THE LAMB’S BOOK OF LIFE: WHO’S IN AND WHO’S OUT?
BY RONNIE ROGERS
Posted on July 18, 2012 by the editors of SBC Today: http://sbctoday.com/2012/07/18/8942/
**The title below dons chapter 16 in Pastor Ronnie Rogers’ book, “Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist.” Obviously, the subject matter is election. The author has permitted SBCToday to post the entirety of the chapter. . . . **
The Lamb’s Book of Life: Who’s In and Who’s Out?
I affirm that the “Lamb’s book of life” contains all the names of those who have or ever will be saved. I also affirm that the names have been written in the book since eternity past (Revelation 13:8). I further affirm those in the book are there because of exercising grace-enabled faith unto salvation and could have done otherwise, and those not in the book could have been there by exercising grace-enabled faith.
The means of this grace enablement include but are not limited to: conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11), working of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 6:1-6), good soil (Matthew 13:1-23), and the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16). Further, I affirm that man, because of these gracious provisions and workings of God, can choose to seek God, such as the Bereans, where it says because they studied the Scripture, “therefore many of them believed” (Acts 17:12). Moreover, no one can come to God without God drawing (John 6:44), and that God is drawing all men (John 12:32). The same Greek word for draw, helku?, is used in both verses. “About 115 passages condition salvation on believing alone, and about 35 simply on faith.”[i] Other grace enablements may include providential workings in other people, situations, and timing or circumstances that are a part of grace to provide the most optimal moment for an individual to choose to follow Christ.
I disaffirm that the book contains the names of those whom God elected to save through monergistic regeneration and those who are not in the book are the ones that He elected to voluntarily pass by—damn. I disaffirm that “the book of life is synonymous with the list of those who are elect and predestined for eternal life.”[ii] I also disaffirm that exercising grace-enabled faith is in any sense meritorious. I further disaffirm that faith is works and is not required prior to regeneration and justification (Romans 3:27-28, 4:5). Paul says, “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16. See also Romans 10:3-5). Thus, Paul’s declaration that faith is “in accordance with grace” is in stark contrast to the pronouncements of many Calvinists that faith is works. Therefore, being in accord with grace, it is in no way meritorious or works.
Everyone agrees that the “book of life” contains the names of the redeemed; the disagreement concerns what determines whether one’s name is recorded in the book. The following is to clarify what Calvinists mean when they refer to the book, and what I, along with many other non-Calvinists, mean. I am going to interact with two Calvinists by looking at Revelation 13:8 under the following areas: What does the text say? What do Calvinists say? What does the text not say? Why the double-talk? What about straw men?
What does the text say? Speaking of the tribulation period and those who will worship the beast (antichrist) John says, “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Revelation 13:8). This book is referred to specifically six times in Revelation. It is called “the book of life” (3:5, 17:8, 20:12 and 15), “the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27) and in this pass passage it is called “the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.”[iii] None of the occurrences explicate what determines whether one is excluded or included in the book.
What do Calvinists say? Calvinists view the book as the record of names of those whom God unconditionally selected to save through monergistic regeneration. John MacArthur says, “The book of life belonging to the Lamb, the Lord Jesus, is the registry in which God inscribed the names of those chosen for salvation before the foundation of the world”[iv] (italics added). Now it is important to notice that the elect are not those who received God’s gift of salvation by faith, but those “chosen for salvation.”
John Piper avers “the ‘book of life’ is a list of all the elect whom God has chosen before the foundation of the world. To be written there is to be secure in God’s sovereign, electing love….I argued from Revelation 17:8 that names are written in the book of life ‘before the foundation of the world’ and that this represents God’s free and unconditional election before we are ever born or have done anything to merit God’s blessing.” [v] In the same article he says, “In the New Testament the book of life is synonymous with the list of those who are elect and predestined for eternal life.”[vi]
Both have concluded that the book contains the names of those whom God “unconditionally” elected to salvation apart from faith. Although Calvinism teaches that faith is required to complete the salvation process, it is emphatically not the condition for receiving salvation or being written in the book of life. Actually, Calvinists believe that God wrote the names of the elect in the book, and then Christ died for their sins. The gospel efficaciously calls them to salvation, a call that they could not answer unless God monergistically regenerates them; only then are they made so they can freely exercise faith in Christ, which they will do because they cannot disbelieve. To wit, the book records God’s elect, although quite apart from believing, choice, etc.
[i] Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. VII, 273-274.
[ii] http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/late-nigh… accessed 4/9/11
[iii] Something similar is referred to in the Old Testament (Exodus 32:32ff; Psalms 69:28) and in the New Testament (Luke 10:20).
[iv]John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22, 50 (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 2000).
[v] http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/late-nigh… accessed 4/9/11
Part 2 (From http://sbctoday.com/2012/07/19/the-lamb%E2%80%99s-book-of-life-who%E2%80%99s-in-and-who%E2%80%99s-out-by-ronnie-rogers-%E2%80%93-part-2-of-4/ )
What does the text not say? Neither (13:8) nor any other references to the book state the deciding factor of how names came to be in the book. Calvinists treat the passage as though it does state the determining factor, which is God’s determination to elect some to salvation, and therefore record their names; however, it does not.
It tells us that names were recorded before the foundation of the world, and none of those names will ever be removed (Revelation 3:5). It does not tell us why some names were placed in the book and others were not. Thus, from the text alone, one can only derive certainty not causality, and security not selective process. To wit, the passage tells us nothing about why a person’s name is in it despite Calvinists’ certainty that it is due to God’s unconditional monergistic elective purposes. One must let the passage say what it says and no more, and then look elsewhere to establish the determiner for names being placed in or excluded from the book.
Additionally, these types of verses that mention the eternal past, election, predestination, etc., lend themselves to being reflexively imbued with Calvinism in such a way that the text seems to actually reinforce that belief and there seems to be no other biblically plausible answer. As with all such passages, the simple statement of this verse as well as other relevant verses needs to be considered. Two passages, one from the beginning of the missionary enterprise of the church and one that speaks directly to the time period of the beast, encapsulate the great truth of what determines whether a name is in the book of life or not.
Paul said, “Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). The “lawless one,” i.e. the beast or antichrist, works false wonders and deceives countless people during the tribulation, and those whom he deceives perish—go to hell. Note that verse 10 says the reason for their succumbing to the deception and therefore perishing is “because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” Now by any simple reading of this passage, their demise is not because they were not written in the book, but rather they were not written in the book because they refused to believe the truth of the gospel unto salvation.
An impartial reading of this passage clearly indicates that they could have accepted the love of the truth and been saved, and therefore their rejection is the sole determiner for their name being excluded from salvation and not recorded in the book of life. Thus, names are in the Lamb’s book of life because God knew they would receive the love of the truth by grace-enabled faith. Obviously, I am rejecting the ubiquitous refrain of Calvinism; of course, they did not receive the love of the truth because they were not the elect, and that is the only thing that the non-elect can do. This understanding is derived from Calvinism and not the text.
The second passage is in Acts 13, which describes the first missionary journey where Barnabas and Paul were sent out from the church at Antioch (vs. 1-3) and then went to Perga, and arrived at Pisidian Antioch. There they entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and preached concerning Christ from the promises made to their fathers to the fulfillment made in Christ (vs. 14-41). The message concluded with the following words, “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses. “Therefore take heed, so that the thing spoken of in the Prophets may not come upon you: ‘Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and perish; For I am accomplishing a work in your days, A work which you will never believe, though someone should describe it to you’” (Acts 13:38-41, italics added) .
Reading or hearing such a proclamation unfiltered by Calvinism, one clearly sees that Christ lays a real choice before the hearers. First, you (plural) to whom he speaks is the same you (plural) to whom forgiveness of sins is proclaimed and offered, which implies that everyone can believe. This is seen in just the simple words and also the warning, “Therefore take heed.” Based on the offer of forgiveness to you, each of you needs to act so that judgment “may not come upon you.” The predicted judgment is avoided or incurred based upon whether or not they heed the message to receive the forgiveness of sins. It is not that they cannot believe because of the judgment, but rather that they are judged if they do not take heed of the warning and receive salvation of the Messiah.
Thus, in both instances, as well as throughout the Scripture, their judgment was due to their rejection of a genuinely offered forgiveness rather than because of some secret elective recording of their names in the book; furthermore, their names are securely in the book guaranteeing their salvation rather than causing it. Remember, God has always known those who would certainly exercise grace-enabled faith and has therefore recorded their names in the “book of life” in eternity past. God’s offer of salvation is unconditional, but He sovereignly made grace-enabled faith the condition for receiving salvation and therefore having one’s name written in the “book of life” (John 1:12). Unfortunately, Calvinists conflate certitude and causality.
Part 3 (From: http://sbctoday.com/2012/07/20/the-lamb%E2%80%99s-book-of-life-who%E2%80%99s-in-and-who%E2%80%99s-out-by-ronnie-rogers-%E2%80%93-part-2-of-4-2/ .)
Why the double-talk? As mentioned on several occasions throughout the book, within Calvinism there is a problem of what I call double-talk. By the use of this term, I am not implying immoral or clandestine trickery. Nor am I suggesting conspiratorial deceit. I must admit that upon reflection on my time of being a Calvinist, I did the same thing. I did not do so out of ill motive, intent to deceive, or because of a lack of desire to be faithful to the Scripture—nor do I so impugn my Calvinist brothers and sisters.
As a matter of fact, upon reflection, I did it because I believed in Calvinism and the Scripture. This brought about conflicts that required unconscious or at least unthoughtful responses to the conflicts, which I now see as double-talk. This double-talk obscured the harsh realities of Calvinism and the inconsistencies between Scripture and Calvinism; what I have now come to describe as disquieting realities of Calvinism. Either there was an unconsciousness of the serious gap between Calvinism and the simple reading of Scripture, or I was simply unwilling to face these disparities directly. At times, a lack of thoughtfulness may have been easier than embarking on the quite disconcerting and uncertain journey that I have been on for the past thirteen years. Also, I did not have the knowledge and ability to see them as clearly then as I do now. By double-talk, I am referring to the inconsistencies between the irreducible tenets and logic of Calvinism, and the speech, writings, prayers, etc., of some Calvinists. This is particularly pronounced in areas like missions, prayers, preaching, and written and spoken comments that seem to ameliorate or soften the harsh realities of Calvinism. Actually, it is this double-talk, which I found myself tolerating, that I read and heard Calvinists reciting, all of whom I esteem as godly men and women, that stimulated my disenchantment.
The double-talk is either an unconscious effort to personally avoid the harsh realities of Calvinism or an unwillingness to unguardedly express the true irreducible tenets, logic, corollaries, and austere truths of Calvinism to those who are less enthralled with the explanatory powers of Calvinism. It may also be just simply a lack of understanding of the true teachings of Calvinism, the Scripture, or both. In my opinion, as long as Calvinists continue to infrequently declare or avoid stating these inflexible and biblically unpalatable truths, they will continue to give the same hollow responses to the dilemmas created by Calvinism, e.g. “it is a mystery” or double-talk. There are some Calvinists who seek unabashedly to celebrate these harsh realities of Calvinism, and I applaud them for their forthrightness if not for their correctness.
For many years I viewed Calvinists’, and my own, simple handling of passages without invoking the harsh realities of Calvinism, proclamations about missions or the lost that seemed to accord with the spirit and letter of Scripture, prayers absent of Calvinism’s logical corollaries, and passion directed toward pursuing and persuading the lost to repent, as a gentler and kinder Calvinism. I now see those expressions as inconsistent with Calvinism—double-talk. I no longer admire such sentiments, but desire the exposure of such incongruities as what they are, double-talk. My prayer is that some will see the beclouding double-talk as well and fall in love with the simple, straightforward message of Scripture and thereby become disenchanted Calvinists. Following are a few examples of double-talk, which, if read without understanding the aforementioned Calvinistic beliefs, one would see no inconsistency between Scripture and Calvinism.
On the one hand, Piper says the book contains the names that are “secure in God’s sovereign, electing love.”[i] This is followed by his statement that “the book of life is synonymous with the list of those who are elect and predestined for eternal life.”[ii] This unconditional election to salvation is brought to pass with monergistic, efficacious grace. According to Piper and Calvinists, the elect will be irresistibly drawn to God, irresistibly regenerated, and equally as irresistibly, although freely, exercise faith from their new regenerated nature and desires.
Piper says of irresistible grace, “When a person hears a preacher call for repentance he can resist that call. But if God gives him repentance he cannot resist because the gift is the removal of the resistance. Not being willing to repent is the same as resisting the Holy Spirit. So if God gives repentance it is the same as taking away the resistance. This is why we call this work of God ‘irresistible grace.’”[iii] Conversely, he says of the non-elect, “Except for the continual exertion of saving grace, we will always use our freedom to resist God.”[iv] Again he states, “The native hardness of our hearts makes us unwilling and unable to turn from sin and trust the Savior. Therefore conversion involves a miracle of new birth. This new birth precedes and enables faith and repentance.”[v] Therefore, according to Piper, the non-elect cannot believe, cannot be saved, cannot exercise faith, cannot respond to the call to repent, and cannot receive the offer of salvation because God has chosen not to elect them to regeneration. Had He chosen to elect them, they could have and would have been saved.
Then, in another article on his website he says, “I believe Christ died as a substitute for sinners to provide a bona fide offer of salvation to all people, and that he had an invincible design in his death to obtain his chosen bride, namely, the assembly of all believers, whose names were eternally written in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain (John 3:16; 10:15; Ephesians 5:25; Revelation 13:8).”[vi] So Christ’s death procured a “bona fide offer of salvation to all people” which includes all of the non-elect, who not only will not believe unto salvation, but cannot believe unto salvation. This raises the question, in what way can anyone consider the offer to be “bona fide” if there is an eternally predetermined, unalterable, and invincible decision by the sovereign God of time and eternity that they could not receive the offer? This is double-talk and a disquieting reality.
. . .
[i] http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/late-nigh… accessed 4/9/11
[ii] http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/late-nigh… accessed 4/9/11
[iii] John Piper, “Irresistible Grace” in What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism, (copyright Desiring God.org, revised March 1998,http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/what-we-believe-abo…).
[iv] Piper, “Irresistible Grace” in What We Believe.
[v] Piper, Desiring God, 62.
[vi] http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/saying-what-you-believe-is-clearer-than-saying-calvinist?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed:+DGBlog+(DG+Blog)#accessed 4-9-11
Part 4 (From: http://sbctoday.com/2012/07/21/the-lamb%E2%80%99s-book-of-life-who%E2%80%99s-in-and-who%E2%80%99s-out-by-ronnie-rogers-%E2%80%93-part-3-of-4/#_ednref3 )
John MacArthur says that the book contains the names of all “those chosen for salvation.” As a Calvinist, this means that God unconditionally elected them to salvation, and they will receive the internal efficacious call, irresistible grace, resulting in regeneration followed by an inevitable free choice to believe. Immediately following these words he says, “Unbelievers, those whose names are not recorded in the book of life, will ‘perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved’ (2 Thessalonians 2:10). Scripture also teaches that the faithless will be judged because they ‘did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness’ (2 Thessalonians 2:12). While the eternally elect are saved through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 5:24; Acts 13:39; 16:31; Romans 3:22–30; 4:5; 10:9–10; Galatians 3:22-26; Ephesians 2:8–9), the nonelect are lost because they refuse to believe the gospel (John 3:36; Romans 1:18-32; 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:8–9; 1 Peter 2:8; 4:17). Unbelief and rejection always indicate those persons whose names were not written … in the book of life.”[i]
As a disenchanted Calvinist, I would say the same thing about these Scriptures as MacArthur did, but the truth of Calvinism transmogrifies these statements and what they imply. The truth of Calvinism is those not in the book cannot “receive the love of the truth so as to be saved”; the faithless did not believe because they cannot believe. What’s more, the eternally elect do not receive salvation through faith—faith as the first part of salvation or condition of salvation—because they actually receive salvation through unconditional election that is executed by forced regeneration and is followed by an inescapable free act of faith. Finally the non-elect are not lost because they merely refuse to believe the gospel—clearly implying that they could have believed—but rather they refuse the gospel because God did not choose to elect them but rather leave them to do what they could only do, and that is to refuse. This is a disquieting reality.
Calvinism is not devoid of passion for seeing the lost come to Christ. Nevertheless, if logic prevails, it is only a vertical passion. That is to say, it is a passion to carry out the mandate of God, to be used by God to gather His elect. It cannot be a Holy Spirit led horizontal passion, which is a burden, love and hurt for all of the lost of the world, or even each particular individual, to come to know Christ. For the God of Calvinism does not even have such passion. A consistent Calvinist’s passion is not actually toward the individual but always toward God, which some Calvinists would revel in as vindicating Calvinism. However, that is only true if the Scripture supports such, and I do not think it does. Further, if Calvinism is true, unless the Calvinist knows that God has truly drawn him to one of His elect—which seems impossible to objectively know—the Calvinist needs to refuse to give in to horizontal passion because it can only be mere human sentiment or satanic influence, both of which would actually be contrary to God’s passion.
Calvinism’s passion cannot logically, being consistent with Calvinism, be toward the lost in the same way as the simple reading of the Scripture conveys God’s, Christ’s, Paul’s or others’ passion toward all, each person, the lost of the world. If a Calvinist is so disposed, it is an inconsistency with Calvinism rather than a corollary of Calvinism. This is a disquieting reality. As a Calvinist, I would have denied—double-talked my way out of—the truthfulness of this conclusion, but as a disenchanted Calvinist, its undeniableness is indubitable.
What about straw men? Piper says, “this represents God’s free and unconditional election before we are ever born or have done anything to merit God’s blessing.”[ii] Although, I am not sure whether Piper is including the exercise of faith as meritorious, it is common for Calvinists to accuse anyone who believes God conditioned the reception of salvation upon faith as adding works. This caricature by Calvinists is actually a straw man and unbiblical. The Scripture is clear that the offer of salvation is unconditional, but the condition for receiving it is grace-enabled faith (John 3:16, 8:24).
Furthermore, the believer gets no credit for faith because there is absolutely no merit in faith, because faith is the antithesis of works (Romans 4:2-5). Faith is the means for receiving not the reason for receiving. Faith is giving up on oneself and placing all hope in another. Faith is the total abandonment of any and every hope of offering anything on our own to prompt divine favor or establish ourselves before God. Further, faith is God’s condition for receiving salvation, but not the condition for the offer of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). Moreover, the reason for a person being able to receive is God’s grace. Faith is a gift of God, but not in the sense that God only gave the gift to some. Faith is a gift from God because it affords man the capacity to believe, the possibility of believing, the content of belief, the persuasion of truth, and the enabling of the individual to believe.[iii]
Paul says, “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16. See also Romans 10:3-5). Thus, Paul’s declaration that faith is “in accordance with grace” is in stark contrast to the pronouncements of many Calvinists. Therefore, being in accord with grace, it is in no way meritorious or works. John Walvoord notes, “Responding in faith to God’s promise is not meritorious, because the promise springs from His grace, His disposition of favor toward those who deserve His wrath. The human exercise of faith is simply the prerequisite response of trust in God and His promise. Since faith and grace go together, and since the promise is by grace, the promise can be received only by faith, not by the Law.”[iv]
[i]John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22, 49 (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 2000).
[ii] http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/late-nigh… accessed 4/9/11
[iii] Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will – Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism, (Nashville: Randall House, 2002), 167.
[iv]John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983-c1985), 2:454. Walvoord is a four-point Calvinist. Consequently, he may place regeneration prior to faith, but I am not sure so I take his statement at face value.