Well folks, I finally have seen the sentimental draw of the doctrine of Irresistible Grace
Now, after years of me ranting and raving against Calvinism, you may wonder what it was that brought about this new perspective. Let me first say that just because a doctrine has emotional appeal does not mean that the doctrine is true, and so please do not misunderstand me to be saying that I now agree that Irresistible Grace is taught in the Scripture. With that said, it was a visit to Disneyland that changed my perspective about this. Captain EO is a show which was played at Disneyland 9/18/86 - 4/7/97, and now also 2/23/10 - the present. Some of you may have seen it when it originally played, but I only had the chance of seeing it this year. It's a musical that stars Michael Jackson (back when he was black) as "Captain EO," who comes to make a world a better place by giving a gift, which has to do with music and beauty, and is described by Caption EO as "a key to unlock" those things. If you have not seen the show, then you are probably wondering how it could possible relate to the doctrine of Irresistible Grace, and so before I go on, I will briefly outline some main parts of the plot.
Captain EO flies around in outer space, with his band of obvious misfits, in a spaceship that strongly resembles a turkey. After tripping an intrusion alarm, and finding out that "Hooter" has eaten the map, he and his hardly-competent team land more or less successfully on a planet that looks a lot like "the death star" from Star Wars. They all set off to find "the Supreme Leader," and fulfill that goal by being almost immediately captured by some scary-looking goons, who conveniently take them directly to the ruler of the whole planet.
Naturally, the supreme leader decides that she wants two of them to be turned into trashcans, and sentences Captain EO to a hundred years of torture. This would be looking pretty bad, but Captain EO expresses that he just wants to bring a gift to her, which will unlock her inner beauty. Before Hooter has time to correctly set up the instruments involved, the Supreme Leader gets inpatient and sends her troops to take Captain EO into custody. As soon as the musical instruments are working, Captain EO escapes their clutches by sending out a blast of energy, which knocks them all back.
The second blast of energy actually transforms the goons, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Later, when the Supreme leader sends out her more fearsome guards, he does pretty much the same thing, and using his special magical-energy-light-beams
The show ends victoriously when Captain EO, together with all of his new transformed followers give out one final blast of transforming energy which changes the Supreme Leader to be beautiful and docile, and changes the whole planet to be a beautiful place, alive with vegetation, color, and architecture.
"So do surrender
’cause the power’s deep inside my soul
(we are here to change the world)
Gonna change the world, sing it
(we are here to change the world)
Hee, gonna change the world, ooo"
And as he leaves, singing a song of course, he waves goodbye to world that he had changed utterly from ugly, dark, and cruel to beautiful, kind, and coordinated.
Very magical, very disney, and all that. But what does it have to do with theology? Well, let us first take a look at the doctrine of Efficacious Grace, or as it is more commonly known, Irresistible Grace. The Westminster Confession defines it like this:
“All those whom God has predestined unto life, and those only, He is pleased in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone and giving them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good; and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ, yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace” (Chapter X, Section 1,2).
In the words of Loraine Boettner,
"It is a common thing for opponents to represent this doctrine as implying that men are forced to believe and turn to God against their wills, or, that it reduces men to the level of machines in the matter of salvation. This is a misrepresentation. Calvinists hold no such opinion, and in fact the full statement of the doctrine excludes or contradicts it. The Westminster Confession, after stating that this efficacious grace which results in conversion is an exercise of omnipotence and cannot be defeated, adds, “Yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.” The power by which the work of regeneration is effected is not of an outward and compelling nature. Regeneration does no more violence to the soul than demonstration does to the intellect, or persuasion the heart. Man is not dealt with as if he were a stone or a log. Neither is he treated as a slave, and driven against his own will to seek salvation. Rather the mind is illuminated, and the entire range of conceptions with regard to God, self, and sin, is changed. God sends His Spirit and, in a way which shall forever redound to the praise of His mercy and grace, sweetly constrains the person to yield." (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, pp 176)
What does that mean, in English? Simply it means that, by that doctrine, a man cannot have faith in Christ unless God first imparts to him such an amount of Grace that the sinner is regenerated: transformed so completely that without question they submit to God's authority and trust in Christ as Savior. This regeneration comes before faith. First sinners are enemies of God, and then God sends some transforming grace their way, and then they become beautiful on the inside and follow Him rather than fighting against him. Why is this called Irresistible Grace? Because man cannot resist it. If God singles out a man to be saved, and gives him that kind of grace, that man will be transformed against his will, and only then will he freely choose to follow to follow Christ. Man does not have the power to resist this grace enough to stop it from transforming his heart and mind. That is why efficacious grace is generally described as irresistible grace.
It is probably obvious, as this point, how Captain EO clearly reflects the main points of this doctrine. The Captain's Transforming Energy has pretty much the exact same effect as Irresistible Grace. It changes worlds, people, and lives against their will, in such a way that after they are transformed, they are kind, happy, and glad for the transformation. Not only that, but they submit to his every whim, which is more analogous to God's secret will than to His revealed will, because Captain EO never told them how to dance, and yet they all stayed in step perfectly.
You can see just how much this transformation was against the natural will of the people involved if you glance at this screenshot of the face of the Supreme Leader while she was starting to be transformed:
But, it was a beautiful show, and I watched it again and again. I loved seeing the ugliness of the planet fade to beauty. I loved seeing all the enemy troops magically transformed into obedient allies, who are were very musically coordinated. I loved the music about changing the world. It was beautiful! And for a moment, I could really see why people would enjoy believing the real world is like that, except with God in charge rather than Michael Jackson. Sometimes, even I would like to use that power to transform people who are unkind to me. One main difference, though, between Captain EO and the Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible Grace, is that Captain EO transformed everyone. Now, obviously God is powerful enough to change people this way, even without having to use the lights and special effects. At first glance, it may even seem that this sort of forced transformation may be the best way for God to relate to people, or even the only way that He could possible save them. But is this really the only way God could change people? Is this His best and favorite tactic for bringing people from darkness into light? Those are some interesting questions, and they should be pondered in light of God's character, as revealed throughout Scripture.
Also Check Out:
Blog Post Discussing More Fully The Question of Whether Irresistible Grace is Biblical