Calvinism


When some Arminians accuse Calvinists of having a “gospel without Jesus” or of being spiritually sterile, it’s not only offensive, it is also wrong.

But just so’s we’re clear – it’s equally wrong and offensive when Calvinists feign indignity at their Arminian brothers’ ignorant claims…while making equally ignorant counter-claims like this, all the while trying to pull off the very tired “Whaaaaaat? I’m not beingbroad-brushed and insensitive – I’m a theologically orthodox Calvinist! It’s those dirty Arminians who are the ignorant Philistines here!” bit.

Give.

Me.

A.

Break.

From a “truly Reformed” perspective, says something that I’ve long pointed out (and been hammered at for doing so): Reformed means a lot more than just believing in TULIP; it’s an entire theological structure and worldview that encompasses vastly more than soteriology.

Here’s the article.

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In spite of what “timothy” said in his comments to one of my previous posts, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is hardly Arminian.  In fact, the lack of historical acumen required to even make such a statement is…well, to be charitable, I should really not complete that sentence.

There are many who fault Calvary Chapel for our views on issues like election and the security of the believer.  Now, whereas I am in no way suggesting that CC’s position is the same as historical Lutheranism (it isn’t; there are critical differences); however, it’s amazing how eerily familiar these Q&A’s about Lutheran doctrine sound, from the LCMS’s website:

Q. Can you lose your salvation and if you can, what do you need to do to regain it again?

A. The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod believes and teaches that it is possible for a true believer to fall from faith, as Scripture itself soberly and repeatedly warns us (1 Cor. 10:12; 1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Pet. 3:17; Heb. 2:1-3; 3:12-19; 6:4-8, etc.). Such warnings are intended for Christians who appear to be lacking a right understanding of the seriousness of their sin and of God’s judgment against sin, and who, therefore, are in danger of developing a false and proud “security” based not on God’s grace, but on their own works, self-righteousness, or freedom to “do as they please.”

By the same token, the LCMS affirms and treasures all of the wonderful passages in Scripture in which God promises that He will never forsake those who trust in Christ Jesus alone for salvation (John 10:27-29; Romans 8; Heb. 13: 5-6, etc.). To those who are truly repentant and recognize their need for God’s grace and forgiveness, such passages are powerful reminders of the true security that is ours through sincere and humble faith in Christ alone for our salvation.

A person may be restored to faith in the same way he or she came to faith in the first place: by repenting of his or her sin and unbelief and trusting completely in the life, death and resurrection of Christ alone for forgiveness and salvation.

Whenever a person does repent and believe, this always takes place by the grace of God alone and by the power of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word in a person’s heart.

12. On the basis of these clear statements of the Holy Scriptures we reject every kind of synergism, that is, the doctrine that conversion is wrought not by the grace and power of God alone, but in part also by the co-operation of man himself, by man’s right conduct, his right attitude, his right self-determination, his lesser guilt or less evil conduct as compared with others, his refraining from willful resistance, or anything else whereby man’s conversion and salvation is taken out of the gracious hands of God and made to depend on what man does or leaves undone. For this refraining from willful resistance or from any kind of resistance is also solely a work of grace, which “changes unwilling into willing men,” Ezek. 36:26; Phil. 2:13. We reject also the doctrine that man is able to decide for conversion through “powers imparted by grace,” since this doctrine presupposes that before conversion man still possesses spiritual powers by which he can make the right use of such “powers imparted by grace.”

13. On the other hand, we reject also the Calvinistic perversion of the doctrine of conversion, that is, the doctrine that God does not desire to convert and save all hearers of the Word, but only a portion of them. Many hearers of the Word indeed remain unconverted and are not saved, not because God does not earnestly desire their conversion and salvation, but solely because they stubbornly resist the gracious operation of the Holy Ghost, as Scripture teaches, Acts 7:51; Matt. 23:37; Acts 13:46.

14. As to the question why not all men are converted and saved, seeing that God’s grace is universal and all men are equally and utterly corrupt, we confess that we cannot answer it. From Scripture we know only this: A man owes his conversion and salvation, not to any lesser guilt or better conduct on his part, but solely to the grace of God. But any man’s non-conversion is due to himself alone; it is the result of his obstinate resistance against the converting operation of the Holy Ghost. Hos. 13:9.

36. Accordingly we reject as an anti-Scriptural error the doctrine that not alone the grace of God and the merit of Christ are the cause of the election of grace, but that God has, in addition, found or regarded something good in us which prompted or caused Him to elect us, this being variously designated as “good works,” “right conduct,” “proper self-determination,” “refraining from willful resistance,” etc. Nor does Holy Scripture know of an election “by foreseen faith,” “in view of faith,” as though the faith of the elect were to be placed before their election; but according to Scripture the faith which the elect have in time belongs to the spiritual blessings with which God has endowed them by His eternal election. For Scripture teaches Acts 13:48: “And as many as were ordained unto eternal life believed.” Our Lutheran Confession also testifies (Triglot, p. 1065, Paragraph 8; M. p. 705): “The eternal election of God however, not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the elect, but is also, from the gracious will and pleasure of God in Christ Jesus, a cause which procures, works, helps, and promotes our salvation and what pertains thereto; and upon this our salvation is so founded that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, Matt. 16:18, as is written John 10:28: `Neither shall any man pluck My sheep out of My hand’; and again, Acts 13:48: `And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed..”‘

37. But as earnestly as we maintain that there is an election of grace, or a predestination to salvation, so decidedly do we teach, on the other hand, that there is no election of wrath, or predestination to damnation. Scripture plainly reveals the truth that the love of God for the world of lost sinners is universal, that is, that it embraces all men without exception, that Christ has fully reconciled all men unto God, and that God earnestly desires to bring all men to faith, to preserve them therein, and thus to save them, as Scripture testifies, 1 Tim. 2:4: “God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” No man is lost because God has predestined him to eternal damnation. — Eternal election is a cause why the elect are brought to faith in time, Acts 13:48; but election is not a cause why men remain unbelievers when they hear the Word of God. The reason assigned by Scripture for this sad fact is that these men judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life, putting the Word of God from them and obstinately resisting the Holy Ghost, whose earnest will it is to bring also them to repentance and faith by means of the Word, Act 13:46; 7:51; Matt. 23:37.

Again, please do not misunderstand – I am not here suggesting that Lutheran theology comports with CC theology.

I am, however, very intrigued to note how non-Calvinist and non-Arminian their theology is…again demonstrating that the idea that those two particular theological antipodes exhaust all options, and therefore if you are not one you are automatically the other.

Not.

Many if not most Calvinists view the world in terms similar to Islam, in the sense that the world is neatly divided into two opposing camps: Dar al-Islam and Dar al-HarbDar al-Islam is the “house of Islam,” the theopolitical abode of the faithful; by way of contrast, Dar al-Harb is the “house of (those with whom we are continually at) war (until the Day of Judgment).”  There is no middle ground, there are no third parties, you are one or the other.

Very neat, very tidy, very binary.

For many if not most Calvinists, you are either a Calvinist or you are an Arminian (or, as many of the “Truly Reformed/New Calvinists” like to insist, a Semi-Pelagian).  To them, these two options exhaust the theological possibilities.  If you are not for Geneva, you are against her – and for at least some, that is equivalent to rejecting the Gospel itself.

I have heard countless times by my Reformed friends how my unease with the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” stem from the fact that I value humanistic philosophy over the clear teaching of the Word – the necessary implication being that if you reject Calvinism, you reject the clear teaching of the Word, and instead embrace humanistic philosophy.  I am constantly labeled an Arminian as a result.

However, the prevailing Calvinist insistence on the Calvinism/Arminianism dichotomy fails irreparably (and quite quickly) when honestly examined.

It turns out that there are quite a few theological systems which owe nothing to either Calvinism or Arminianism.

For instance, Lutheranism.

Lutherans would be mighty surprised to find that their theology owes its existence to a Dutch reformer who was born fourteen years after Luther (the putative founder of their confession) himself died.  Yet that Lutheranism is emphatically not Calvinism is beyond controversy.  It instead occupies a theological territory quite other than either Calvinism or Arminianism.

Though I am far from being Lutheran, the more I read about Lutheran theology the more impressed and appreciative of aspects of it I become.  Among other things, Lutherans handily navigate the vexing waters between the Scylla of God’s Sovereignty and the Charybdis of man’s free will.  Take, for instance, the Lutheran position on the doctrine of divine election, summarized by Josh Strodtbeck in an interview with iMonk:

Luther shied away from abstractions, and we Lutherans inherited that. Not just sovereignty, but the attributes of God in general are simply not of extreme importance. If you look at Luther’s catechisms, he actually defines God in terms of Creation, the Cross, and the Church. Compare that to Q7 in the Westminster LC. So for Lutherans, theology is done in terms of God’s relation to us. That means theology never gets away from Law and Gospel, from justification, from the incarnation of Jesus Christ. If you look at the discussion of election in the Formula of Concord, its driving concern is not maintaining God’s sovereignty, but rather how election is to be preached within the framework of Law and Gospel. That’s why Chemnitz is comfortable with basically saying that God declares our election to us in the preaching of the Gospel and admonishes against rational speculation on the inscrutable decrees of God apart from Christ, who is made known to us in the Gospel and the Sacraments. It’s also the source of the bewildering (to Calvinists) assertion by Lutherans that while election is purely of the grace of God in Christ, reprobation is purely of the obstinate will of man and against God’s desire that they be saved. This doesn’t make sense in terms of divine attributes or sovereignty, but it does if you hold that damnation is Law and election is Gospel.

{emphasis mine}

I like that.

I really like that.

To my Calvinist brothers: I still love you, my opening paragraph was purposefully provocative, in order to provoke a reaction similar to the one I and other non-Calvinists feel when your theological brethren dismissively try to pigeon-hole us into the “Semi-Pelagian” category simply because we don’t see the Canons of Dort as comporting with what we understand in Scripture.

That said, I find it beyond fascinating that the theological landscape is vastly more variegated than the oversimplistic “Calvinist/Arminian” weltanschauung prevalent in so much of the current theological conversation.

From the American Vision blog:

What is the question? Simply this: "If God loves me unconditionally, why does it matter how I live my life?" Or it could also be phrased this way: "If God truly loves me unconditionally, why should it matter whether or not I ‘become a Christian?’" Be careful to not miss how powerful and deadly this question really is. It is not just a clever twist of wording, meant to sidetrack the evangelistic efforts of well-meaning proselytizers. Far from it. This question is the stake in the heart of the modern evangelical notion of God’s "unconditional love." In fact, I challenge you to search for the phrase "unconditional love" in the Bible or find the concept that God unconditionally loves every person on earth being taught anywhere in Scripture. In fact, R.J. Rushdoony makes the bold claim that "unconditional love is contrary to the Bible."

Again: the Calvinist is noetically incapable of seeing God’s love as being truly unconditional.  For him, when God says He “so loved the world,” the Calvinist is presuppositionally forced to inject “…of the elect” into the verse.  When the Bible says that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, he is again forced to inject “…any of the elect…all of the elect” where the clause does not in fact exist either contextually or necessarily.

The fact is, the Bible does teach God’s unconditional love – quite emphatically so.  It is, however, inaccurate to assert that unconditional love means that there are no necessary consequences for sin and rebellion.  I can love my son unconditionally – but if he misbehaves, because and as a direct consequence of my love, I will not shield him from the consequences of his actions, and will instead discipline him.  There is no real conflict between my unconditional love for my son and my then administering to him the consequences for his behavior when he misbehaves.

So, too, God.  God loves the world – every single person on it.  He even spoke to Judas in love, calling him at the very moment of his betrayal of Him, “friend,” giving Judas a last opportunity to repent.  That love is not inconsistent with His permitting men to receive the consequences of their choices, since that is likewise a consequence of two other of His attributes – justice and holiness.

But the consistent Calvinist cannot see this; he is committed to a theology which has God arbitrarily deciding from eternity past who will be saved and who will burn, with the individuals in question having absolutely no choice in the matter, instead being foreordinately and infallibly vouchsafed to whichever destiny He arbitrarily chose for them – who in effect created the vast bulk of humanity to suffer in unimaginable agony throughout eternity for His glory alone.

…and insist on calling these the “Doctrines of Grace.”

…and Calvinists wonder why us non-Calvinists run as hard and fast as we can away from Calvinism, screaming in horror the whole way.

God’s unconditional love for mankind is in no way inconsistent with His holiness and justice.  It is HIs holiness and justice which requires that sin be dealt with, and which in fact demands that there be such as place as hell for those who die in their sin; it was likewise His unconditional love which impelled Him to take upon Himself human flesh to die so as to provide the only way men might be saved through His free grace, providing an escape from the just consequences of their sins which would otherwise require their eternal damnation.  God’s unwillingness that any should perish but that instead all should come to repentance is in no way inconsistent with His will that those who do not repent will perish.  Nobody (who isn’t a Hypercalvinist) has any problem with the distinctions between God’s perfect, permissive, and declarative will.

I may not have things as tightly bound up and figured out as the Calvinist has; but I can identify crazy when I see it – and the assertion that God’s love is conditional emphatically falls under that category.

Mike Patton, a stark-raving out-of-the-closet Calvinist, has some incredibly good insights here.

Tee hee hee…check it here.

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