Those who profess the doctrine of unconditional election and the doctrines of grace more broadly cherish them as a comfort and a hope. They hold that these truths humble the proud heart, encourage a believer weak in faith, and provide fuel for the flame of worship. James Boice and Philip Ryken write, “The doctrines of grace help to preserve all that is right and good in the Christian life: humility, holiness, and thankfulness, with a passion for prayer and evangelism.” They view these doctrines as having pastoral implications that are transformative for the Christian life. Examples of authors and pastors expressing this idea could be multiplied.
However, it is clear that not everyone who has come into contact with the doctrines of grace feels this way. Roger Olson, in his recent book Against Calvinism, contends that the Calvinistic understanding of God renders him indistinguishable from the devil. Certainly Olson would not agree with the claim that the doctrines of grace stimulate worship of God! Likewise, one author asserts that Calvinism will have devastating effects on a believer’s spiritual health: “Nothing will deaden a church or put a young man out of the ministry any more than an adherence to Calvinism. Nothing will foster pride and indifference as will an affection for Calvinism. Nothing will destroy holiness and spirituality as an attachment to Calvinism.” In sum, he believes that the “doctrines of Calvinism will deaden and kill anything: prayer, faith, zeal, holiness.”
How can these radically divergent opinions be deciphered? Of course, as is the case with anything regarding doctrine and life, Scripture alone can determine truth from error, right from wrong practice. In the Scriptures, God has given the church a sufficient rule of faith (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, it is imperative that faithful study of the teaching of the Bible and its implications would decide the matter.
This essay will be an examination of John 6:36-45 as to whether the key tenets of the doctrines of grace are asserted in this text, accompanied by a discussion of the implications of these doctrines for pastoral theology. The first question that will be answered is, “Are the doctrines of Calvinism, broadly speaking, true?” Naturally, the presupposition of this method of answering this question is that if something is asserted by the Holy Scriptures, it is in fact true. The second question follows from the first, “If the doctrines of grace are true, what does this mean for the Christian life?” These questions will not be taken in turn but answered together along the way as the text of John 6 is investigated.