Friday, April 18, 2008

My wee response to "why I am not a Calvinist" Part 3/3

My interaction is in blue.
By Tartanarmy

To be sure, the Calvinist theologian in me had responses to this question, yet none of them sufficed. For example, John Frame states God’s eternal decree to damn “does not prejudice our assurance of salvation.” This is because our “assurance is not based on our reading of the eternal decrees of God, which are secret unless God reveals them, but on the promises of God” (The Doctrine of God, 334). Yet as we shall see, one’s ability to believe the promises of God in a saving manner is conditioned upon God’s eternal decree. Therefore, my Calvinistic theology presented my needs for assurance with an epistemological problem: in order to have assurance I needed to know the status of my election, something that by definition is secret and cannot be known.

The writer does not seem to follow an argument logically. If, as Frame has stated, that the assurance from our perspective is based upon “promise”, then that is all we need to know. We have no right to claim knowledge about God’s decrees, especially with expected or demanded certainty. Epistemologically, promise is good enough, because God cannot lie, hence His promises are trustworthy. If one believes and continues to believe, then one is elect and continues to be elect, so saying that election is a secret misses the point and is moot. Of course, we as individuals can be as certain of our election as we are as certain of our believing, but the grace and mercy in Christ encourages us by reminding us that our election is known and can be experienced just as Christ told his disciples to rejoice not that the Demons were subject (think any other outward or strong spiritual reality) to them but that their names are written in Heaven!

What the writer seems to be implying is that he wants to know right “now”, whether he will in the end persevere and be saved. “I want it now” seems to be the catch cry of the modern mindset.
Unless we have that kind of knowledge then Calvinism makes no sense seems to be the argument!
Where is the fear and worship of GOD?
Php 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, cultivate your own salvation with fear and trembling.
Php 2:13 For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.

A Crisis of Faith and Common Sense

After intense study of all these matters I came to doubt many of the core beliefs of the faith. I did not express my doubts to many people, though I often confessed to others that I was struggling with a terrifying fear of death and did not know I was saved. One evening, I had dinner with a friend and confided my struggles with Calvinism and how it had undermined my assurance.

Where is, or rather why has Calvinism been lumped as the culprit?

From what I have read thus far, I cannot even begin to see where Calvinism has been the root cause of this writers problems.

I certainly can see vague association, misapplied inference, bare assertions without interaction with true Calvinism and I can see false logic and plenty of emotional opinion, but in all honesty I can see no robust and therefore genuine Calvinist culprit from what this writer has written.

Ironically, as we are discussing “assurance”, at this point, let me ask a relevant and yet simple question. How can a man have assurance about salvation, if it is he who ultimately makes the difference as to whether or not he will be saved?
Why not agonise over the fear of undoing everything you have supposedly done in order to get into salvation? Now, I think that is a genuine and far more scary thing to fear and cause ones assurance to significantly deteriorate. Think about it.

In a wry tone he asked, “So why do you keep believing in Calvinism?” I said that I thought it was a correct interpretation of the Bible. He said, “Well, if you are having doubts about your salvation you are missing out on something very basic to your faith.”

This is where it gets really interesting, and in fact I actually agree with the advice here given by this person, both points actually. No Calvinist I know, believes in Calvinism per say. Let me explain. Calvinism as a system of exegesis, or to be historically correct, is a response to the errors of Arminianism (which is what the 5 points are!)

What saves is “believing” in Jesus Christ, not Calvinism per say. Calvinism is all about exalting Jesus Christ and His Word! That is Calvinism in a nutshell.

It is not something in and of itself to be believed in the academic sense, meaning as a system of thought that leads to salvation or some such idea. Every part of Calvinism, whether it be the five points (a defence against Arminianism) or the decrees of God, Covenant theology, Systematic theology, Biblical theology, and other important doctrines, all of these doctrines are to be intrinsically moulded to a being, namely God Himself, made known in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Hence, being a Calvinist is not a means to an end but rather is the fruit of knowing God and His Word.
The more we understand and know God, the more Calvinist and or reformed we become, so believing in Calvinism is not the dog that wags the tail, it is all about God and His glory.

Suddenly it dawned on me like a ray of light: I had constructed a complex and unassailable system of doctrine that was denying me my birthright.


Shortly after this I reassessed my belief in Calvinism and let it corrode under the sweet promises of Scripture: that eternal life is given to all those who believe in the Son of God—Jesus Christ.

No ex-Calvinist could have ever written such a thing with a straight face. Sorry for being harsh here but as a Calvinist who affirms the above statement it just made me scratch my head in wonder as to what you actually were embracing as a so called Calvinist.

Studying Luke’s Gospel, an introductory commentary on the text, standard apologetic arguments for the resurrection, and Dallas Willard’s reflections on the teachings of Jesus revived my faith in a personal God who came in universal love to offer abundant life to all who believe in him. It is the most precious news on the face of the planet.

Apart from the Universal emotional stuff, Calvinists affirm the rest, well, real Calvinists at least.
Let me ask some more questions.
Did Jesus come to offer universal salvation for every single person without exception?
Did God plan and purpose for everyone’s salvation with the intention of saving everyone?
Does Jesus Christ intercede as a great High Priest for all men without exception?

Is this precious news (which it is) is it precious to everyone that hears it?
Or is it precious to only those who decide to receive it over against those others who do not choose to receive it?

Biblical truth is found in the details and exegesis of scripture, which I for one would love to hear from the Arminian but have not as yet been able to find. I was kind of hoping this writer might have been the exception.

Yet I did not simply let my belief in Calvinism die without a serious attempt at preserving it.

At this point I simply refuse to accept that what you were indeed holding had any relation to real historical Calvinist defined Calvinism at all. What you seem to have embraced was a hybrid of sorts, with a mixture of Calvinist ideas read through the lens of faulty human understanding and certainly not Spirit led instruction based upon the scriptures. That much I can see thus far in your article and I know you will not like me saying that, but nonetheless it certainly reads that way.
You are merely a confused Christian which has swapped one set of beliefs for another set of beliefs.

What follows are my thoughts and conclusions from a engaged study of a book co-authored by one of my professors on the subject of assurance.

My advice is for you to let the scriptures themselves speak.

The Problem of Assurance

The problem of assurance has a long and checkered history in Calvinistic theology.

I’m sorry, but there is a vast amount of unanimity amongst Calvinists on the subject of assurance, even when certain methods were practised. The word “checkered” does not fit with the facts.

Perhaps the most devout practitioners of Calvinism, the Puritans of the 17th and 18th centuries, wrestled deeply with the problem and devised many innovative and ingenious solutions to it. Covenant theology was one idea where God’s immutable nature is said to be bound by a contractual agreement with humankind to never revoke his promise of salvation by faith in Christ through grace alone.

Is that it? A few comments so loaded dispels Calvinism?
I was wondering when the good Puritans would get a mention, and when they do, it is negative assertion! Covenant Theology is an idea?

Have you not read and yet understood when scripture suggests such ideas as “Gen 17:7 And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to you and to your seed after you.

Another idea was constructing a theology of discernment that worked to distinguish between “reliable” and “unreliable signs” of regeneration and authentic faith. Many of the Puritan Paperbacks you can still purchase today deal with discerning between true and false expressions of such weighty matters as love, repentance, holiness, and faith. The most famous, and arguably the best treatise in this genre is Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. It is a very good book, one of the greatest in American theology.

Yet each of these “solutions” is riddled with the same epistemological problem. Covenant theology more or less states the terms and conditions of the promises that we must believe in order to be saved. This does not in any way give us assurance that we will be able to meet these conditions, for the ability to meet them, according to the argument from grace, is contingent upon God’s unconditional choice to save. Edwards’ Religious Affections, though powerful and stirring in many ways, often leaves one introspective like every other argument in this genre. Does one truly have the “reliable signs” at work in one’s heart or not?

It seems that this writer really has a fixation with assurance and his perceived argument with Calvinism or at least his version of it, did not answer his epistemological urges. Yet, true Calvinism has much to say regarding this subject, and especially the work cited here by Edwards! Maybe the correction of being fixated upon “assurance” may be balanced by carefully reading the very last chapter in that work by Edwards, titled “XII. Gracious and holy affections have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice”.

Answering these questions almost always is a subjective exercise. John Owen’s treatment of assurance, particularly the warning passage in Hebrews 6:4-6, makes a number of claims that are terrifying to consider. For example he asserts that an insincere believer (one that is not truly saved) can be “enlightened” yet not changed, renewed, or transformed. He or she may “taste of the heavenly gift,” meaning the Holy Spirit, yet still not experience the regenerating work of the Spirit. We may even experience gifting of the Spirit (like Simon Magus did [Acts 8:15-21]), yet fail to taste “the goodness of God, and the powers to come” (Quoted in Schreiner & Caneday: The Race Set Before Us, 195-96).

Thus one can have the experiences of a genuine Christian, yet not be a genuine Christian.

Owen does not say however, that they were “Genuine” Christians at all!
This is misrepresenting the situation.
Owen believed that “genuine” Christians cannot but be genuine Christians, and such have every assurance based upon the Word of God.
The following scripture is useful here, 1Jn 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they were of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out so that it might be revealed that they were not all of us.

Therefore, whatever “evidence” we muster in favor of making our election sure could very well be spurious.

Again, over simplification plus it trumps revealed revelation from the Word, and shifts one's emphasis to human expreience as a foundation. A man will either go to the Word or go to his own opinion

As many of us know, we have shared deep fellowship with those who are no longer walking with the Lord. For Owen and company, this means that they did not “fall away;” rather, they never were truly saved. We thought they were saved for the same reasons we think we are saved, yet we are led to conclude they never were saved. Therefore, we have no reason to be assured of our own salvation since our faith, which is seemingly genuine, could in fact be a sham.

Let us look at these two assertions in light of scripture.

1/ We thought they were saved for the same reasons we think we are saved, yet we are led to conclude they never were saved.
2/ Therefore, we have no reason to be assured of our own salvation since our faith, which is seemingly genuine, could in fact be a sham.

Does two necessarily follow from one?
The scripture I previously quoted answers this assertion
1Jn 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they were of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out so that it might be revealed that they were not all of us.

1/ They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they were of us, they would have continued with us
2/ But they went out so that it might be revealed that they were not all of us.

Are the ‘us’ referred to here (mentioned 5 times) in this passage left to believe in what could be called a potential “sham”, based upon the others going out, as this writer asserts above?
Or is it reasonable to conclude something with a bit more certainty?

I mean, shouldn’t we be all the more diligent to press on when seeing this, and make our calling and election sure? (2Pe 1:10) Or do we just decide to find our strength and confidence in the false profession of these people leaving, and then cry all the way to our own potential demise?

What sayeth the scripture?
Joh 10:27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

A Possible solution?

Perhaps the best book I’ve read on Calvinism in conjunction with a serious study in biblical theology is Tom Schreiner and A.B. Caneday’s The Race Set Before Us. This is a carefully reasoned and trenchantly argued book that is perhaps the best in print on the subject of perseverance and assurance from the Calvinist perspective. The meticulous attention paid to different viewpoints, the thorough exegesis, and the pastoral sensitivity make it a “must read” for anyone in search of real and weighty answers to the vexing problems listed above. The authors do not make the error in the argument from grace that so many Calvinists do in that they treat the sanctification and the perseverance of the chosen believer true to compatibilist terms that dignify his or her responsibility in salvation.

In summary, the book’s argument seeks to make sense of the biblical warnings against falling away (see Rom 8:13; 11:17-24; I Cor 9:27; Gal 5:4; Col 1:23; I Thess 3:5; I Tim 1:19-20; II Tim 2:17-18; Heb 6:4-6; 10:26-31; Jas 5:19-20; II Pet 2:20-22), and criticizes three popular views of perseverance and assurance common among Christians as well as a fourth that is idiosyncratic to certain thinkers in the scholarly world (see here for more my initial interaction with this book). The first of which they repudiate is the simple “loss of salvation” view, which means what it says: genuine believers are able to lose their salvation by failing to persevere. Second is the “loss of rewards” view, which simply entails the loss of certain benefits in heaven, though not salvation, if one walks away from the faith. Third is the “test of genuineness” view which is the view of Owen (above) where a believer devises a system of biblical “tests” that looks for true signs of faithfulness. Falling away proves one never was genuinely regenerated in the first place. The fourth view is the so-called “hypothetical view” that only imagines the idea of a believer falling away, yet maintains the reality of which an impossibility.

Schreiner and Caneday give serious arguments demonstrating flaws in each of these views, if not dismantling them entirely, and present their own view of the warnings: the “means of salvation view” (pp. 38-40). In this view the warnings are the means of eliciting faith in God’s promises, and do not imply the possibility of having salvation and falling away from it. No true believer will fail to heed the warnings, thus rendering them compatible with God’s sovereign election and human responsibility. The warnings, then, function as a means of God’s grace to the elect that only the elect are able to heed via the sovereign grace of God. The solution is ingenious because it directs the believer and unbeliever to the promises of God through the warning passages and honors the responsibility of the believer to persevere in believing them. Yet it is not unlike the other views in that it is not without its own problems.

Well, I have not read the work so I shall not comment on it.
I will say briefly though, that only a reformed Covenantal view of scripture can best answer these matters regarding the warnings and those that do actually fall away.
We would have to look at such concepts as Visible/Invisible Church distinctions.
Who do the writers address as Church and or Christians and in what sense and context etc.

These matters involve deeper exegesis and getting to the heart of the context and immediate cultural setting the early Church writers found themselves in. I know that may sound a little obtuse, but otherwise I would need to write another article all by itself discussing Covenant Theology and all of its implications, so I will spare you all of such an endeavour!

The Molinist Objection

At this point I must tread carefully since I am waging disagreement with a professor from my school. Though I have not taken one of his classes, I am told Professor Caneday does not suffer fools lightly and is very able in defending his view (his blog is here). Yet I will persist with an objection that he has anticipated and formulated a rebuttal to in the appendix to his book. This objection was articulated in an article by William Lane Craig entitled “Lest Anyone Should Fall”: A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Perseverance and Apostolic Warnings where he essentially argues that the “means of salvation view” is actually more coherent in a “middle knowledge” perspective.

I would like to see how that obtains, but given what understanding I have of Molinism, time is too precious to set aside for such a study at this point in time. I find the middle knowledge view to be poor and see no need for such a philosophical negation of what scripture plainly reveals on the matter!
Therefore I will not interact with Molinism due to lack of personal interest in it, and maintain what the writer expresses about it from this article as irrelevant. I am mainly interested in the world that is, and the one the Bible talks about, not some hypothetical possible worlds that scripture never addresses.

Middle knowledge is the view of God’s knowledge that contains what his creatures would freely do in any given circumstances (or “possible world”) before he creates the world. This contrasts with the Calvinist perspective in that it allows for libertarian free will, which is a view of freedom that is incompatible with causal determinism. Without diving into the details of this highly technical view and how it relates to the issue at hand, Craig’s view of middle knowledge boils down to the following proposition:

1. If the warnings had not been given, the believers would have fallen away.

He asks,

Does the [Calvinist] regard (1) as true or not? If he holds that (1) is true, then it seems clear that the believers are in fact capable of falling away, for in the closest possible worlds in which the antecedent of (1) is true, they do fall away.

How do Schreiner and Caneday respond to the question “Are believers capable of falling away?” The answer is not so clear. Since Schreiner and Caneday are Calvinists the short answer is that they cannot. Textually, they argue that the warnings do not imply falling away anymore than road signs warning of slippery bridges imply we will slide off the road; they point to conceivable outcomes, not probable consequences (See pp. 208). However, this seems to miss the point by confusing probability with possibility. A conceivable outcome is not that much different from a possible outcome, especially when we consider the warnings against backsliding and shipwrecking the faith. The supposition, “If you swallow arsenic you will die” doesn’t prove one will or that it is likely one will swallow arsenic. Yet it treats swallowing arsenic as a real possibility. One is capable of swallowing arsenic in the same way someone is capable of falling away (see Rom 8:13). This creates a problem for the Calvinist view since this possibility is exactly what it denies. Schreiner and Caneday’s rebuttal of Craig does not seem to deal with the substance of his proposition and instead gets bogged down in calling attention to fallacies of argumentation and misrepresentation concerning tangent details that lead up to it. While I grant they may be technically correct in naming these, they are not fatal to Craig’s concluding proposition which is the first premise in an otherwise sound argument. As far as I can tell Craig is able to make sense of the real possibility of falling away and the means necessary for guarding against it via God’s middle knowledge, which Calvinism cannot.

Highly philosophical and way too out there for my finite brain to seriously contemplate.
If that be interpreted as a weakness, then so be it.
I never liked Star Trek either!

The Irrelevance of the Solution

However, even if the Molinist objection is shown to fail, I am not sure that Schreiner and Caneday’s view can transcend the problems of the “test of genuineness” view. When reflecting on “fallen runners” Schreiner and Caneday contrast the lives of Peter and Judas. Both Peter and Judas “failed to persevere” in their own ways. Yet Jesus intercedes for Peter so that his faith will not fail (Luke 22:31-32), and in the end he is restored. The fate of Judas, however, is one of judgment as he goes to his bitter death with much remorse, but no repentance. Schreiner and Caneday conclude that for those whom Christ intercedes (Heb 7:25) they will persevere. Those that have not been “given by the Father to the Son” will eternally perish (pp. 248-49; 251-53). Peter represents the former and Judas the latter. Therefore, we are back to the same epistemological problem:

how can we know the Father has given us to the Son and that Christ is interceding on our behalf?

By believing scripture is the simple answer.

1Pe 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has regenerated us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
1Pe 1:4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and unfading, reserved in Heaven for you
1Pe 1:5 by the power of God, having been kept through faith to a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time;
1Pe 1:6 in which you greatly rejoice, yet a little while, if need be, grieving in manifold temptations;
1Pe 1:7 so that the trial of your faith (being much more precious than that of gold that perishes, but being proven through fire) might be found to praise and honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
1Pe 1:8 whom having not seen, you love; in whom not yet seeing, but believing in Him you exult with unspeakable joy, and having been glorified,
1Pe 1:9 obtaining the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Without having the knowledge of our eternal election we can have no assurance that we will persevere, for we have no assurance we will be given the grace to exercise the faith necessary for our salvation.

See above scriptures. There are many more that could be put forth.

Thus the warnings are meaningless to the unregenerate and the “means of salvation” solution to the problem of assurance is irrelevant.

I for one would like to hear a positive presentation that provides answers to these assertions from a non Calvinist. One full of scriptural references and the like. I am waiting.

Concluding Thoughts

There are many, many other issues that I could write about, but this post has gone on long enough. However, I want to be clear with my Calvinist brothers and sisters that I do not look back on my time in Calvinism with disdain or regret.

I would if I held to the kind of Calvinism you held to, and I mean that sincerely and not as an offense.

While in the end the drawbacks far outweighed the benefits, the benefits were duly enriching. Through Calvinism I came to respect both reason and biblical authority and that neither are properly honored without the other. I came to learn the great truths of the gospel in a deeper way that helped solidify my faith in the grace of God over and against my own works. It taught me that God answers to no one and may do whatever he pleases. I see no reason to hold Calvinism or those who teach it in contempt, nor do I claim to have believed it in the way it has been traditionally understood. This post is simply my intellectual autobiography and concluding reasons from my encounter with Calvinism. As an Arminian Molinist I am not na├»ve to the problems in my view. However, I think there are less problems in it that serve my faith better. In my view I can rest on the universal love of God expressed through Christ; this is the anchor or my soul. No longer must I speculate about the secret discriminations of a “God behind the God”—for I can fix my eyes on Christ and run the race with joy, scorning the same shame of the world, the same shame it heaped on the crucified God.

Thanks for your views and I hope that you are not offended at this Calvinist for interacting with what you have written.
I do appreciate the way in which you have written your article, and like yourself I am a wee bit polemical myself!

Remember this, and be a man; return it on your heart, O sinners.
Remember former things from forever; for I am God, and no other is God, even none like Me,
declaring the end from the beginning, and from the past things which were not done, saying, My purpose shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure; Isa 46:8-10



Adam Omelianchuk said...


Thanks for the candid review! It's too bad you don't like Star Trek. I think that is where you went wrong. (Though I am only a fan of the Next Generation series).



Tartanarmy said...

I was thinking that, but then again I do have an aversion to things way out there in general, lol, but please feel free to set me straight!