Why Calvinists Really Believe in Unconditional Election

by J. Matthew Pinson

Often my Calvinist friends say that the reason they are Calvinists is because of total depravity—that the entire Calvinistic system flows from total depravity, because there is no way to rescue people from their total depravity except by complete regeneration prior to faith, which necessitates unconditional election. Many Arminians over the centuries, of course, have bought into this line of reasoning and have jettisoned the doctrine of total depravity.

I contend, though, that it is not really the doctrine of total depravity that causes Calvinists to be Calvinists. To result in the Calvinistic system, Calvinists must add something to total depravity to demand unconditional election. What they add is sovereign and particular grace (“sovereign,” of course, by their definition of it).

Human beings are naturally unable to desire God or salvation; they can do so only through divine grace. On this much Calvinists and Reformed Arminians agree. But Calvinism interprets divine grace in such a way as to necessitate unconditional election: First, for Calvinists, divine grace presupposes a deterministic view of divine sovereignty, and second, God extends this grace only to the particular few because of His good pleasure and His secret will, which He has not revealed.

Therefore, despite the desire of many Calvinists to say that Arminians do not really believe that natural man is unable to desire God on His own, the real difference is that Reformed Arminians believe that God’s grace reaches out to all people, not merely a select few. Furthermore, Arminians believe that God has arranged His universe in such a way that His sovereignty allows for the genuine freedom of His creatures.

Before continuing this discussion of election, it will be helpful to define what theologians typically mean by words like predestination, election, and reprobation. It is helpful to think of election and reprobation as subsets of divine predestination. Predestination is simply God’s predetermination of the destiny of human beings. Election is His gracious choice of people to be His for eternity, while reprobation is His decree that the non-elect will be eternally separated from him. On this Calvinists and Arminians agree. It is the question of how people come to be elect or reprobate that causes the disagreement.

In other words, why does God predestine certain people to be His for eternity (election) and predestine others to be separated from Himself for eternity (reprobation)? This brings us to the “U” in the TULIP: Unconditional Election. Calvinists believe in unconditional election, and Arminians believe in conditional election. According to Calvinists, God predestines people to faith without any conditions. His reasons for choosing these people and passing over others are known only to Him. It is a part of His secret will, as distinguished from His revealed will in Holy Scripture.

Calvinists differ on whether reprobation is conditional or unconditional. Single reprobationists believe that, while God unconditionally chooses His elect for salvation, He conditionally reprobates the rest of humanity on account of their sin. This of course makes little sense to Arminians, who think that, if God’s redemptive decisions are conditional, then His decisions regarding human judgment would be conditional as well, and vice versa. Thus, many Arminians believe that double predestination is the more consistent Calvinist position. This seems to have been the position of John Calvin (though Calvinists disagree on whether his position was single or double predestination).

Calvin wrote, in Book 3, ch. 22 of his Institutes: “Those whom God passes over, he condemns; and this he does for no other reason than that he wills to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines for his own children” [1]. Later he asked, “Whence does it happen that Adam’s fall irremediably involved so many people, together with their infant offspring in eternal death, unless it so pleased God” [2]. Thus, for Calvin, the good pleasure of God, and that alone, is the reason for divine reprobation.

For Arminians, both reprobation and election are conditioned on whether or not, in God’s foreknowledge, one is in union with Christ. If God foreknows one as in union with His Son through faith, then God elects that person to be one of His people for eternity. If God does not so foreknow one, He reprobates that person on the basis of unbelief.

I contend that the reason Calvinists believe in unconditional election is not their view of total depravity. Unconditional election is just one way God could use to save people who are totally depraved. The reason Calvinists resort to the doctrine of unconditional election is their view of God’s sovereignty. Consistent Calvinists would agree with Calvin’s statement that the reason why “Adam’s fall irremediably involved so many people, together with their infant offspring, in eternal death” is simply that “it so pleased God” [3].

Another way of saying this is that this is the best of all possible worlds. In the Arminian view, there are contingencies in the universe. In other words, because God gives human beings the gift of freedom, events can transpire in a way God does not want them to transpire. Even our common experiences in the world of seeing people—including Christians—openly disobey God seems to confirm this belief. For the Arminian, something has gone terribly wrong in the world. It is not the best of all possible worlds. But it was the world that God chose to create because He chose to create free, rational creatures—creatures who would not love and serve Him simply because it could not be otherwise.

Classical Calvinists, on the contrary, believe that God foreordained all of reality. For example, Jerome Zanchius stated that “All beings whatever, from the highest angel to the meanest reptile, and from the meanest reptile to the minutest atom, are the objects of God’s eternal decrees” [4]. August Toplady said concerning the sparrow that God’s “all-wise providence hath before appointed what bough it shall pitch on, what grains it shall pick up, where it shall lodge, and where it shall build; on what it shall live, and when it shall die” [5].

God foreordains every detail of reality, according to Classical Calvinism. Things are just as God pleased to foreordain them. The sole actor is God, and to say that human beings can freely choose a course of action, and could have chosen an alternate course of action, is to make man the measure of all things and to detract from God as sole actor in the universe.

This, not total depravity, is the reason unconditional election is necessary in the Calvinistic system. It is what led Herman Bavinck to say, “The final answer to the question why a thing is and why it is as it must ever remain, is ‘God willed it,’ according to his absolute sovereignty” [6]. If this approach to divine sovereignty were true, then A. A. Hodge’s statement would naturally follow: “A conditional decree would subvert the sovereignty of God and make him . . . dependent upon the uncontrollable actions of his own creatures” [7] (emphasis added). That, not total depravity, is the reason Calvinism necessitates the doctrine of unconditional election.



[1] Book 3, ch. 22 of his Institutes, 947.

[2] 955

[3] Institutes, 3.23.7.

[4] The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted (New York: George Lindsay, 1811), 114.

[5] The Works of Augustus Toplady (London: J. J. Chidley, 1841), 664.

[6] The Doctrine of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, repr. 1977), 371.

[7] Outlines of Theology (London: Thomas Nelson, 1863), 172.

“Strange Fire” by John MacArthur: A Book Review

by Randy Corn

 John MacArthur is a pastor, a nationally-syndicated radio speaker, and educator. However, he may well leave his most lasting mark as a writer.  Many have benefited from his New Testament commentary series, and have also been instructed by his books on many contemporary issues of concern to evangelicals, like the Lordship-Salvation debate. His willingness to engage issues debated by the church had led the California pastor to write Charismatic Chaos in 1992, a book which dealt with what he then saw as the essential differences between Charismatics and non-charismatic evangelicals. In Strange Fire (Thomas Nelson, 2013) he revisits the subject, showing some of how the intervening history has allowed a further deviation from biblical worship.

The subtitle of this book is “the danger of offending the Holy Spirit with counterfeit worship.” This theme is developed across twelve chapters which are evenly divided into three parts: Part 1 – Confronting a Counterfeit Revival; Part 2 – Exposing the Counterfeit Gifts; and finally, Part 3 – Rediscovering the Spirit’s True Work.

As one might expect, MacArthur begins with the story of Nadab and Abihu and the “strange fire” they offered in an act of worship at the tabernacle in Leviticus 10. In commenting on this incident he writes, “The crux of their sin was approaching God in a careless, self-willed, inappropriate manner, without the reverence He deserved.”[1]  It is the author’s contention those who believe the “sign gifts” of the New Testament are still active today have actually done with such gifts. Never one to mince words, MacArthur says of this movement, “It has warped genuine worship through unbridled emotionalism, polluted prayer with private gibberish, contaminated true spirituality with unbiblical mysticism, and corrupted faith by turning it into a creative force for speaking worldly desires into existence.”[2]

When I picked this book up, I thought it might be an attack on the extremes of the Charismatic movement, but it is much broader than that. Essentially MacArthur lumps together all the Pentecostals, neo-Pentecostals, and charismatics.  This broad-brush approach had me a bit concerned at times.  It just seems too harsh to class the sincere and godly men I have known in the Assemblies of God with Joel Osteen. I know that many of my friends in the Pentecostal church are far more biblical than that. I suppose MacArthur would say they aren’t biblical enough.

That objection being stated, I have to say it was interesting to read about both the history and the extremes of this movement.  It is alarming, but at the same time I do think it creating a distance between biblical Christianity and whatever it is that the Charismatics are producing. I have to think that sooner or later their brand of religion will collapse. Of course, I wonder if evangelicals were saying that about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints when they were becoming well-established in Utah and evangelical leaders realized that it would not simply go away. Even so, it is important to be aware of what is going on in the name of God.  Some of it clearly is “strange fire.”

This is the kind of book that a lot of people will be talking about. Some will read it for that reason, but it should also be read because it is presenting some important information and adds to ones comprehension of the ecclesiastical terrain.


[1] John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 1 (ebook edition).

[2] Ibid., 2.

Emotions in Worship: Part 3

by Kevin Hester

How Then Should We Emote?

In part one of this discussion we learned that emotions are part of God’s creative purposes in human nature. If God created emotions they must be good. There is no room for an absolute stoicism – in life, or in worship. But the Fall has corrupted our emotions just as it has corrupted our minds. Controlling our emotions is not about suppressing them. Instead it involves a conscious weighing of why and how we are feeling what it is that we are feeling.

In part two we looked at what it means to consciously weigh and express our emotions in corporate worship. We noted that our worship was commanded by God and that we should actively engage worship with all our being. Our worship glorifies God, but it also encourages and edifies believers and convicts the unrepentant of sin. However, true worship is the worship that God has commanded conducted in a way that is pleasing to God.

With this in mind we pointed out four Biblical principles concerning emotion in worship. These principles were: 1) we are called to worship God with all our heart, mind, and soul; 2) all things must be done decently and in order; 3) Christian liberty is active in worship; and, 4) the intentional manipulation of emotion in worship does damage to the Gospel.

Today, I would like to reflect further on these principles and the way that they can or should be applied in corporate worship. The most effective way to do this is by examining several common misconceptions about emotions in worship. My prayer through this discussion is that we can find balance in our emotions and balance in our worship.

Common Misconceptions on Emotions in Worship.

  1. If you feel anything in worship it is fleshly and of the devil. If you feel something in worship it is indeed fleshly but as we have pointed out we are called to use all aspects of our nature in the worship of God. Emotions are not of the devil. God made them. That is not to say that they can not be used inappropriately. We have seen that they can. Yet, inasmuch as our emotions are authentic, directed toward God, and manifested in congruence with the regulative principle God is honored by them.
  2. If I don’t walk away from worship feeling good I haven’t worshiped. This concept is wrong on two counts. First, it demonstrates a level of individualism that is inconsistent with corporate worship. Worship is our service to God, not his service to us. Any benefit we receive from worship is a by-product and not the end goal. Second, whether I walk away from worship feeling good misses the point. Authentic, active, emotional worship only means that I will leave a worship service feeling. There are many appropriate emotions for worship. Joy is certainly one, but there are many others: reverence in the presence of our Creator and Redeemer; sorrow for our sin and fear of our Judge; love, for God and for one another; peace in our reconciliation and the anticipation of God’s promises fulfilled. I could go on, but hopefully you get the point. Engaging our emotions in worship means feeling, not necessarily feeling good.
  3. The display of emotion in worship is most appropriate while singing. There is something about music that speaks to us on a visceral level and has the capacity for drawing forth a deep emotional response. Our emotions, together with our mind and our wills ought to be engaged in our singing but it sometimes seems as if there is a switch that many people turn off as the pastor stands to preach, as people pray, and as the offering plate is passed. We are called to fully engage all aspects of our being in all parts of the divinely-instituted worship service. Emotions are not just appropriate in singing. After all, Scripture speaks of “cheerful giving,” of crying out with our emotions in prayer, and directs us with thanksgiving to make our requests before God. The Bible is also replete with emotional responses to hearing the Word of God including: fear, joy, and thanksgiving.
  4. Emotions are just about feelings I get and not what I do. Emotions are expressions of our heart but mere emotion without will and action is simply tinkling brass or a clanging gong. Notice James’ instruction on worship at the close of his book. He asks, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone among you cheerful? Let him sing praise” (5:13). Notice that James equates feeling with doing. Both he and Paul point out that our emotions should motivate us to action in worshiping and praising God. I would also draw your attention to the fact that the actions being discussed here are, as all legitimate worship, directed toward God. These acts of emotional worship are not for the self but for God and in their viewing for the edification of all the believers. There is no room for individualism in corporate worship.
  5. All emotional expression of worship across the world will be homogenous. Emotions are similarly felt by all people but emotional expression is often culturally driven. While the regulative principle outlines the content and context of our worship with norms that are universal we must realize that the application of these principles may sometimes have a different tone or feel. All Christian worship services should have the same elements but the expression of these elements may differ. The principle that is binding here as it relates to emotional expression is that all cultures must honor God in a way that is decent, orderly, and peaceful. If an unbeliever from that culture were to happen upon the service, he or she should find nothing there that would seem out of place or irreverent. No emotional expression that draws the focus of our worship away from God or his message of redemption is ever appropriate.
  6. If that person were really worshiping he would be crying, shouting, smiling, raising his hands just like me. Although all persons have the same emotions not all people experience and display emotions in the same way. Some of this is associated with our culture and some with our upbringing. Some emotions are difficult to detect. Our role in worship is to actively engage and not to judge others for appearances that may or may not be indicative of his or her heart. Again, we must not bind the consciences of others by our own perceptions and experiences. In many ways this is the other side of the coin to the first misconception we looked at. Both reveal a judgmental character that defines spirituality externally; by what is, or is not done. Both are condemned by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and the principle of Christian liberty demands us to extend grace and acceptance to all our brothers and sisters in Christ.


In the midst of worship debates that more often resemble a royal rumpus than a theological discussion, I ask that you consider a few clear points. God created us, even our emotions and God created us with no greater purpose than to worship Him. Let us love him and serve him with all our hearts, all our minds, all our souls, all our strength. Stop looking around in worship and start looking to God. It is not about us. It is about Him.

“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5: 17-21)

Emotions in Worship: Part 2

by Kevin Hester

A Biblical and Theological Approach to Emotions in Worship

In the first post of this discussion we learned that God created us with emotions and that these emotions are one of the ways that we image God in the world. God communicates something of His nature to us in every aspect of our being. Thus, emotions are good. However, our emotions, like all other part of our being have been corrupted by the Fall. Because of this, Christians wrestle with emotions and must constantly weigh how, and in what way, they are conveyed. Nowhere is this more evident than in worship.

Emotional Beings in Worship

a. Created to worship. Not only were we created as emotional beings, but we were created for worship. The Westminster Shorter Catechism answers the question “What is the chief end of man?” with the dictum “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” But in order for us to understand how to best employ our emotions in worship we must first understand worship.

b. The meaning of worship. There are two biblical words translated as “worship” in most of our English translations. The first of these carries the idea of bowing before God and indicates our recognition of his glory and authority. This tells us that worship is about God and what I bring to him. Our worship must be God-centered. Worship is never about me. Worship is not about how I feel or what I get out of the service, but how I honor God in the service.

The second term is used to indicate the service and ministry that we offer to God. This reminds us that our worship must be active. There are no spectators in worship. Worship is not entertainment, but a spiritual exercise before God.

c. The context of worship. The worship of the covenantal community is commanded by God and is vital for the spiritual health of believers. Hebrews 10: 24-25 is instructive, “and let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

d. The purpose of worship. The primary purpose of worship is to glorify God and to express our love and thanksgiving for his redemption. But this love is also to be extended horizontally as well as vertically. Our corporate worship services allow us to show love to one another and edify and encourage one another in the Christian life. Worship is to honor God, but also to encourage and edify fellow believers. Paul reminds us that when this is done correctly, in the right attitude unbelievers will recognize God in the midst of his people, humble themselves before him, and join us in worship (I Corinthians 14: 24-25).

e. The principle of worship. If the primary purpose of worship is to glorify God, it follows that we glorify him best when we worship him in the way that he has commanded. God is not always pleased with our worship. We read that Cain’s offering was not acceptable to God. Nadab and Abihu were consumed by fire for offering worship to the Lord that he had not commanded. Ananias and Saphira were struck dead because they lied about their offering to the early Church. Paul tells the Corinthians that God was judging their inappropriate celebration of the Lord’s Supper through weakness, sickness, and even death (1 Corinthians 11: 29-30).

God is pleased with our worship when we worship according to His commands. As the Scottish reformer John Knox said, “All worshipping, honoring, or service invented by the brain of man in the religion of God, without His own express commandment, is idolatry.” The Reformed tradition refers to this truth as the regulative principle. Only those things commanded by God in Scripture are appropriate in worship. Our task is to ask the Scriptures what God wants us to do in worship. At the same time Christians must remember that there is room for human thought in determining what pleasing worship is, just so long as that thought is in accordance with God’s Word.

Biblical Principles Concerning Emotions in Worship.

  1. We are called to worship God with all our heart, mind, and soul. The first and most basic principle of worship is that we should do it, and we should engage in worship with all that we are and all that we have. At least four times in scripture we are reminded that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, our mind, and our soul and in each place the directive occurs within the context of worship. We are not simply allowed to engage our emotions in worship we are commanded to do so. Each constituent aspect of our being was designed for and is properly used in the worship of God. To worship God with our mind alone, our emotions alone, or our bodies alone is an abortive act that dishonors the one who so fearfully and wonderfully made us.
  2. All things must be done decently and in order. At the same time, we are not allowed to give our emotions free reign. Paul speaks to a similar situation in 1 Corinthians 14. He reminds us that God is a God of peace and order and our worship services should reflect this. He reminds us that it is only as we worship through our spirits and our minds that we honor God. As we pray, as we sing, as we proclaim God’s Word both our emotions and our minds are to be fully engaged. It is only in this way that the unbeliever will recognize God’s presence and be called to believe and worship with us. To do otherwise is to edify only ourselves which is at worst idolatry and at best a forfeiture of one of the basic principles of corporate worship. In so doing we may endanger not only our spiritual health but our own lives as well (See 1 Corinthians 11:30).
  3. Christian liberty in worship. Another reason we are not allowed unrestricted emotional release is the principle of Christian liberty. Christian liberty is less about what I get to do and more about what I could do but choose not to do because of my love and concern for my brothers and sisters in Christ. To insist upon certain forms of emotional expression in a way that binds the consciences of other believers is to disobey and disregard God’s word. In the Gospel age, God alone has the authority to bind our lives and our worship. This is what is meant by the regulative principle. This and the fact that the purpose of our worship is to honor God and edify our brothers and sisters in Christ is why we should hear the words of the apostle: “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor (1 Corinthians 6:12).
  4. The intentional manipulation of emotion in worship does damage to the Gospel. True worship is authentic worship. Any attempt at manipulation is contrary to Scripture and demeans the Gospel. Paul makes this point in 1 Thessalonians 2 where he reminds the church at Thessalonica that when he presented the Gospel to them he did not make use of deception, flattery, or pretense but out of love he spoke to please God and not man. Whether singing the same lines over and over or building terror in your hearers during the invitation, the artificial manipulation of an individual’s emotions can not be reconciled with Paul’s image of a mother tenderly caring for her child. Such a mother would rather be accused of emotional abuse.


Part III of  “Emotions in Worship” will post tomorrow.

Emotions in Worship: Part 1

by Kevin Hester

A Biblical Perspective on Emotions

Spike Jonez’ film adaptation of Maurice Sandek’s classic children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, is a coming-of-age tale about the power of human emotion and the necessity of these emotions being governed by our intellect, especially in the context of human relationships. Emotions are part of who and what we are. They assist us as we interact with our environment. They help us to analyze situations and to communicate with others. Nevertheless, when our emotions run unchecked they can confuse reality and destroy effective interaction with others.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Christian worship. Christians have long been divided over emotional expression in the worship of God. From the traditionalists to the mystics, from the old lights to the new lights, different Christian cultures have grappled with the emotional nature of humanity. Emotions are powerful things that can drive action and in the end impact our theology. This is why I have chosen to explore this topic for the Commission for Theological Integrity. Over the next few days we will examine it according to Scripture and the Christian tradition. In part one we will look at what the Bible has to say about emotions. In subsequent posts we will study what it means for emotional beings to engage in worship and investigate some common misconceptions about emotional displays in corporate worship.

I admit that I have some trepidation in approaching this topic. I worry that some of you will think I am advocating something I am not or maligning certain “styles” of worship. At the same time I am passionate about applying what Scripture says to all aspects of our human experience, especially our worship. The emotional pull I feel, this conflict of emotions, is part of what it means to be human. Philosophers have known this for a long time.

Plato argued that the immaterial part of the human person can be likened to a chariot pulled by two horses. One horse represents our passions and the other our spirit – both of which speak to various aspects of our emotions. Plato argues that this chariot must be rightly governed by the intellect in order to produce true happiness. To extend his metaphor, our emotions must be tightly controlled but without them we will not get anywhere. Our emotions drive us and encourage us to do what reason says we must do. But philosophy is not the only place that speaks of our emotions. Scripture speaks to them as well

Biblical Principles on Emotions.

We were created as emotional beings. One of the things we learn is that we were created as emotional beings. I hesitate to point this out. It would seem a truism to say that all humans have emotions and that this emotional life is one of God’s creations. However, the stoicism of some would seem to indicate that emotions have more to do with the fall than creation. Nevertheless, we can see even in the beginning of Genesis that emotions were part of God’s creation. Adam’s disappointment with not finding a helpmate among the creatures is almost palpable and we sense his overriding joy when he awakes from his sleep and exclaims, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” It is for this reason that man was to “hold fast” to his wife.

  1. Emotions are good. Human emotions are an aspect of God’s creation. As such, they are good. In fact it was only after the creation of humanity that God looked at all He had made and pronounced it very good. However, even good things can provide an avenue for sin when they run unchecked. The Fall clearly impacts our control and interaction with our emotions for in chapter 4 we read of Cain’s anger at his brother. This is the beginning of Scripture’s discussion of the human need to sort our emotions. Our emotions can be inappropriate as in the case of Cain’s anger but they can also be appropriate as is his sorrow and fear in the face of his judgment. Our task is to reason between the two.
  2. Emotions are revelatory aspects of God and his nature. There has been a great deal of theological discussion whether or not God feels emotively. Early theologians said no arguing that for God to experience emotion would necessarily imply change. For the same reason, they argued that whatever constitutes the image of God in the human person it certainly does not include emotion. But if we stop there we miss something very important. Whether God experiences emotion or not, the Scriptures often choose emotional terminology to reveal aspects of God’s character to us. For example we read in Genesis 6:16 that “the Lord grieved in his heart that he had made man”. In Psalm 2 and Psalm 37 God laughs at the wicked. In Numbers, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah the Lord’s anger burns against his people. The fact that Scripture uses such images to convey truth means that our emotions are an avenue to understanding aspects of God’s character.
  3. Emotions must be controlled. No matter what we say about our emotions it is clear that they must be controlled. Though humans are emotional creatures they are not simply emotional; we also have will, and intellect. All of these aspects must work together appropriately if we are to honor God. The mind, will, and emotions are interdependent on one another. The emotions provide the mind with data for analysis and judgment; the intellect provides the emotions with direction and perspective. Ephesians 4:26 commands us to be angry but cautions us in our anger to avoid sin. The coupling of these two imperatives demonstrates the judgment that our mind and will must continually make in wrestling with our emotions.

(This series of articles has been adapted from a previously published piece in ONE Magazine)

 Part II of “Emotions in Worship” will post tomorrow.

Preserving and Promoting Free Will Baptist Doctrine