states, “But when the fullness of time had come, God SENT forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, TO REDDEM those who were under the law, so that we MIGHT [a possibility] receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
Horton continues, “… much less that it becomes actual because of faith in Christ” (location 1547). But salvation becomes actual by faith in Christ. Consider two verses that describe why Christ came and the necessity to believe in Him: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:17-18).
The following verses cover the extent of the atonement:
CHRIST DIED FOR MANY
“For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
“Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).
DIED FOR ALL
“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
“They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).
“For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).
“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).
It would be contradictory if Jesus only died for the elect according to the verses provided. In contrast, it’s NOT a contradiction that Jesus died for “many“, “church of God“, and “church“. Why? Because these descriptions are included in “world“, and “all people.“
Horton makes the point again that if Christ died for everyone, then everyone is saved (location 1528). This is because Jesus would have fully paid for every sin including unbelief. So everyone is saved (universal salvation) or, Jesus only died for the elect (Calvinist view). Can you spot at least two problems with this argument?
First, this is a man-made argument —not supported by explicit, contextual utterances from Scripture. Secondly, Jesus did die for everyone. Application of Christ’s redemptive work is applied the moment a sinner trusts in Christ by faith. There are many, many passages that teach that salvation is realized when one believes.
“The ‘once and for all’ accomplishment for Christ in his saving work on the cross leaves nothing for sinners to complete by their actions, whether their decisions or effort” (location 1557). More untruth. Believing in Christ is an action. Jesus called ongoing belief a work (John 6:27-29). Repenting is internal and should result in outward actions. Baptism is commanded in the Great Commission and the book of Acts. Endurance in the faith is an action (Hebrews 3).
He writes, “Scripture also teaches that the Spirit effectually calls the elect and unites them to Christ. Although they do indeed believe in Christ, it is because of God’s sovereign grace rather than their own free will: the Spirit brings the elect to Christ, giving them faith (John 1:12–13; 6:44; 15:16; Rom. 8:30; 9:6–24; Eph. 2:8; 2 Thess. 2:13)” (location 1582). These verses don’t support this opinion without suppositions. Just because biblical references follow an opinion, doesn’t make it true.
Theological error continues, “However, if one person for whom Christ died is lost — even potentially or hypothetically, then his death did not actually save anyone” (location 1605). Extra biblical theology for doctrinal support whether “potentially or hypothetically” should be avoided. The Bible “plus” —can make the Bible validate about any argument one wants.
“If Christ’s sin-bearing does not actually bear away God’s wrath for every person for whom he died, then, as Herman Bavinck concludes, ‘The center of gravity has been shifted from Christ and located in the Christian.’ Instead of Christ’s objective work, ‘faith is the true reconciliation with God‘” (location 1615).
To the author’s credit, he frequently acknowledges (indirectly) that God’s Word is not his authority. Hopefully those who read his book will see this serious error.
For Calvinism, Chapter Five
Chapter Five: Called and Kept (Effectual Calling and Perseverance)
He writes, “Those who do come to trust in Christ are represented as “dead in sins” (Eph. 2:1–5), unable to respond until God graciously grants them the gift of faith to freely embrace what they would otherwise reject (Isa. 65:1; John 1:13; 3:7; 6:44; Acts 13:48; 16:14; 18:10; Rom. 9:15–16; 1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:1–5; 2 Tim. 1:9–10; 2:10, 19)” (location 1803). None of the verses provided teach Horton’s view that God must grant certain individuals the gift of faith to be saved. The unsaved have faith in themselves, their interests, family, etc. But the object of their faith is not Jesus Christ.
Horton seems to believe (in my opinion) that the unsaved are hell-bound because God is withholding the gift of faith from them. This describes the cold-hearted God of five point Calvinism. In Romans, Paul wrote why most of Israel remained unsaved, and it wasn’t because God withheld the gift of faith: “Why? Because they [Israel] did not pursue it by faith [implies they could have], but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone” (Romans 9:32).
Jesus believed that salvation is open ended; not a lucky few:
“Yet you REFUSE to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:40).
In the next chapter, Paul offers further evidence that faith was not being withheld by God to keep the unsaved in darkness. He writes, “SO FAITH COMES FROM HEARING, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Calvinists teach that every person who enters the family of God is guaranteed to persevere. This false doctrine needs lots of help. He writes, “…but our walking in good works is predestined by God (Eph. 2:10)” (location 2038). Horton posts a reference that doesn’t teach that perseverance is guaranteed. The verse states: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should [not will] walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Once more, he writes what the Scripture doesn’t state: “The vine that has been chosen and grafted onto Christ cannot fail to bear fruit that will last (John 15:16)” (location 2047). Here is this verse to the contrary: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should [not will] go and bear fruit and that your fruit should [not will] abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (John 15:16).
Earlier in John 15:2, the Apostle John is emphatic that those “in Christ” who don’t bear fruit are trimmed off: “Every branch IN ME that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).
He continues, “Of course, left to ourselves, we not only could but would fall from grace, but God “is able to keep you from stumbling” (Jude 24)” (location 2056). God is able to keep us. But we also have a responsibility to abide in Christ. A few verses prior in Jude he wrote: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep [Greek imperative; a command] yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 20-21).
“…Paul can speak of Gentiles as wild branches grafted onto the living vine of Israel, which may also be broken off if they do not yield the fruit of faith (Rom. 11:16–24). Thus, there are dead and living branches: those who are related merely outwardly and visibly and those who are united to Christ inwardly and invisibly in the communion of the elect” (location 2066).
Horton continues interpreting Scripture within the bounds allowed by his theology. There is nothing in this passage to suggest that those broken off were never saved. How did they get attached unless they were formerly connected? The context for Romans 11:16-24 is that those broken off were formerly believers. They were removed because of unbelief and the same thing could happen to them. Here are a few verses: “That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen [apostasy], but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue [conditional] in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (Romans11:20-21).
Horton writes, “Yet those who deny Christ to the very end, even though they may perhaps have outwardly been members of the visible church, are lost because they were never living members through faith. “They went out from us,” says John concerning those who deny Christ, “but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (location 2079).
This is the verse that he weaved into his argument:
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
I’m amazed how often well intending Calvinists quote 1 John 2:19 to teach that the unsaved will depart from us. But is this really what John is saying? If John is introducing a new doctrine for the church, we would have confirmation from other passages. We would all have to stay in the same church our entire lives to be saved. Of course John is not teaching this here, as this was a special situation that happened and we don’t have the details. So if John is not teaching that all who depart our church were unsaved, then why is it okay to assign this meaning for the sake of theology?
Further, if the unsaved depart our presence according to this verse, how do we understand the parable of the wheat and tares where unbelievers are with us until the final judgment (Matthew 13:24)?
For Hebrews 6:4-6, Horton correctly observes how the context is about “falling away” (location 2088). But he believes they are unsaved pretenders, who “belong only outwardly to the covenant community” (location 2088). He calls these phony believers “apostates”. Horton is mistaken in his definition of apostate. Without getting into Greek Lexicons —the definition usually involves “a departure”. It’s not possible to depart from Christ unless one was there already. The ESV calls this action a “falling away.” This describes leaving a previous location.
Further, the context describes believers: “once been enlighten” [but no longer], “tasted the heavenly gift” [but no longer], “shared in the Holy Spirit” [but no longer], and “tasted goodness of the Word of God [no longer]. There is no Biblical base here to support unbelievers. The Holy Spirit of God ONLY indwells believers (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; Ezekiel 36:27; Romans 8:11, etc.).
He goes on to claim that “by returning to the shadows of the laws after Christ has come are basically crucifying once again the Son of Man…” (location 2097). There is no basis for this interpretation based on context and grammar. When the Bible is read under the light of a theological persuasion, the end result is consistent with the standard used to determine the outcome. The author of Hebrews declared with clarity that the account was regarding salvation: “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things THAT BELONG TO SALVATION” (Hebrews 6:9).
Thanks for reading this long review. Keep the faith in Jesus Christ! Your feedback is welcomed.
Copyright © 2016