Among such biblical texts as Romans 8 and 9 and Ephesians 1, Calvinists are convinced that John 6 secures the notion that Jesus taught a Calvinistic soteriology. I am convinced, however, that Calvinists tend to see Calvinism in every text. I know. I used to be one.
My zeal for Calvinism clouded my interpretation of Scripture. Whatever scriptures I encountered which contradicted Calvinism, I had to find a way to make it mean something other than its simplistic meaning. I am not saying that all Calvinists are necessarily guilty of this very thing. But I will admit that I was immersed in the writings of John Calvin, John Piper, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Iain Murray, John Owen, Martin Luther, Loraine Boettner, John Murray, and others, and was raised, spiritually speaking, on a strict Calvinistic hermeneutic of Classical Reformed theology.
When I was eventually convinced that what I was doing was not the appropriate manner in which one should view and interpret Scripture, I abandoned my Calvinistic hermeneutic and replaced it with a more simplistic one ~ one which takes Scripture at face value, interpreting the more difficult-to-understand passages by the simple ones.
Thus when I (and other Arminians) come to the statements made by Jesus in John 6, I do not see Christ telling that group of Jews that His Father had selected to save only some of them. And if Jesus was telling them that, then one wonders why Calvinist preachers do not follow in the Savior’s footsteps and declare the same thing from their pulpits!
Moreover, the reaction from those Jews in John 6 was focused not on Christ’s alleged discourse on individual, unconditional election, but on His claim to have come down to earth from heaven. It seems to me that the former, and not the latter, would have been far more offensive to the Jews (who believed that their relationship with God was in fact due to their union with and standing as an heir of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).
Jesus said, “All whom the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6.37 TNIV, and henceforth). First, notice that Christ began His statement with the collective “all.” He did not say, “The one (singular) whom the Father gives me will come to me.” Christ said that “all” (the whole group collectively) whom the Father gives Him will come to Him.
Second, He stated that that collective group whom the Father gives Him will, literally, “reach” Him. This has an eschatological theme. The focus here is the destiny of those whom the Father gives to His Son ~ they will finally reach Him. And those who do reach Him on that final Day, He will welcome them with open arms. (Thanks to theologian R. C. H. Lenski for that insight into the Greek language.)
Walls and Dongell comments, “Calvinists detect in these words support for the belief that God has already selected those particular individuals he wishes to save. It will be these, and only these, whom God will draw to Jesus for salvation. All others will not be drawn and will therefore have no ability to see who Jesus really is or to believe in him.
“Many contemporary Arminians may puzzle a bit over these verses, since their view of fallen humanity doesn’t necessitate God’s gracious work to make faith possible. Classical Arminians strenuously affirm the necessity of God’s drawing grace but insist that such grace is universally and dynamically active in the Spirit’s work among all peoples.”1
We believe such because Jesus said that the Spirit’s ministry in the earth is to convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16.8-11). We also believe that the Holy Spirit carries out this work through the preaching of the gospel (Rom. 1.16). Thus the spread of the gospel is absolutely imperative.
But what about this matter of the “drawing” (John 6.44) and “enabling” (John 6.65) of God in order for people to come to Christ? Calvinists are convinced that God only effectually or irresistibly draws and enables His pre-selected ones to come to Christ. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6.44).
First, the Calvinist argues, Christ mentions the individual’s inability to come to Him unless “drawn” by the Father. Second, the Calvinist points out that only those who are “drawn” will He raise up at the last day. Logically, if the Father “draws” every person to Him, then He will have to raise every individual up at the last day. And we all know that everyone will not come to Christ nor be raised up at the last day. Therefore, God has pre-selected to save only some.
I am not convinced that that was Jesus’ message to those Jews that day in any way, shape, or form. I believe that the Calvinist is right in that God must “draw” a person to Christ if he or she will be saved. We differ, however, on the particulars of this word draw. This Greek word helkuo means “to draw,” literally or figuratively (Strong’s #1670). When speaking of physical things, the Greek word means “to drag” (John 18.10; Acts 16.19; 21.30; James 2.6).
Forlines comments on this Greek word, saying, “I have no problem with the idea that the drawing spoken of in John 6.44 is a ‘strong drawing.’ But I do have a problem with speaking of it as a ‘forceful attraction.’ A word used literally may have a causal force when dealing with physical relationships. However, we cannot require that that word have the same causal force when it is used metaphorically with reference to an influence and response relationship. John 6.44 speaks of a personal influence and response relationship.”2
The inconsistency I detect in the Calvinist’s position concerns John 12.32, where Jesus claimed that when He was “lifted up from the earth,” He would “draw all people to” Himself. Now, if “all” people would be “drawn” to Him, then, logically speaking, and according to His own statement at John 6.44, then “all” people will come to Him and be raised up on the last day. How are we to reconcile these two verses?
A person only comes to be in Christ by grace through faith. Only those whose faith is in Christ Jesus will be raised up on Resurrection Day. Faith is the requirement and condition of salvation. So if Christ is to “draw all people” to Himself (John 12.32), and the Father also “draws” people to His Son, then the determining factor of who will be in Christ and experience the resurrection is the faith of the one drawn. The old adage comes into play nicely here. You can draw a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.
Again, Forlines writes, “When Jesus said, ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw [helkuo] all men by Myself’ (12.32), He definitely did not mean that He would drag every human being to Himself. He meant that there would go out from Him a drawing power that would make it possible for any person who hears the gospel to come to Him . . .
“If a person is going to interpret helkuo in John 6.44 and 12.32 to be an irresistible drawing, he must first find a passage elsewhere that irrefutably teaches that there is such an irresistible drawing. Then, he might suggest that as the meaning in John. These verses cannot be used as a part of a person’s arsenal of irrefutable proof of an irresistible calling.”3
Finally, as I stated at the beginning, I find it a bit of a strained interpretation to insist that Jesus was actually telling these Jews (at John 6) that His Father had already chosen some of them, whom He intended to effectually draw and save, and by-pass the rest. And I believe that the reaction of the crowd (John 6.41-42; 52) affirms what I am suggesting.
1 Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I am not a Calvinist (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 73-74.
2 F. Leroy Forlines, The Quest for Truth (Nashville: Randall House, 2002), 386.