I dive back into my look at the TULIP with the doctrine of Irresistible Grace, which corresponds to the fourth letter. As with previous examples, I find the Calvinist position lacking any Scriptural support.
The doctrine of Irresistible Grace is summed up in that grace is offered exclusively to the elect, and as a result, the elect will come when called. The exclusivity is founded on the premise that the elect alone deserves it. While the elect will certainly accept God’s gift of grace, Scripture doesn’t support the proposition that grace is offered exclusively to the elect.
My look at the previous two letters of the TULIP (Unconditional Election and Limited Atonement) led to the conclusion that election and predestination were based on the rubric of primary casualty. Since God knows every act and every potentiality of every person, out of His providence and love He places each individual in their desired positions. It’s important to note that God never wills for the existence of the non-elect nor is it the case that He wishes or creates their rejection. The focal point of predestination is love, both to the elect and non-elect.
With this established, does the doctrine of Irresistible Grace show any veracity? In order to claim the positive, the Calvinist must show how and why an intellectual decision constitutes work, and how receiving it equates with deserving it. The ancients did not see intellectual decisions as work in the traditional sense. This is supported by certain social customs the Calvinist commentator will need to address before offering an answer.
NT professor, David DeSilva, notes in his popular work Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity, that the relationship between God and man described in the NT was viewed as an ancient client-patron relationship. The rich person (God) acted as a patron to the poor (us) through a covenant broker (Jesus). In return for our loyalty and service, the patron would give provision, favour, and care to his client, essentially forming a circle of reciprocity. Grace is responded to with more grace. This is how the NT likens our relationship with God.
This view of grace within the context of client-patron relationships carries a meaning that stands against a Calvinist reading. Grace, in this context, was the desire to offer care and favour to a group of people who needed such treatment. This also carried onto the act of offering the gift, hence the title of grace as God’s free gift. The only requirement for this gift was a need. Entitlement was never a requirement for the initial enactment.
Moreover, after grace is enacted, it must be responded to in like manner. Grace, or more accurately, gratitude, was the expected response of grace given. Favour must be met with favour, and etc. To deny this was to deny God’s grace and sufficiency and to be cut off from God’s favour.
This is the very definition of Biblical faith (pistis), that of loyalty to one who has proven Himself to be loyal. It refers to our trust in one who has shown Himself dependable and to act accordingly as reliable servants.
This brings a whole new light to a common text used to support the Calvinist view, Ephesians 2:8-9,
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Under this light, Ephesians 2:8-9 speaks against the Calvinist position. What is the gift of God? Is it faith, or grace? Calvinist commentators reply that it is both, but there is no support for this if we’re looking at it through the eyes of the Biblical authors. A patron gave his client grace, whilst faith was the client’s expected response. The patron didn’t give his client faith. The Calvinist view is true only if we view faith in ways Paul’s audience would have made absolutely no sense of. Biblical faith is not the belief in something or someone, but trust in someone and loyalty to them (link 1 below).
The same thing applies to other faith texts, such as Philippians 1:29. The faith that is granted is loyalty or trust. It is granted because Christ has shown Himself dependable by opening the door to regeneration through the cross.
In conclusion, there is no Scriptural support for the position that grace is offered exclusively to the elect. Grace is offered because it is needed, and that need constitutes the entirety of humanity. Furthermore, even if grace wasn’t received, the success was found in the very act of offering it, regardless of whether it was received by a client or not. It cannot be argued that God “failed” if one did not choose to receive it. No honour would be lost or taken from, or failure attributed to, the patron, and only the client would be shamed and counted as foolish.
The problem lies in the fact that theologians of the 16th century paid no thought to the cultural contexts behind the Biblical text (this is of no fault of their own, of course, for the tools we possess today weren’t readily available back then). Although they were/are respectable teachers, Calvin, MacArthur, and Arminius didn’t know anything about ancient thought or social customs. This can have the effect of greatly distorting the meaning behind the text. The majority of theology I have learned has come from books by Biblical scholars and professors. By discovering how the Biblical authors lived and thought we can learn so much about the meaning behind their writings. Theology is an important part of Biblical studies, but it must be founded on Scripture, not the other way around.