Archive for the ‘calvinism’ Category

Russell Moore offers a clarifying portrayal:

If today John Calvin were discovered alive and in suspended animation, frozen in a block of ice somewhere in the French Alps, most people probably wouldn’t consider this good news. After all, the unfrozen Calvinist lawgiver rarely is thought of as the kind of figure modern audiences would want to drag back up.

His writings don’t have the wink-of-the-eye puckish grin that even his contemporary Martin Luther seems to sometimes communicate in his many writings. Moreover, Calvin, although associated with some bland but commendable features such as hard work and thrift, is mostly known for all kinds of awful things: such as burnings at the stake and the predestination of people to hell.

Calvin is too important, though, to leave him frozen in caricature, and he’s too significant to leave him simply to his tribe of theological partisans. John Calvin—most significantly in his Institutes of the Christian Religion—offers insight to all in the Christian tradition, including those who consider themselves the furthest away from “Calvinism.”…

As you read Calvin’s Institutes, you will probably find points of disagreement, perhaps even major disagreements. But you will probably—whatever your religious communion—find the insights of a mind shaped by immersion in the Scriptures, in the church fathers, in Western classical thought. And you will find behind that a man who recognized something of what it meant to be a creature, and to look in worship and humility for the Creator in whom he lived and moved.

I often find that many of those who most vehemently oppose Calvin and his theology have never actually read him, at least not at length.  Do it (I dare you), with a humble mind and gracious heart, and I think you will find that he has much to offer.

You can read many of Calvin’s works for free at CCEL.org.  For more on the real Calvin, click here.

Calvinists are often stereotyped as austere, ungracious, unloving, and sometimes just plain mean.  My personal opinion is that this reputation is mostly caricature and/or misunderstanding.  However, I also recognize that Calvinists do indeed share some of the blame for their bad name.

This realization is what led me to write a series of posts entitled “Humble Calvinism,” in which I exhorted Calvinists to truly imitate Calvin in his profound theological humility and practical graciousness.

In a similar vein, Ed Stetzer recently asked Joe Thorn a few questions about “angry Calvinists,” and I think some of Thorn’s answers are extremely helpful.

I seem to run into the cranky Calvinists. So, that leads to my question: why do you think some Calvinists are so angry?

I know what you’re talking about, but honestly, I think it has nothing to do with their Calvinism, and everything to do with their faith. I don’t mean the object of their faith– Jesus. And, I don’t mean “the faith once for all delivered to the saints,” buttheir faith. Of course, it works this way in me as well. When I’m cranky, complaining, or whatever corruption is bubbling to the surface, it’s not my confession or theology that is in error, but my heart. When I am proud or petty it’s my heart that is out of alignment with my theology.

Sure, I agree with that. While it obviously isn’t true of all Calvinists there is a disproportionate number of angry Calvinists compared to other groups. Do you see that?

Well, yes I see that. I think we all see it. The question for me is why are we seeing that, and what exactly are we seeing? Why are there more angry, loud and proud, combative Calvinists than other kinds of Christians? I think, and I could be wrong, but I think it’s a combination of a few things.

One is that Cavinism, as a biblical and beautiful understanding of God, man, and redemption, is often very exciting to those newly acquainted with it. Many who have grown in the faith with very little theology and later discover Reformed theology are simply over-zealous…

Second, I think some who find their way into the Reformed faith are angry for having been denied a solid theological foundation in their past. They feel as if they’ve wasted years of their life, or the church has let them down…

Third, knowledge can and does “puff up” as Paul says. And while this is a shared problem with other systems of theology, it is certainly a reality among the Reformed. It’s ironic though…

Thorn then offers four constructive suggestions for how Calvinists can seek to address this issue:

First, I think it would be fruitful for more correction to come from inside our own theological tribe…

Second, when addressing the issue of “those angry Calvinists” we need to be careful and not make Calvinism the issue. It’s not about Calvinism…

Third, I’d encourage people to simply model a better way…

Fourth, I’d encourage others to simply not engage the haters. There are blogs I simply do not read because it doesn’t benefit me spiritually. Some people move me to examine myself, look to Jesus, and grow in grace. Others just provoke me to anger…

A helpful explanation of the biblical doctrine of divine election:

…God stands at the door of heaven with His arms outstretched, inviting all to come. Yet all men without exception are running in the opposite direction toward hell as hard as they can go. So God, in election, graciously reaches out and stops this one, and that one, and this one over here, and that one over there, and effectually draws them to Himself by changing their hearts, making them willing to come. Election keeps no one out of heaven who would otherwise have been there, but it keeps a whole multitude of sinners out of hell who otherwise would have been there. Were it not for election, heaven would be an empty place, and hell would be bursting at the seams…

HT: Mark Altrogge

Trevin Wax has written a thought-provoking piece exploring the possible impact of the attacks of Semptember 11, 2001 on the recent resurgence of Reformed theology among American evangelicals.  His main points are as follows:

1. September 11 forced “the problem of evil” to the forefront of theological reflection.

Terrorism brought the concept of “evil” back from a purgatory of positive thinking and practical theology. Politicians started using the term again. Preachers began sermon series on the reality of evil and suffering. Our society’s aversion to words like “evil” and “sin” suddenly appeared like an ostrich trying to avoid the truth…

Having witnessed the carnage of the terrorist attacks, I questioned whether free will was worth the trouble. Is it worth it having free will just so God can be loved without force? Isn’t there something bigger than our love for God?

I also realized that the free will response didn’t get God off the hook; it just pushed His presence into the distance a little further…

2. September 11 created an environment in which the easy answers of pop evangelicalism were no longer satisfying.

The typical evangelical response to “9/11 problem of evil” questions was to shrug them off and take comfort in the “God-moments” that occurred on that day…

But I remember how these responses seemed so inadequate. The towers fell. Some people survived. Praise God! But others died. Do we still praise God? If God were involved in a person’s survival, was He not also involved in the life that perished?…

The vision of God put forth by many evangelicals was that of a doting grandfather who arrived too late to stop the tragedy, but in time to help us put the pieces back together again.

3. The post 9/11 culture was ripe for a generation of young people to dig into the Bible for answers to some of life’s most perplexing questions.

The typical evangelical responses were superficial, and I rejected them. They offered temporary comfort by pushing aside the hard questions…

Many of us started digging deep. We wanted answers. And Reformed theology didn’t shy away from the hard questions…

In a post 9/11 world, shallow evangelicalism didn’t have the answers that many younger evangelicals were longing for. Many of us eventually came to grips with a majestic, ferocious, and irresistibly attractive God who burst all the boxes we had wanted to keep Him in.
God was in control…

4. September 11 has marked the ministry of a younger generation of pastors.

Many of today’s young preachers and teachers have different sensibilities than the baby boomer generation that proceeded them. Listen to Matt Chandler and David Platt and you won’t hear messages filled with practical tips to bettering your life today. Instead, you hear men with distinctive styles addressing some of the toughest questions of life. Chandler preaches through Habakkuk while recovering from brain surgery for a tumor. David Platt leads his church to reflection (theology) and action (service) on behalf of a Birmingham ravaged by tornadoes. The preaching ministry of many younger pastors has been significantly shaped by the reality of life in a post-9/11 world…

Doug Wilson:

As Jonathan Kay has observed, one of the basic features of the conspiratorial mindset is a deep belief in the hypercompetence of the evil cabal that runs the world. But the Calvinist believes that the Holy Spirit runs the world, and that the conspiracies that do exist to resist Him are to be considered on a spiritual level with the Keystone Kops. The Lord laughs; He holds them in derision.

There is a theme that holds all history together, but the only one who understands that theme is the one who composed it. If God freely and unalterably ordains whatsoever comes to pass, and He does, then this does not really leave any space for a wicked singularity that orchestrated the death of JFK and the fall of the Twin Towers, not to mention everything in between and on either side. This singularity, if you are curious, is best represented by an octopus of a Jew on a pile of skulls, and a bag of gold in each tentacle. If you are not skeeered yet, then perhaps you might still have time to read “this material” (that will make it all clear), as you flee to the wilds of Montana.

See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Presdestination vs. Foreknowledge

Much of the theology discussed relating to Augustine and Calvin has been very similar.  As noted earlier, Calvin himself quoted Augustine hundreds of times in his all-encompassing Institutes of the Christian Religion, obviously considering him a trustworthy authority from which to support his own ideas and interpretations.[1]  Although Calvin insisted on the primacy of the divine Scriptures, understanding them to be the sole source for certain knowledge about God and His works, he still was heavily influenced by his great predecessor, adopting many of his ideas and building upon them.  Perhaps most importantly, Calvin shared Augustine’s same foundational understanding of man’s relationship towards God: we are helpless and He is sovereign.  This basic premise directed each man’s own person search for truth in Scripture, especially with regard to their soteriology.

However, differences still manifested themselves between the two theologians.  One of the primary dissimilarities is Augustine’s use of the terms foreknowledge and predestination interchangeably, opposed to Calvin’s strict distinction between the two concepts.  At first, this would seem to undermine much of the continuity between the two men outlined thus far, especially when one considers Calvin’s fierce words against such an equation.  However, upon further examination, I would argue that the difference is merely semantic and thus does not change the essential unity of thought expressed by the two men.

Augustine argues that the Bible uses the two terms interchangeably, with the meanings being essentially equal.  Referencing Romans 11:2, he writes,

“Consequently sometimes the same predestination is signified also under the name of foreknowledge; as says the apostle, ‘God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.’  Here, when he says, ‘He foreknew,’ the sense is not rightly understood except as ‘He predestinated,’ as is shown by the context of the passage itself.”[2]

Citing Israel as an example, Augustine seems to understand that the biblical writers sometimes used the term foreknow in a much more personal, relational way than as it is strictly defined.  Rather than merely signifying mental knowledge of a fact before its actual occurrence in time, Augustine saw foreknowledge as denoting a loving selection or choice on God’s part.[3]  Biblical foreknowledge was therefore more than mere cognition of foreseen merits in the life of the “potential” elect person, such as good works or faith.  This is proven by what Augustine says immediately prior to the previous quote, where he writes that faith, and perseverance in that faith, are both gifts from God.

Calvin, however, was much more careful with his terms, insisting that God’s foreknowledge was not the same thing as His predestination.  For Calvin, foreknowledge was God’s knowledge of all things, past, present, and future.[4]  This knowledge is “extended throughout the universe to every creature.”[5]  Predestination, on the other hand, is “God’s eternal decree, by which He compacted with Himself what He willed to become of each man… Eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others.”[6]  Calvin was forced to make this distinction because of his opponents who were defining God’s foreknowledge primarily in terms of knowledge of facts about the future, then insisting that God’s predestination is based on the foreseen merit of the individual, a concept which made His election conditioned on some human action.

Calvin could not accept this, for to condition man’s salvation on anything other than the immutable will of God was to strip God of His absolute sovereignty and give man power over his own salvation.  For Calvin, this transfer of power from God to man was also a transfer of glory in the same direction, and thus God was dishonored, while man was exalted.  This inversion of God’s stated purpose in creating and sustaining the universe was unacceptable to Calvin.  Referring to Ephesians 1:5, he writes,

“By these words [Paul] does away with all means of their election that men imagine in themselves.  For all benefits that God bestows for…flow from this one source: namely, that God has chosen whom He has willed, and before their birth has laid up for them individually the grace that He willed to grant them.”[7]

Because foreknowledge was defined in a much less relational, electing way for Calvin than it was for Augustine, Calvin rejected any equation of the two terms, instead taking time to carefully explain the differences lest God be robbed of any glory in the salvation of men.

Conclusion

After exploring the issue, it seems clear that although the two theologians explicitly contradicted each other in regards to the use of the terms foreknowledge and predestination, their understandings of each were so divergent as to render to conflict null and void.  When one considers the whole of their respective soteriologies, it is abundantly clear that any perceived conflict is superficial: Augustine and Calvin both emphasized man’s absolute dependence on God for anything good, the fact that faith is a gracious gift of God, and that predestination is based solely on His good pleasure and mercy.  For both, the goal of God’s sovereign election was to trample underfoot the pride of man with the glory of God.

Endnotes:
[1] It must be noted, however, that Calvin never held Augustine to be of the same weight or authority as he held Scripture to be.  Unlike his Roman Catholic counterparts, Calvin truly did strive to uphold the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura as much as possible.  Thus, Calvin uses Augustine merely as supplementary support for his interpretations.
[2] Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, ch. 47
[3] Indeed, this is how the biblical writers often use the word foreknowledge.  See 1 Peter 1:20; Romans 11:1-2; Matthew 7:22-23; Genesis 18:17-19
[4] Actually, Calvin maintained that because God is outside of time, for Him “there is nothing future or past, but all things are present.  And they are present in such a way that He not only conceives them through ideas, as we have before us those things which our minds remember, but He truly looks upon them and discerns them as things placed before Him.” Institutes, 3:21:5
[5] Calvin, Institutes, 3:21:5
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 3:22:2

Now the Calvinist contends that the Arminian idea of election, redemption and calling as acts of God which do not save cuts at the very heart of their biblical meaning; that to say in the Arminian sense that God elects believers, and Christ died for all men, and the Spirit quickens those who receive the word, is really to say that in the biblical sense God elects nobody, and Christ died for nobody, and the Spirit quickens nobody…This, and nothing less than this, is what the Arminian controversy is about.

– J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, p. 132