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Archive for the ‘Calvinism’ Category
Historical discussion has made “free will” a systematically ambiguous phrase. It is used to mean:
1. Free agency, that is, ability to make and execute one’s own decisions, thus incurring accountability for what one does. All Western philosophies and theologies assert free will in this sense, except behaviorism that sees mental and volitional acts as by–products of physical processes. The assertion means we are not robots, nor are we programmed by some other mind, as computers or persons under hypnotism are, nor are our actions mere conditioned reflexes like those of Pavlov’s dogs. But we are moral agents expressing our authentic selves in our conduct.
While Calvinism bears the name of John Calvin as the system of theology he set forth during the Reformation, he was by no means the inventor of it, for its roots go back to the Bible and to the interpretations of such early church theologians as Chrysostom and Augustine and to medieval thinkers such as Bernard of Clairvaux. This is clear in Calvin’s theological works and commentaries.
A Reformed Interpretation of Romans 9:6-13
This paper will attempt to synthesis a Reformed Biblical understanding of Romans 9: 6-13. In order to do so, the paper will interact with the prevailing interpretations and theories which touch upon this difficult, yet rewarding paragraph.
This passage of Scripture in Romans 9: 6-13 has been widely debated and fought over. Reformed Theologians see these verses as the proof of God s sovereign election and predestination of individuals based upon nothing within them (including any foreknown faith). Arminian theologians such as Robert Shank (Elect in the Son, 1989) usually perceive these verses as teaching a corporate election. That is, God has a body of true believers (the Church), and the individual is elect only as they are part of this group. If they were to choose to leave this elect group, then as an individual they would no longer be elect. They might emphasize that while God is sovereign in deciding who will be saved (that is the means/or way), the who are those who through faith receive the promise of God.
Preservation (Perseverance) of the Saints
23 The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord.
He delights in every detail of their lives.
24 Though they stumble, they will not fall,
for the Lord holds them by the hand. (NLT)
1 Surely God is good to Israel,
To those who are pure in heart!
2 But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling,
My steps had almost slipped…
23 Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand. (NASB)
Effectual Grace (Irresistible Grace)
See first: Total Depravity, Unconditional election, limited atonement. Many of the verses already listed could be used here. (Ex. John 6:37,39,44-45,65; John 10:3-4, 26-27.29).
30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
1 Corinthians 1:9
9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
What did Christ’s death accomplish:
24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
24 [All] are justified and made upright and in right standing with God, freely and gratuitously by His grace (His unmerited favor and mercy), through the redemption which is [provided] in Christ Jesus,
3 Grace and spiritual blessing be to you and [soul] peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah),
4 Who gave (yielded) Himself up to atone] for our sins [and to save and sanctify us], in order to rescue and deliver us from this present wicked age and world order, in accordance with the will and purpose and plan of our God and Father-
11 Furthermore, because of Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us from the beginning, and all things happen just as he decided long ago. (NLT)
11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, (NASB)
5 But don’t be angry with yourselves that you did this to me, for God did it. He sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. 6 These two years of famine will grow to seven, during which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 God has sent me here to keep you and your families alive so that you will become a great nation. 8 Yes, it was God who sent me here, not you! And he has made me a counselor to Pharaoh-manager of his entire household and ruler over all Egypt. (NLT)
Both Calvinism (Reformed Theology) and Arminianism as complete theological systems both claim to have a large number of verses supporting them. Christians who hold to one system of belief or the other attempt to interpret the Bible so that it will fit in line with their beliefs.
Which theological system does a better job of properly interpreting the Biblical verses? I will leave that up to you to decide. I have included many of the verses in several versions to help with your interpretation.
I also would recommend that you read the verses in context (so that you can better interpret the Bible passages). If you take a verse out of context it is too easy to misinterpret it.
5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
6 The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
21 And the Lord was pleased with the sacrifice and said to himself, “I will never again curse the earth, destroying all living things, even though people’s thoughts and actions are bent toward evil from childhood. (NLT)
What is Calvinism and Arminianism
Some of you reading this may be wondering what is Calvinism and Arminianism.
Calvinism and Arminianism are two different theological belief systems. These two Christian belief systems have been debated and discussed for hundreds of years.
I know I haven’t answered all the issues that are present in the system of Calvinism, nor will this entry finish the task. However, I am going to wrap up some thoughts here so that I can move onto other things. I will return to various outstanding matters in the weeks ahead.
Each of the remaining points of Calvinism largely grows out of the first, with which I have already dealt. For me, it wasn’t any of these points that caused me to question Calvinism directly, though a couple of them manifest the worst characteristics of systems and how they become the dominant question to be sought rather than Scripture.
For instance, Limited Atonement really cannot be found in Scripture anywhere (in fact there are numerous texts that argue otherwise); however, the logical necessity of the belief must be defended and argued because the other points require it and because without it – within this system, one ends up with universalism. That is, the argument usually pursues the direction of the Sufficiency of Christ’s blood and that if He didn’t die for only the elect, then by definition everyone must be saved. Of course, this argument, while logical, fails at the point of understanding the role of antinomy and paradox in the whole issue of who God is and how He relates to humanity. Indeed, Limited Atonement is one of those places where Calvinism has failed to let the text take priority over the system.
Logic has its limits. This is not to say that logic has no place in Christianity or that Christian beliefs cannot be understood, discussed, and even to some degree proven within the realm of reason and rationality. Rather, it is to say that there are moments in many experiences (love for instance) where our capacity to explain, assess, and logically see something to its end come up short and we must simply step back and say, “Well, that’s just the way it is.” One has to wonder how small one’s god truly is if at the end of the day we can say that we can define and explain all of his steps and ways through which he relates to us.
Concerning Grace…Glorious, Amazing, Unmerited and wondrous Grace. Grace is that activity of God that engages us where we are and transforms us into something new. Grace is not a passive activity in which God looks at our sin, shrugs in resignation, and says, “Oh well, I guess I won’t judge that sin today.” NO! Grace is the active attack from God on our sin in which He declares victory over sin, equips us in a new and powerful way to confront sin in our life and to walk in victory with Him. To take something of such power and awesomeness and to try to juxtapose it with our free will is non-sensical. We shouldn’t understand the work of God’s grace and our free will as two opposing views of our relationship with God – they are not even in the same league. To try to pit them against each other is to limit God’s grace and elevate man’s choice beyond its capacity. For me to say that my decision to follow Christ is part of the process of salvation is not to say that my decision explains salvation, makes salvation possible, or is any way a meritorious work on my part. Just as orthodox Christianity doesn’t look at God and Satan as two opponents in a struggle of equals, but still holds to Satan having real influence, decision making capabilities, and baring responsibility for many things – without subverting God’s sovereignty, I can’t see how me saying, “Yes, my decision to follow Christ plays a part in salvation,” challenges the concept of salvation being by Grace, through Faith and that it is entirely a work of God.
Election in Scripture often has more to do with privilege than exclusion. Even the vanguard of Calvinism’s view of double predestination – Romans 9-11 – contextually has more to do with God showing PRIVILEGE to a certain group than it does to the eternal destiny of anyone discussed. His hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was not to destroy Pharaoh, but for the sake of spreading His word. At some point I will return to Romans 9 in particular, but I will simply say at this point that it is NOT the great disposition on eternal destinies that Calvinism often tries to turn it into – the context of Paul’s explanation of God’s purpose of working THROUGH different groups clearly suggests otherwise.
In summation, I left Calvinism because I believe that the system upon which it stands strains credulity when it comes to adequately dealing with the biblical subjects of anthropology and soteriology; and even Christology to some degree. I believe that God is absolutely sovereign and whatever He desires to happen will happen, but I also believe that somewhere in the mystery of what He has determined to do with humans, He has provided a way for REAL relationship, response, and responsibility. I think Jeremiah 18:1-11 best sums my theology of relationship:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: "Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words." So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.
Then the word of the LORD came to me: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ (ESV)
The passage highlights God’s sovereignty via the image of the potter, but in the midst of the revelation God reveals that humans differ from clay in that we are capable of response. The result is that OUR RESPONSE in some way has an impact on God’s plan. Why? How? To What Degree? I don’t know – but I do know that this passage and many just like it make it clear that what we have a relationship with God – a relationship in which we do play a part.
“Unless I am convinced by the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures or evident reason (for I believe neither in the Pope nor councils alone, since it has been established that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures adduced by me, and my conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God, and I am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience.” – Martin Luther
The irony of using someone’s words who would have accepted most, if not all, of the “Doctrines of Grace” should not be lost on anyone. Of course I don’t mean to imply that my observations come close to the scope, the importance, or even the learnedness of Martin Luther’s fight against the errors of the Church in his day. Rather, I am simply reflecting on the fact that there is an appropriateness to revisiting issues of interest and concern in light of Scriptures teachings – for the Christian, this is not only appropriate, it is necessary. Starting today I will begin addressing the primary elements of Calvinism, commonly identified as the 5 points of Calvinism. As I have previously stated, I understand that they work together and lean on each other. I understand that different Calvinist’s will address these issues differently as well. What I am attempting to engage are the perspectives of these points as I held them, as I commonly hear them presented, and as some of the major proponents of the views held them.
TOTAL DEPRAVITY/HUMAN INABILITYAlready in the modern rendition of the doctrine (“Human Inability”) this point has undergone some softening in expression, though the undercurrent of its purpose and position is still present. The doctrine, at first glance, appears to be built upon some almost ill-refutable evidence – the verses that relate to man’s utter sinfulness, the necessity of drawing for response, and the enmity between God and man are too numerous to even begin to list here. But do these passages amount to a support of Total Depravity as described and defined by Calvinism?
The Synod of Dort Canons, from which the 5 points get their organization and definition, explain Total Depravity as:
All people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.
The statement is plain enough and the general bent of the statement can hardly be disputed. Yet, there are specific elements of the doctrine that I believe go beyond the biblical evidence. Furthermore, in discussions about this doctrine, certain texts are either ignored or minimized which I believe are devastating to the position.
“Conceived in sin and born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good”
This statement can be said to be the classical expression of the doctrine of original sin. Though this doctrine has been expressed to varying degrees as a marker of orthodoxy, there is actually a wide variety of expressions concerning it that span the history of Christianity. In essence, the question centers on the relationship of humanity to the sin of Adam. Generally speaking the positions can be divided into three groups (these groups are not original to me and can be found in a number of sources): Influence, Infection, and Inclusion.
The group whose belief is best represented as “Influence” argues that the relationship of Adam’s sin to ours is merely one of influence and that any connection beyond that is largely imagined or over-stated. Pelagius (branded as a heretic by the Council of Carthage ) essentially argued this position. The full extent and nuance of his teachings are not known because we only know of him from his enemies and such people can hardly be counted on to fairly express nuance in an argument. Still, one would have to argue that there doesn’t seem to be anyway one can read passages such as Romans 5 and argue that this position (as it has come down to us at least) is consistent with the biblical expressions of Adam’s relationship to the rest of humanity.
The group whose belief is characterized by the word “Infection” generally argues that humanity has been infected with a sin nature because of Adam’s fall. This infection so influences mankind that all will sin and, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, will gravitate toward sin at all times. Regarding the sin in a human, this group would state that all humanity shares in the influence of Adam’s sin, but not the guilt of his sin.
The final group can be described adequately as the “Inclusion” group. This group argues that all humanity (from the time of conception on) shares not only in the influence of Adam’s sin but that all humanity was in fact present in a sense at the first sin and is included in the guilt of Adam’s sin. This clearly is the group to which the Synod of Dort belonged (and to be fair, much of Christian history has belonged).
“Inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin”
There is little one could really argue against this position, except perhaps some important arguments over what “dead in their sins” would mean. Obviously the phrase is a biblical one and so on the surface might seem like a non-negotiable. I would argue that as a status it is indeed non-negotiable; however, the implications of that status is where I will depart from classical Calvinism. When Paul talks about being “dead in sin” does he mean that humans are completely incapable of any response to God? The writers of Dort did not think so, they observed:
“There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him–so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God.”
The theologians of Dort were far more careful than their modern counterparts in how they phrased their statements – terms go undefined and there is a broadness to their expressions that allows them to work in a variety of contexts. When, however, these expressions are taken in context with the doctrine of Irresistible Grace/Effectual Call one comes away with a perception of “dead in their sins” and “slaves to sin” that goes so far to suggest that even the good people do is sin and a transgression against God. One finds even some of the foremost modern Calvinists making arguments that twist texts like Romans 14:23 “whatever is not from faith is sin” to apply to the human condition, even though Paul in this passage is clearly talking to Christians about the reasons they do things and not with the issue of man’s nature. Indeed, this is the crux of where I eventually separated from Calvinism. Often to argue for the system, I found myself (and those who believed like me) applying texts in directions the biblical writers never intended them (more on this below).
“Regenerating Holy Spirit”
This phrase also has wide appeal within Christianity. Who could argue against the need for the Holy Spirit to regenerate the dead man and make him alive to salvation? NO ONE! But the problem comes in here in the order of events. For the Calvinist sold out to the doctrine of Total Depravity as described in their system, this regeneration MUST PRECEDE fai
th. In other words, a person must be brought to life in order to then find life. To be fair Calvinists will distinguish between regeneration (bringing to life) and justification (declaration of salvation) and so those who argue against the position are often misrepresenting the argument because they are treating the two as one. Kept separate, I can certainly see the logic in the argument; however, I don’t see anything in Scripture that would distinguish the two realities to the degree that Calvinism does – especially as it pertains to the matter of being made a new creature, alive, and one in Christ are almost always put into the singular work of justification.
Some concepts that I couldn’t ultimately answer:
In my journey out of Calvinism, there were certain issues I never could answer. Certain biblical concepts related especially to the doctrine of Total Depravity that didn’t measure up.
The Inclusion View of Adam’s Sin and Humanity’s Sin – As I looked at Church history and the theological arguments of proponents of this view, I never have been able to reconcile this belief with the person of Jesus. If we are going to argue that to be HUMAN is to be under the guilt of Adam’s Sin and to possess that sort of separation, then there is indeed a problem with a belief in the complete humanity of Jesus. Catholic theologians recognized this and developed the concept of the immaculate conception in which Mary’s birth was of such a nature that she was separated from the taint of Adam’s sin and could therefore bare the Christ child without passing on the guilt to him. Other’s have sought to find other means with which to deal with this matter, but from where I sit, all of them result either in a fictitious order of events not represented in Scripture or in some way rejecting some portion of Christ’s humanity.
Dead in Sin – The position of Calvinism that all that man is capable of is rebellion prior to regeneration does not seem to me to mesh with Scripture. First of all, I think it ignores the fundamental doctrine of Imago Dei – that is, that man was created in the Image of God. Though we would certainly have to admit that the Image has become distorted to a great degree, the image still persists according to Scripture (Gen 5) and man is still capable of choosing right and wrong (God’s instructions to Cain seem abundantly clear on this matter Gen 4). It seems to me that Paul’s discourse is indeed talking about a status, but without ever going to the full extent of the implications of that status that Calvinists generally appeal to.
What I believe On this Matter:
Man is totally helpless regarding salvation apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t mean that man won’t seek God (I think both history and Scripture bare out that he will), but that he will mess up that search and will be unable to reach any sense of truth apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. I believe that truth comes from the word of God – “faith comes from hearing.” I believe that God moves through the revelation His word to the heart of man; that man responds as the Holy Spirit works – partially under compulsion but also because the revelation relates to man that for which he has always been longing due to the Image of God present in his being; and that this revelation by the word of God, drawing by the Spirit of God, and compulsion by the Grace of God are the means by which salvation comes as a gift – man’s role is simply that of acceptance.
Two charges likely to be made:Semi-Pelagianism – no doubt my view will be characterized at least in the mind of some as Semi-Pelagianism. Such monikers were of the sort that I once cast towards individuals who held a position similar to mine. What is interesting is that such a title really has no basis in history. Someone could technically call someone a semi-Augustinian as much as they could a semi-Pelagian. But the latter carries with it the stigma of being associated with a branded heretic and so is a crafty tool for those who would seek to first alienate and then discredit their opposition. To be certain, the belief I have espoused is as distinguishable from that of Pelagius as it is from that of Augustine/Calvin. So such appellations mean little to me.
Works Salvation – because I suggest that there is a role to be played by humanity in salvation, Calvinists will typically say that I am therefore setting up a works salvation. But again, just because an assertion can be made, doesn’t mean it is necessarily accurate. My view of what God accomplishes in salvation is grand enough and big enough that I can’t imagine how my acceptance of it or participation in the relationship comes anywhere near “purchasing” even a smidgeon of it. In other words, as I see it, the grace of God and His work of salvation is so magnificent, awesome, and overwhelming, that my participation amounts to little more than an afterthought in the entire scheme of things. Salvation is from the Lord.
Such observations are what they are, my limited understanding of a work beyond my comprehension. To God alone be the Glory
1 Corinthians 2
As I have previously stated, I have real problems with several elements of the “Doctrines of Grace”* AS THEY ARE STATED in “traditional Calvinism.” Labels such as “traditional Calvinism” are difficult because a term can mean different things to different people. What I mean by traditional Calvinism, is the system of belief represented by John Calvin, Theodore Beza, Jonathan Edwards, C. H. Spurgeon, John Piper, John MacArthur, and R. C. Sproul (and others). I realize that even within that camp there are some important variations and perspectives, but overall these writers represent the core five points of what have been called the “Doctrines of Grace,” (TULIP) while avoiding going down a road of anti-missions/evangelism. Indeed, those who go down that road are too easy to answer and don’t represent traditional Reformed theology anyway.
In the future blogs I will examine what I believe to be biblical problems with each of the points of Calvinism, but I believe there is one more basic element to address that is significant before I do so – The Problems of Systems.
Calvinism is a system, there is no question about it. Ask any learned Reformed theologian and they will tell you that each of the components of the 5 points stand in tension and relationship with the other. To deny any one of them is to leave the others without important support and incomplete. I often hear people say “I am a 4 point Calvinist” because of all the points, there is a natural objection in Baptist life to Limited Atonement/Particular Redemption. However, you really cannot be a “Calvinist” and not accept all 5 points – Limited Atonement/Particular Redemption is a logical and NECESSARY corollary to Total Depravity/Human Inability, Unconditional Election, Irresistible Grace/Effectual Calling, and Perseverance of the Saints/Final Perseverance.
Systems are not inherently bad. In fact, they can be immensely helpful in organizing thought, seeing how various texts work together, and gaining a big picture of important concepts in Scripture. However, they do have some tendencies to them that are potentially problematic and which consistently rear their head especially in the system known as Calvinism.
– A System often becomes more important than Scripture:
This problem can manifest in a couple of ways. First, the system becomes the criteria by which all Scriptures are interpreted. Any text that doesn’t seem to fit into the conclusions drawn by the system must be molded to the interpreter’s bias. Of course we all come to the text with a bias and we all are affected in our interpretations by our world view, but there is an added barrier to letting the text speak when we start with the idea that “God has to work this way.” Whenever I hear someone say, “I know it seems to say that, but . . .” with any passage I get defensive. What’s more, if they can’t support the “but” in that sentence with historical and literary contextual observations it becomes more apparent that it is more about the system than the text. A second place where this problem occurs is when preachers become more preachers of the system, than preachers of the Word. There is certain almost idolatrous nature to how some people hold to their system. In Reformed theology, this comes across most clearly in the phrase, “Calvinism IS the Gospel!”** I understand conviction about one’s beliefs, I am arguing as much in this series of blogs. However, an all or nothing approach to any system seems to me to leave little room for paradox, tension in history, and the mystery of God. Especially, when there are texts, concepts, and presentations (as I believe there are with Calvinism) that undermine positions taken. Which brings me to the next problem with Systems,
– A System almost always devolves into an “either, or” mentality
There is no concept more significant to shaking me up as a Calvinist, and ultimately getting me out of the system than the rampant “either, or” arguments present within it. In particular, the idea that you are either a Calvinist or an Arminian – that there are only a few ways an issue might be dealt with. For example, a fellow blogger was recently commenting on the extent of the atonement. He summarized the nature of his argument and position with the following statement:
“In other words, through the death of Christ, which sinners were forgiven and reconciled with God? There are only three possibilities [regarding the nature of atonement].(1). Every sinner that has ever lived (universalism).(2). Elect sinners–those whom the Father has chosen and given to His Son.(3). Believing sinners–those whom the Father foresaw would believe on Jesus.”
He then goes on to write in the same blog:
“Most evangelicals would answer that question in this manner: For every single sinner who has ever lived, is living, or will ever live. If the person who holds to this view is then asked, “Will every single sinner who has ever lived, is living, or will ever live be in heaven?” The answer given is “No. The sinner must accept what Jesus has done. The sinner must believe. The sinner must take hold of the atonement that has been offered.” So most Christians, when pressed, would have to say the atonement of Jesus actually saves nobody. It is the faith of the sinner in Christ that saves (because of this prevalent belief we ought to consider changing the title of the hymn “Have Faith in God” to “Have Faith in Faith”). The modern evangelical has a belief in a very weak, impotent atonement performed by Christ. God, they believe, actually saves nobody through the cross; sinners are only actually saved through their belief in the cross. I believe the greatest challenge we face in the modern evangelical world is moving people toward a stronger, more biblical and powerful view of what Christ actually accomplished at the cross.”***
Are those really our only options? Is there no room for tension in the text? Are there no other ways to relate the atonement to the believer? Is one really suggesting that “God actually saves nobody through the cross?” if he or she believes Christ died for everyone, but not all will be saved? I will deal with the issue of Limited Atonement/Particular Redemption later, but the point is made that sometimes systems create a mentality of overconfidence in what our reason can do and leaves us with a perspective of, well if you’re not this, then you must be that. The choice is not ONLY between Calvinism and Arminianism, which are viewpoints created within a certain philosophical worldview that does not necessarily line up with the biblical worldview, or other ways of dealing with reality that have been conceived of since that time.
– A System often leads to making up concepts to try and preserve the system.
Sometimes, instead of admitting a flaw in the system or simply trying to hold to a more balanced perspective of the overall picture of a situation given in Scripture, systems will lead people to create concepts and practices not expressed in Scripture, but necessary to maintain if one is going to keep his system and also explain other known circumstances. In Calvinism, these types of creations include the two wills of God (a necessary loophole to absolute Sovereignty), the two types of morality (a necessary loophole to Total Depravity), and the two types of atonement (a necessary loophole to Limited Atonement). I have already argued for maintaining tensions in where one is, so this is not an attack on paradox, but when a system requires you to create concepts in order to protect a concept, there is a problem with the system.
– A System allows “acceptance” without understanding its basis
Finally, a major problem with systems is
that people come to accept the system without understanding the basis of it. Because the basic premises of the system say things that people like about God, themselves, or life in general they “buy into it” without really realizing all the baggage that they are bringing with it. For instance in Calvinism, I meet people all the time who want to hold to the system without acknowledging Double Predestination. As a Calvinist I did not (and still do not) have a problem with God being able to have predestined people to hell if that is His desire (I don’t believe it is the biblical presentation – something to be looked at later, but I have no problem suggesting He is fully within His rights as God to do as much – He is God), but there are a lot of “Calvinists” who do have problems with it even though the system itself requires it. A similar thing could be said for the “4 point Calvinists mentioned above. Finally, this phenomenon could also be applied from an interpretative and philosophical standpoint as well. I am amazed at how many people who claim both Dispensationalism and Calvinism I come across; though at their heart they are completely incompatible from an interpretation standpoint (because the basis for both systems in their conclusions are completely at odds). Systems lend themselves to this sort of divorce between basis and conclusion because so often they express only the conclusions, without relating or identifying where those conclusions come from. They argue that they are just applying the Bible, when in fact they are proof-texting through a lens of a certain philosophy or worldview.****
A big part of my journey out of Calvinism was a journey of discovery of its basis and the way the system didn’t deal with the greater picture of God’s relationship to man. It was also a discovery of how Calvinism had become in many ways its own sort of idol for me – the irony being that at the very moment I was speaking words about the “greatness of God” I was actually enthralled by the greatness of my own intellect. John Newton (A Calvinist) put it well when he wrote:
“And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self- righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.”*****
The difference between me and Newton is that I see this as almost an inherent part of the system of Calvinism, because I believe that systems themselves have inherent dangers, and when placed together with some of the content of Calvinism, such is almost unavoidable. In the weeks ahead I hope to outline more specifically where I believe the system of Calvinism has eclipsed some of the content of Scripture as it pertains to Grace and in so doing, stepped into an untenable position biblically speaking.
*I place the words Doctrines of Grace in quotes because I don’t believe they rise to the level of Doctrines AS THEY ARE STATED in Calvinism. Doctrines are central tenets of the faith that can render one orthodox or heretical.
** Spurgeon wrote: “It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus.” Spurgeon, “A Defense of Calvinism.”
***http://kerussocharis.blogspot.com/2009/09/atonement-in-plain-english-god-saves-us.html I have a lot of respect for Wade on many levels and do not wish to cast aspersions on his overall character at all.
**** Augustine and Calvin’s understanding of reality itself is problematic and fed into the system they both adhered to in relation to the “Doctrines of Grace.”
***** John Newton, quoted in Credenda Agenda, Vol. 5 No. 2, p. 2, from The Works of John Newton, Vol 1, Banner of Truth, p. 272.
Perhaps it is best to start this discussion relating what it is about Calvinism that attracted me to it in the first place. While I cannot speak for someone else, I believe that the things about the system that I found attractive are what lead a lot of people into it. Again, I am not trying to “convert” anyone out of the system; I am simply trying to offer understanding and perspective to those who are not Calvinists and also to lay some foundational topics of discussion that will be components of future installments in this blog. In short, while I believe that each of these elements are laudable motives for pursuing a position (some are indispensible), I will be relating in future blogs why these perceptions of this system are not all that they purport to be.
I was attracted to the system of Calvinism because it is:
– Biblical: It is a rare event to run into a committed Calvinists who cannot quote you chapter and verse of numerous texts that are at the heart of their position. Specific references to predestination, God’s hardening of men’s hearts, being chosen, Grace, the Glory of God, and other emphases of Calvinism are ubiquitous in the Scriptures. Indeed, the presence of these passages is the primary warrant for Calvinists to make the oft-quoted statement that “The Doctrines of Grace are the Gospel” – that is, their position is synonymous with Scripture itself. And let’s be honest, what evangelical Christian does not want to be biblical with every position that they hold – such observations are attractive. When I started into college and really began for the first time to dig into the Scriptures, to search the text for myself and to ask the hard questions before me, Calvinism offered me “biblical” answers.
– God Centered: There is an overwhelming desire that is created within people who discover their lostness and experience God’s Grace to want to do all that they can to praise Him with all that they are. Grace IS wonderful, Grace IS miraculous, Grace IS AMAZING! And when you begin to reflect on this wondrous salvation that has been granted, who wouldn’t pursue a doctrinal position that advocates so clearly man’s complete inability and God’s complete sufficiency? Like the Psalmist, we ask “Who am I?” and relative to who God is, the answer is nobody! Much of Christian teaching in revivalistic churches (such as Baptist) centers on us – My testimony, My salvation, My future, etc…, it’s good to be reminded that God must be the center of everything.
– Unambiguous: Life is full of ambiguity. It is sometimes hard to know right and wrong and to find black and white. In the midst of such experiences, a firm, unshakeable foundation is a joy to find and an immense relief. Calvinism offers this – there are no shades of gray in the system and that is attractive – It’s only God, only His grace, only His choice, only His glory. Ultimately, we can’t argue, we can’t question, we can’t doubt (though we do in our journey – Calvinism recognizes this) because it is His will and who are we to question it? In Bridges book Trusting God (one of my first interactions with Calvinism) this ultimate control, coupled with God’s Goodness, is used to help people get past their circumstances to see a bigger purpose – that purpose being God Himself. Such clarity is comforting it’s easy – even in the face of (or perhaps for some being enhanced by) the self-denial that goes with it as expressed in point two.
– Irenic: There is a calmness to the system that exudes thoughtfulness, depth, and logic. For young people raised in churches full of emotionalism and self-centered teaching, Calvinism offers authenticity to their need to connect with God because it is not about self and it advocates repeatedly letting God be God. This is in some ways an extension of the unambiguousness of the system, but goes more to the heart of the need for depth in churches where shallowness is the norm. That’s attractive, especially as one is trying to “earn his stripes” as an academic and as a means of responding positively to the hypocrisy evident in so many churches that are “man centered” in their teaching.
Looking at the reasons, it’s easy to see the attractiveness of the system. But in my own journey, as I began to gather the bigger picture and to look at ALL of Scripture, and ALL of Christianity, and ALL of who God has revealed Himself to be, I discovered that, in fact, the system doesn’t deliver any of these – except in ways that are inappropriate expressions of them. In the coming weeks, I will outline this as I believe Scripture teaches and God has revealed Himself.
Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him judge whether they are right or wrong. And with the Lord’s help, they will do what is right and will receive his approval. (Romans 14:4, NLT)
I have been told more than a few times that I represent a rarity, someone who was a Calvinist and left it as he became more educated. While I am not certain how rare that actually is, I am aware of the fact that there is a tendency that as people become more educated, they come to find more and more affinity with Calvinism. Indeed, in my own journey I was not raised a Calvinist, but as I moved into college it was the path that I followed. My early years at Seminary saw me develop even more along those lines and it really wasn’t until I moved into advanced studies toward the end of my Master’s and throughout my PhD that I moved away from the system known as Calvinism.
Relating this journey to some, they have asked me to write my thoughts on the subject. So over the next couple of weeks, I will attempt to do this in a way that is appropriate and in a way that demonstrates my belief in a sovereign God who is in real relationship with HIS people.
Starting out, let me say a little about the beliefs that I will be expressing over the next couple of weeks:
– It’s not about “fairness”: One of the elements often raised by those who oppose ONE element of Calvinism – predestination, is that it is not fair of God to choose one for salvation and to choose one for condemnation. I firmly believe that God is God and I cannot determine what is “fair” for a Being who created the concepts of justice, mercy, and grace in the first place. It is about consistency with the revealed word of God.
– It’s not about denominationalism or eschatology – While being a Baptist certainly informs my positions, there is a very strong strand of Calvinism in Baptist history. There is no inherent reason why someone cannot be both a strong Calvinist and a Baptist at the same time (despite what some argue :-)). Furthermore, the primary opposition of Calvinists are often diehard Dispensationalists -since I am not a dispensationalist and in fact reject a lot of the interpretative presuppositions of dispensationalism, the struggle between the two schools of thought does not come into play in this discussion. It is about consistency with the revealed word of God.
– It’s not about division or purification – I don’t want to disfellowship from Calvinists and I hope that those who know me know that I consider all Christians (Calvinist or not) to be brothers and sisters in Christ and worthy of my respect, prayers, and fellowship. I am, in fact, saddened by the militant strides that have been taken on both sides of this issue (both within my denomination and outside it) in classifying “opposition” as being lost, apostate, or ignorant. Disagreement does not have to devolve into name calling or marginalization. I understand that since I am arguring that my approach is biblical, that, by extension, I am implicitly arguing that those who hold to a different approach than me are not. But one can hold a position, argue it forcefully, and still maintain a level of humility and a recognition that fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are servants of the same Master I am and are seeking the same truth I am. Paul compels all believers to understand that in relating to other believers, we remember that God is the Master not us, and that as servants, we let the Master deal with other servants about disputable things. In some ways, I see this discussion to be about disputable things.
My purpose over the next several entries will not be to bash Calvinism. I am not writing these articles out of some crusade to see the view squashed – as if someone writing a blog could have a real impact on a movement that has been part of Christianity since at least the time of Augustine (1600 years now). Rather, I am writing this for people who have found my position unique and have wondered about my journey. I won’t entertain debate on the subject and I don’t believe I will change any Calvinists’ minds. I am simply expressing the journey I have traveled over the last 20 years of my life as a theologian.
Below are some short book reviews.
A New Systematic Theology of The Christian Faith, 2nd Edition
This is a really good Full Systematic Theology from a 5 point calvinist point of view. It’s also more “fun” to read than some other systematic theologies I have read.
Author: Dr. Robert L. Reymond
Chosen By God
If you are looking for books from a Calvinist viewpoint, R.C. Sproul has many, many books. This particular book looks very closely at predestination from a Reformed/Calvinist viewpoint.