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.
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