Thursday, April 17, 2008
My wee response to "why I am not a Calvinist" Part 1/3
My interaction is in blue.
Why I'm Not A Calvinist
In this post I give my autobiographical and intellectual reasons for rejecting Calvinism
This is a post I have been thinking about and working on for quite some time. It is not meant to be an exhaustive critique of Calvinism or an argument for the purity of non-Calvinist theology. It is a response to the genuine inquiries of those who ask why I no longer hold to the Calvinistic “doctrines of grace” and “sovereignty of God.” Confessional intellectual autobiography and polemical discourse are the genres in which I write, and hopefully it will be apparent at which places I vacillate between the two. I have made a concerted effort to downplay the use of technical jargon, though some will be necessary. When words idiosyncratic to the issues emerge I will do my best to explain them, but I plead for grace in advance for any presumed vocabulary that may be foreign to the gentle reader.
I shall begin by giving the argument that persuaded me to embrace Calvinism followed by a critique of that argument.
In offering a response to this written article, I have decided to simply interact with what is written. I am a Calvinist, and have been since the day I was converted to Jesus Christ my Lord. My first concern here is the idea that an argument per say is what essentially causes anyone to be persuaded to a particular view of Scripture and the truth of it. No Calvinist as far as I know has ever believed that an argument in and of itself is what makes a person change their views. There is an old saying that suggests what we win people with is what we win them to, and that saying is underpinned with the reformed idea from scripture, that it is God the Holy Spirit who persuades people, as the essential point, otherwise, no matter what the argument may be, it in and of itself is not enough to persuade people to embrace the things of God. I just want to get that on the record here as I interact with this article. So, my main point thus far is I am concerned by the writers idea that he embraced Calvinism because of some kind of argument, and that the writer was not in fact persuaded because of the Holy Spirit applying the truth of scripture and hence truly being a Calvinist in the sense that is what Calvinism actually teaches. In other words, no one will ever embrace Calvinism by their free will, which obviously includes human reasoning and the truth or falsity of arguments alone, even good and powerful arguments. Therefore, the argument can now be made by me, that the writer never really was a Calvinist. At least on the premise that any argument can essentially be the deciding means whereby one becomes a Calvinist.
Then I will survey the major intellectual and personal problem I endured as a Calvinist and show how it served to undermine my faith. Finally I will conclude by highlighting the benefits I received from being a Calvinist and identify my own position. Surely, there will be disagreement and I am not naïve to the possibility of inviting scorn. My only request is that this be read with the same hermeneutic of charity that I have tried to extend to the writings and teachings of Calvinists themselves.
No problem, I shall do my best to be fair and balanced also.
Calvinism’s Strongest Argument
Historical theology’s teaching on the freedom and bondage of the human will almost always begins with the dispute between Augustine and Pelagius. Without diving into all of the historical details of the debate, the disagreement was simple yet profound in answering the following question: Do we do righteous works by our own power or by the grace of God? Pelagius argued the former, Augustine argued the latter. History sided with Augustine and “Pelagianism” was deemed a heresy.
And history got it right.
I understand the writers wish to be polemical and that is fine, but just so we are clear, I simply wish to suggest for the record that “history is right” not because someone counted heads and had a vote or something, but rather because God Himself guides His Church and shall Himself refute error by the faithful preaching and teaching of His Word in all ages. Not trying to be picky here, just trying to keep ideas in a context that is accurate.
The human will is so in bondage to sin that it is incapable of pleasing God in any meaningful way.
Again just for accuracy, the Calvinist teaching maintains that men can and often do very good and meaningful things that in and of themselves may in fact please God. These good actions of men are a part of what reformed Theology calls “Common grace”. However, we make a distinction with regards to what pleases God in relation to “inherent righteousness and holiness” which is acceptable to God. No man in and of himself has this kind of inherent righteousness post Adamic fall. Therefore, mans efforts to please God in this respect are impossible. That is Calvinism very briefly.
So much so that it is necessary for God to graciously intervene and “regenerate” our hearts so that we can move towards him. The analogy often given to help us understand this parallels that of resurrecting from the dead: we are dead in sin and God makes us alive in righteousness so that we might have faith in him. Calvinists are wholly and biblically correct to insist that we need divine assistance to draw near God.
Actually, Divine assistance should be Divine enablement.
From this, Calvinism makes its strongest argument: the argument from grace. Simply put, the argument states that since we are so incapable of pleasing God by our good works he must intervene to save us according to his own power and will. We contribute nothing to our salvation. He is the author and perfector of our faith from beginning to end and any claim we make for the explanation as to why we are saved, be it good works, wise decision-making, or persistent perseverance under trial, in effect “takes credit” for our salvation and renders grace meaningless. God’s glory is compromised and we are able to boast before God. This understanding of salvation is broadly described as “mongergism,” which means that God is solely responsible for our salvation.
When I first encountered this argument I found it persuasive and still find it persuasive in several ways.
Glad to hear an accurate summary, and also glad to hear you still find the argument regarding Monergism persuasive.
There is not a Calvinist in print today who does not appeal to this as the first order of arguments against Arminianism or any free will theology that would claim “synergism”—the idea that God and humanity cooperate in bringing about salvation. However, over time certain flaws became evident to me as I persisted in my Calvinistic faith. The way these flaws emerged will be described below, but I will begin with the result of those flaws in formal argument.
I would just like to get on the record that as far as “Regeneration” is concerned, Monergism is correct. However, “Sanctification” which is the ongoing part until “Glorification” is Synergistic, in that both Man and God are at work. We need to be careful when we just throw out the word “Salvation”, as it is a loaded term, which in Scripture includes, regeneration, conversion, justification, sanctification, adoption, redemption and many more concepts within a certain context.
Calvinism’s Biggest Weakness
The problem with mongerism, or the argument from grace, is that it ends up taking so much away from the human will that it takes on things it would rather distance itself from.
This might get interesting.
If God is solely responsible for our salvation, then it seems that he is also solely responsible for our damnation.
Now, before moving on, I think it pertinent to get on the record what the Calvinist understanding here “exactly” is with regards to damnation. Now please also remember what I just said in reference to “Salvation” above and how it is a loaded term in scripture. Election unto life eternal and damnation of the reprobate are two totally loaded ideas and Calvinism is very careful when articulating these two concepts from scripture. First of all, election to salvation is an “active” work of God, whereby He is “overcoming” the present tense rebellion of sinners who are justifiably held accountable for their sins and rebellion. It is a gracious act of God on behalf of some sinners. But damnation is entirely different. This is “not” an active work of God upon a sinner. It is a passive act that leaves sinners in their sin and rebellion. No added work is needed to be done by God in bringing sinners to judgement and damnation. They are justly left to themselves and their sin which they themselves prefer. There can be no charge brought against God for not showing mercy and grace to some sinners. Grace alone demands that God is under no obligation to save anyone at all. This distinction needs to be very much kept at the forefront of our thinking when discussing this particular issue, and hence I introduce it to the record for the purpose of this interaction.
God’s eternal choice to save some and not others is unconditional.
Again, just for the Calvinist record, God’s choice of some sinners to be saved is not based upon any condition “in the person being saved”, and hence has no condition in that sense, but rather the choice is wholly and only known to God alone for His choice of family. But, as far as “Justification” is concerned, God enables the sinner, when He regenerates them, to meet the condition of repentance and faith, which are gifts and fruits of conversion. See how important it is to break up the loaded term “salvation”? If we make no proper biblical distinctions, we will quickly make mistakes and get confused and or over simply these proper distinctions.
Yet if we hold to unconditional election unto salvation, then it seems we must hold to its logical corollary: unconditional reprobation unto damnation.
This does not follow at all. Please see why I commented above regarding these distinctions and hence now see how the error of over simplification results in error. Men are damned “precisely because of their condition”, which is rebellion and sin against God by nature, practise and choice.
Therefore, in same manner, we are apparently saved by God’s grace apart from works and we are damned by God’s condemnation apart from works (Rom 9:11-13). To be sure, I know of no Calvinist that would accept this, and there are a number of reasons why we shall examine below.
Well, I hope it is for something near what I have thus far suggested.
The first reason why Calvinists reject this argument is by distinguishing the natures of election and reprobation. Reformed Baptist theologian Wayne Grudem says “the cause of election lies in God, and the cause of reprobation lies in the sinner.” Another distinguishing feature between the two categories is “that the ground of election is God’s grace, whereas the ground of reprobation is God’s justice” (Bible Doctrine, 292). This reasoning, however, fails for it seems to say that election is unconditional and reprobation is conditional. If election is not conditional, meaning it is not in response to foreseen faith or received grace, then on what basis is God’s decision to condemn made conditional, meaning it is in response to foreseen sins?
It is in regards to the current state of “any” man born in the flesh. Nothing to do with foreseen sin or any other reason. The whole world lies under the condition of being “guilty” before God and condemned apart from grace.
Calvinists might try to wriggle out of this dilemma by speculating about the logical order of God’s degrees.
The argument from the decrees is moot and does not help nor hinder what we may perceive regarding salvation, damnation etc. All views regarding the order of the decrees has man being “viewed as a sinner under the just condemnation for his sin” and hence the argument is irrelevant to any point regarding this specific notion of conditions etc.
God’s decree to permit the Fall could be logically prior to his decree to save some and leave others to judgment. But this is to no avail, because in both cases the decree to allow sin into the created order and the decree to save some and damn the others is found in God. To assert an asymmetry between election and reprobation (as Frame does. See The Doctrine of God, 334) is virtually meaningless, because we act in accordance with God’s “secret will” (or “will of decree”) which, according to Grudem, is made up of those “hidden decrees by which he governs the universe and determines everything that will happen” (Bible Doctrine, 97). Therefore, the idea of responding to knowledge obtained by divine foresight is nonsense in this system. In Calvinism God cannot be conditioned by his creatures in this way, for humanity’s will to sin is rendered certain by divine decree. God may be conditioned by his own decree, but it is not clear how the following proposition, “A loving God desires to save all and at the same time desires the damnation of many for his glory” avoids logical contradiction.
The order of decrees is Semantics and merely deals with logical order. God does not desire the salvation of all as far as salvific intention is concerned. It is only confused Calvinists that argue this way and I am not one of them. God desires to show mercy to whom He shall show mercy.
The second reason this argument is rejected is because Calvinists believe humans are to be held responsible for their actions. In Calvinism, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is reconciled by appealing to a form of “compatibilism”—the belief that our freedom is compatible (or not rendered void) by causal determinism: God is absolutely sovereign over the outcome of human decisions in such a way that we are still responsible for them. In this view God cooperates with human beings in every action, directing their distinctive characters and natures to cause them to act as they do. Thus every event is said to be 100% caused by God and 100% caused by the creature (See Grudem: Bible Doctrine, 145). By this understanding of divine providence Grudem states, “God has made us responsible for our actions.” He says “If we do right and obey God, he will reward us” and if we do not do right we will be punished (Bible Doctrine, 152). However, this seems to create a problem for the argument from grace in that God is no longer “solely” responsible for our salvation. Since the decision of faith was caused 100% by God and 100% by the creature, we must conclude that we are responsible for our salvation in the same way we are responsible for our sin.
I think the writer is definitely trying to oversimplify certain ideas by attempting to use logic, albeit flawed logic. Certain parameters are missing from the writers argument. He is misreading Grudem for starters. When Calvinists seek to explain how God works in all things, we do so with certain biblical presuppositions. When scripture teaches that all of creation finds it’s ultimate existence and moment by moment “being” in the very hands of God Col 1:17, Heb 1:3 we do so to be consistent with scripture. We do not say that every decision is 100% God and man at all. That is a misunderstanding of Grudem and reformed thought. And the whole argument is missing the distinctions painfully made by Calvinists, such as what I have previously stated here and in which the writer has tried to acknowledge, but not actually interacted with in any way shape or form.
End of part 1 of 3.