24 06 2008

Yesterday someone from a forum on another website posted a comment on my post entitled “OBJECTIONS”. They were such good questions that I thought I should answer them in a post for the benefit of everyone. While I have called this post Objections…(continued)  it isnt an objection in the negative sense as you will see from the second question.

Q. “1st, do you make a distinction between our pre-salvation situation as dead in sin and thereby unable to even accept the gift we are freely given without God graciously doing even that in us on the one hand, and “free will” in day to day life on the other hand? In other words, does Calvinist soteriology also require some sort of Christian fatalism/determinalism? If so isnt that very hard to fit into the Biblical narritive?”

A. I think what you’re asking is how does Free Will fit in with Predestination. It would pay to note that both Calvinist and Arminian theological systems advocate some form of predestination. But Arminian theology limits the extent of God’s ability to predestine events. It makes it conditional upon mans free will. In terms of election the Arminian system makes God’s election conditioned upon the foreseen faith of the individual.  So in essence the will of God is continually frustrated by mans continual blunders.  The problem really is how do you define free will? Do you define it by saying that it is the actions of men that are done without any external influences. We know thats not true, its also impossible. We are all influenced by some external force whether that be advertising, or peer pressure etc. If we say that it is the actions of men done solely wihtout any influences at all we delude oursleves because we also have internal influences such as sin, our own feelings, innate ideas, gifts, and other things that have been placed in us by God. We have all been made in certain ways to respond to things differently. Our free will is always subject to some force. Many systems of theology seem to ignore this fact. We are not as free as we think we are.

Calvinism says that all events are divine foreordained by God, and that He is ultimately in control. As  Luther wrote we are in bondage to our Will as we have a sin nature. We are actually slaves to sin (see my post on total depravity). But again this bondage to sin does not mean that man cannot do “good” it just means that the good people do is faulty in its premise and weak in its implementation. Meaning that it is  self serving and ineffective. It cannot please God because the good that people do never takes away the sin nature. It also does not mean that man is as bad as he can be. Certainly we see that God has placed some restraint on people in the world. (for more on this see Wayne Grudems – Systematic Theology – Chapter on Common Grace)

For me the question is not “How does that stack up with my free will” because that assumes that I am as free as I could be. Unfortunately we do not know everything and I think statements like that assume we do. Humans are guilty of a condition known as “myopia”. What I mean by that is that we are guilty of intellectual short sightedness. What we see as free will is largely enslavement.

As with regards to Fatalism there is only one point of agreement between the two systems. Both agree that there is absolute certainty of future events. In that case we could also accuse an Arminian system of being fatalistic too because it also advocates a form of predestination. But in reality that is not the extent of fatalism because that system assumes that there is no personal and real God, just a blind, unintelligent and non-moral force. People cannot be consistent fatalists either because you would have to say and believe things like “If I am ordained to live a long life then I don’t have to eat because I am going to live long anyway” Calvin himself argued that the term FATE was a term invented by neccessity of the Stoics in order to call God to order to their way of thinking. By contrast predestination in the Calvinist sense allows God to be God. The ultimate and sovereign ruler of the universe. Luther argued that “fate” was proof that inspite of the fall the unbeliever recognises the prescence of the divine in the world. (Boettner, Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p 134)One of the best examples of the apparent contradiction in scripture is Acts 2:23 Why does Peter accuse Judas of the crime of betraying Jesus yet say in the same breath says that it was in the time declared in exact accordance with the purpose of God. I’ll leave you to work that one out. God is free to do as He pleases but will almost certainly always do good because thats the kind of God he is.


Q. 2nd, for you personally, what is it about Calvinist theology that strikes you as so important to a heathy and Scripturally faithful church? It seems to be a very important touchstone of the faith for you here and elsewhere, what is is that makes it so?”

A.  Great question ! As Spurgeon said “There is no gospel if we do not preach what is called Calvinism”. For me it takes the burden of salvation off my shoulders and I realise how utterly unable I am to contribute anything to my salvation, pre or post. For me it is also important from a Pastoral point of vew – because one thing many new Christians are afraid of is “Can I lose my salvation?” and they desperately need reassurance. Not just a nice word but good honest biblical reassurance.

While I agree it is something very important I will admit that it is not an “essential for salvation discussion”. What I mean by that having Jesus as Lord and Saviour of your life is essential for salvation. Understanding Total depravity is not. However reformed theology in my opinion is essential for orthodoxy. I cannot sit under a pastors authority when they preach any doctrine contrary to the doctrines of Grace. I feel they would be doing a great injustice to gospel and misrepresenting it. It doesnt help to keep pushing a theology that was condemmed as heretical by the Synods of Dort in the 1600’s. If we want to say that the council is man made and not binding then we can call into question the doctrines of the Trinity, and Christ as 100% Man and 100% God in one person because these were articulated in Councils too.

Lastly I believe it is the only system of theology that does justice to God.  The God of Arminianism is too small. In the worst case it can make him a mere force or form moral guidance, always subject to the will of man. However Calvinism paints God as the supreme ruler of the Universe, Almighty, All powerful, and Sovereign. A lot of these elements are lost in Arminian theology.

Can an Arminian be saved? Of course, theres no denying that, but that type of theology will not breed free Christians, and it always seeks to keep people in bondage. Ironically that kind of theology is present in the Church I wrote about in a previous post entitled “THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE” and it was a Church I attended for a few years. For me that is what I have seen as the fruit of Arminian theology. Their greatest fear appears to be that if preach Grace their tithing revenues will drop.

Personally I refuse to sit under Arminian teaching, but I still study it as a matter of trying to understand the other side. Like Paul said I become all things to all men so that I may win more for Christ. That doesn’t mean I accept what they preach as true, but at least I try to understand them. Too often people have rejected Calvinism on the behaviour of Calvinists. While not a valid reason for rejecting anything, I do sympathise. Many flaming Calvinists have gone out into the world without understanding the doctrines and have defended them unwisely. At this point I am also reminded of my own lack of wisdom at times. I am by no means perfect and do not mean to present Calvinism as infallible. But I believe it to be the clearest exposition of scripture we have. I am reminded of what Wayne Grudem said “If you are going to hold to a position make sure you’ve got some reasons for your position”. These are my reasons. I hope you’ll find them honest and sincere. As I said to my friends I struggle with many of the same questions they asked. I don’t mean to say I have all the answers either. All I have done is present some really strong arguements for Reformed Theology. I hope to present more in the future, and really my point is to get us to think more about what we believe, to be able to articulate it well and to engage in earnest and honest debate.

I hope that answers those two questions 🙂




5 responses

24 06 2008

Thanks for your response, I definitely have a better idea of where you are coming from now, and I appreciate you taking the time to answer my question.
However, lucky you, your response has lead me to a couple more questions for you. Hopefully you don’t overly mind, for me I always feel like these discussions if done right serve to grow both sides.

For your response to question one, I fully agree that we are never ‘totally free’, our thoughts and decisions are of course influenced by many factors. Is that really the same as not having some sort of free will though? Again, I’m not applying this to salvation or predestination, the Calvinist idea that we can not do anything for our salvation because we are dead in sin and so God elects before the foundations of the earth to save us is not what I am debating here.
Rather I mean to ask, does your personally understanding of Calvinism as a soteriological system also require that my non-soteriological actions are all determined beyond my self? It seems like you see it that way based on this quote
“Calvinism says that all events are divine foreordained by God”

What I am asking here though is not about actions pertaining to salvation, but your understanding of actions like what book I am reading or if I got mad at the guy who cut me off on my way to work, those kind of actions. Because yes, those actions are influenced by any number of factors, but if I had no real choice in the matter at all then I have no culpability for my actions. In that case the end result resembles hard core humanistic evolution, where you can just blame your actions on your genes and society and have no responsibility.
I’m not saying that God did not know before hand that I would read that book or get cut off by that guy, but knowing is not causing. Someone could see me typing right now and that would not be making me do it, likewise God knowing perfectly that I would type this does not necessarily mean he caused it either. I ask this because I have a number of Christian friends who share my Calvinism but then see it as necessitating what I would deem an unbiblical determinalism of every human action.

My question for your second response concerns the below quote…

“It doesn’t help to keep pushing a theology that was condemned as heretical by the Synods of Dort in the 1600’s. If we want to say that the council is man made and not binding then we can call into question the doctrines of the Trinity, and Christ as 100% Man and 100% God in one person because these were articulated in Councils too.”

I really worry about the implications of that logic. Are you saying here that the Synod of Dort was not man made? What would actually back up that idea? That we agree with their conclusions?
I don’t think that calling Dort’s supposed divinely appointed authority into question has anything to do with challenging the Trinity or nature of Christ. First of all, those were ecumenical councils with representatives from throughout the Church, whereas Dort concerned a very specific Western European post Catholic faction of the Church, these should in no way have the same authority. Secondly, who decides which post-ecumenical councils are divinely guided and which are not, why Dort and not a Lutheran council, or Trent, or Vatican II, or one of the Southern Baptist conventions for that matter? Really all you can do is argue that the one you agree with is and the opponents is not, with no Scriptural way to really end the matter. I understand having respect for the decisions of those Reformation theologians, but how is appealing to them as an infallible decision any different than the Roman Catholic church appealing to the Magisterium as authoritative in a given matter?

24 06 2008

Again fantastic questions, truly this is faith seeking understanding. I’ll answer your second one first. I was not appealing to the authority of the Synods of Dort or any Church Council from the past. What I am saying is that these councils articulated what was clear from scripture. While they do not hold the same weight as scripture itself, it would be worth noting that certain positions have consistently been condemmed as heretical. Note my phraseology “It also doesnt help to hold a position that has been condemmed” It is not helpful, it doesnt mean that the authority of those councils eliminates the individuals right to decide and use their mind, and wrestle with opposing views. I was definately not appealing to the councils in the same way that Roman Catholics may appeal to the Magisterium.

I also said that because when there is large scale condemnation of a certain view we could take that as someone not “hearing” the voice of God. Jesus said that “my sheep hear me and know my voice”. If someone holds a view that throughout history has been seen as heretical, circumstantially I see that the voice of God may not be “speaking” to that individual or propogator of that view. Its not solid proof, but clearly when there is such large scale rejection of certain views you have to ask why….

For your second point that quote that all events are divinely foreordained is a tough one and I struggle to understand how it works. I look at as one who “looks into a mirror dimly, we know in part but then we shall know in full”. The reason I could post that is in relation to Acts 2:23 – Peter claims that Judas had committed and was guilty of the crime of betraying Jesus, and still had acted in accordance with Gods will. How is that possible? Well its a tension of opposites. There is some truth to saying I have free will but thats not the question for me, the question is how much free will do we have in reality and how do you define free will.
A person in a big cage may have freedom to move as he pleases in the cage, but he is still nevertheless in a cage.

25 06 2008

I appreciate your gracious response. Certainly there is a tension there as we examine passages like the one you quoted about Judas, who clearly choose his actions (it seems to me that he probably had a reason for them as well, not just as the embodiment of evil or something, but perhaps trying to compel Jesus to become the kind of militant Messiah he wanted by forcing his hand) and yet at the same time brought to pass the will of God that Jesus would be betrayed in this manner. I don’t fully grasp how this works either, nor do I expect anyone else does in this lifetime at least, but it is an interesting challenge to think through.

As to the councils, I’m glad you’re not going the direction I thought and putting the authority of Reformation councils on the same level as Nicaea/Chalcedon. And in the interest of full disclosure, I too hold to a Calvinist soteriology, and have read quite a bit of Calvin, Grudem, Robert Raymond, Sproul and other likeminded theologians, some of whom I agree with more than others. I may hold to my Calvinism with a somewhat more open hand, but if put in the position to choose that or Arminianism, I’d choose Calvin every time, so please do not take any of this as me challenging your basic adherence to Calvinism.

That said I still have some concerns with your approach here, and I worry that going this direction may actually weaken the argument Calvinism has going for it. Specifically you said in relation to Arminianism,

“What I am saying is that these councils articulated what was clear from scripture. While they do not hold the same weight as scripture itself, it would be worth noting that certain positions have consistently been condemned as heretical”

I too think that Calvinism is closer to what Scripture is teaching than the alternative, but I think we tread very thin ice when we assume that it is really as clear and central a teaching as we might wish to believe. Calvinism may be a helpful understanding of some of what the Scriptures are saying, but that is not to say that for example Paul was a Calvinist per-say or taught exactly that, any more than it is legitimate to say Paul was a Dispensationalist or an Ana-Baptist, all these are merely attempts (better or worse) to articulate what the Scriptures say, and should therefore be viewed with a fair amount of critical thought.

More central to my concern is the idea that Arminianism (or other positions ones favorite theologians may have opposed) counts as a heresy, for that is strong language indeed, and I disagree that it has been that consistently condemned. Heresy seems an inappropriately strong condemnation for something of this matter, and in church history is usually reserved for those positions which serve to remove one from the faith like the denial of Jesus’ divine and human nature or the Trinity. Throwing that term around seems mostly only to serve to polarize the situation in an unhelpful manner.
Also, just because some Calvinist groups have of cource condemned it does not mean that it is clearly a position not “hearing from God”, or unorthodox, any more than Rome condemning the Reformers as heretics made them so, or the many Arminians condemning Calvinism makes it wrong. In fact, I would think that there are a lot more practical Arminians in the Evangelical church (look how we do evangelism for example) and if so, which I think Christianity Today has a good article showing, then by your reasoning it would be Calvinism that would be condemned would it not?

25 06 2008

Fair comments 🙂 I don’t mean to imply that Jesus or Paul were Calvinists but I do find that what they said is consistent with a calvinist framework of theology. Arminianism was condemmed as heretical by the Synods of Dort – thats why I said heretical there. While I agree that perhaps their words were harsh it helps to see Arminian doctrine with an historical perspective. I make no practice of calling Arminians heretics or condemming them because in doing so I judge myself. It is the fool who professes his own wisdom. But I do hold the truth in high esteem and wish to make sure people understand the other side. At least I can be said to be leading the horse to a drink, but i am well aware of being unable to force anyone to believe what I believe.

There are certainly valid pastoral concerns with preaching these doctrines, but I believe if they are presented in an Irenic fashion stating both sides of the argument and allowing people to decide without being pressured will result in a lot of personal growth for church attenders and for the body as a whole. Personally I don’t see how Arminian theology leads to anything but bondage.

I can’t comment on the Christianity today article because I havent read it.

But I think you’re right on with the free will thing – I don’t think we’re going to solve it in our lifetime.

25 06 2008

By the way thank you for posting such intelligent and well thought out questions. I’m a firm believer that no question should be off limits. If we limit our questions we limit our understanding. Too often I find people are theologically lazy and don’t want to struggle with apparent contradictions, hence the emergent church movement. I heard a comment by Brian Maclaren who was asked about Christianity and Homosexuality. He said “I’m reluctant to answer because whatever I say will offend someone.” That was the end of the answer. If we do not struggle with the truths in the Bible we are in danger of watering down the gospel and denying its true power.

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