Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Conversation on Calvinism

johnMark

I was talking to an old friend from high school not long ago. We talked of many issues about church in general. I’ve run into this old friend in the church we now attend which is some 250+ miles away and 15+ years ago from High School. We caught up a little bit on old friends and old times. We talked theology and evangelism a bit and the “C” word came up.

Yes, Calvinism came up. I expressed my disappointment with such folks as Johnny Hunt, Nelson Price and others in the SBC who continuously take unjustified swipes at Calvinism. I mentioned the recent LifeWay study to my friend that showed only 10% of SBC pastors were Calvinistic and not necessarily Calvinist. This was just to make my point that if we are to deal with the problems in the SBC we may to well to look to the theological persuasion of the other 90% of SBC pastors. And if there is truth in these misrepresentations then give us names and real life examples. It’s certainly hard to address strawmen and hypothetical people.

The first thing I brought up was that from either side we have to contend with why did God create anyone who He knew from eternity past would never believe in Jesus and go to hell. Free will? Free will doesn’t answer this question since God already knew the outcome. Unless God some how owes man something unto the glory of man’s decision. Of course, we know God owes no man anything. Even so, God still knew from eternity who will and who will never believe. Yet, He still created them. We didn’t really go this route too much further.

Then, I remembered an old post I wrote as we were talking and brought up five points that are in my friend’s paradigm. I wanted to do this to show that God’s sovereignty is always a “problem” for man’s free will, even for those who are not Calvinists. I was going from memory, but I present them below in original form.

Premises:
1. God unequivocally wants all people to be saved. (referring to God’s decretive will not just His revealed will although most may not even think in these terms)

2. God gives each person equal measures of grace that they can cooperate with and be saved or resist and be damned.

3. Every single person has the ability to believe by cooperating with God’s measure of grace He has given them.

4. God is working within His creation to save all people trying to persuade/convince them to believe.

5. God in His omniscience and omnipotence knows what it would take for each person to believe and can maneuver elements in each persons life to so affect them.

I then asked why aren’t all men saved and hasn’t God has essentially failed? His reply was free will. But I just gave him his own paradigm in which to work. He didn’t take away a good understanding of my presentation or else I gave it very poorly. Hopefully, we can speak more on this another time. I really don’t see what choices one is left with in this paradigm other than God’s sovereignty at work one way or the other.

24 comments:

orthodox said...

What happened to the biblical idea of compatiblism in all of this philosophical naval gazing?

The bible has man's will and God's will as two aspects of one result. But Calvinism has God nuking man's will in regeneration and replacing it with a brand new one.

There's a false dichotomy being set up here: supposedly God's sovereignty versus man's will. But the bible teaches man's will and God's will together, not God nuking man's will so he can reboot it from scratch.

Carrie said...

JM,

Why do you think non-Calvinists are so hostile to Calvinism?

a said...

There is a paradigm in which both free will and God's absolute sovereignty coexist perfectly.

As the old saying goes:

When you pray for someone's salvation you affirm Calvinism, but the fact that you pray it at all affirms against it.

a said...

C:

Why do you think Calvinists are so hostile to non-Calvinism?

a said...

If the regenerated man is compelled to act out God's will, why then do regenrated men still sin?

Believe it or not, I'm not asking this as a rhetorical trap or criticism. As it is an obvious question, I merely want to know the answer.

johnMark said...

Carrie,

I'm not really sure, but I was the same way in a sense. It just didn't sound right to me and I didn't like it nor did I understand it though. For me, it had to be up to me and the concept of me not being in total control didn't sit well. It just didn't seem fair.

In a way, we hear similar complaints against the exclusivity of Christianity through Jesus Christ.

The purpose of the conversation was to work within my friend's own paradigm. He still didn't like it.

a, your question about regenerate man and God's will certainly isn't a question exclusively for the Calvinist. That's basically a question the world asks Christians. Same question they ask when they see a Christian fall into sin as a way to invalidate Christianity.

I have a phrase I came up with to help summarize for people who think Christians think they are perfect and are all and only about being "good".

The question is not, “Am I good enough to be a Christian?” rather, the question is, “Am I good enough not to be?”

Mark

a said...

Thanks for answering Mark, but that really wasn't what I was trying to ask. Let me try again.

If God's soverignty means that we do not have free will, why then do regenrated men still sin? Is God willing their sins? Does God actually want them to sin? Is God making them sin? In short: how does it work?

GeneMBridges said...

What happened to the biblical idea of compatiblism in all of this philosophical naval gazing?

The Orthodox are a species of Libertarians. Where is the exegetical argument for Libertarianism? Why is compatibilism "philosophical navel gazing" while libertarianism goes uncriticized?

The bible has man's will and God's will as two aspects of one result. But Calvinism has God nuking man's will in regeneration and replacing it with a brand new one.

A straw man, since regeneration brings to life that which is dead. Jesus was raised to life in the same body as He died, only it is glorified. That analogy applies to the will of man in regeneration. God does not replace the will of man with a brand new will.

Which Reformed theologians talk about the "nuking" the will of man and "replacing it" with a new one?

Orthodox still can't address the opposing position. Rather, he smuggles tendentious assertions into his arguments without supporting argumentation.

If the regenerated man is compelled to act out God's will, why then do regenerated men still sin?

Regeneration does not make a man perfect. Sanctification is progressive. What is unclear about this?

If God's sovereignty means that we do not have free will,

Calvinists do not deny free will. See the Westminster Confession or the Second London Baptist Confession on Free Will. We deny libertarian freedom. To say we "deny free will," is to assume, without argument libertarian freedom is the only valid definition of "free will."

Carrie said...

The purpose of the conversation was to work within my friend's own paradigm. He still didn't like it.

Sorry, I realize my question wasn't directly related to your post, but in the last week I have run across a couple of stories showing the hostility of some non-Calvinists to Calvinists and I don't understand why that is.

I can understand a resistance to Calvinism, it does go against human nature, but I don't understand the hostility.

orthodox said...

G: Why is compatibilism "philosophical navel gazing" while libertarianism goes uncriticized?

O: Try reading more carefully. I said compatibilism is biblical and Calvinism is naval gazing.

G: A straw man, since regeneration brings to life that which is dead. Jesus was raised to life in the same body as He died, only it is glorified. That analogy applies to the will of man in regeneration. God does not replace the will of man with a brand new will.

O: Just word games. If God changes the will so that its decisions are reversed, how can it be said to be the same will? The only purpose of a will is to will, and if that will does the opposite it can hardly be said to be the same will.

G: Calvinists do not deny free will.

O: A will that is forcibly reversed can hardly be said to be free. Only by making words mean the opposite of what they normally mean can you claim this.

Norman said...

O: Just word games. If God changes the will so that its decisions are reversed, how can it be said to be the same will? The only purpose of a will is to will, and if that will does the opposite it can hardly be said to be the same will.

I'm not quite sure what "the only purpose of a will is to will" means, although this is as likely my own lack of clarity as anything else.

I was under the impression that the purpose of the will is to pursue the desires of the agent, said desires deriving from the mind and heart of the agent. The will, then, is free if the agent can pursue his desires without coercion.

I have never heard a Calvinist say that God coerces any agent, but does change the desires of the agent by making him a "new man." This new man pursues his desires as the old one did, and thus the will is unchanged.

O: A will that is forcibly reversed can hardly be said to be free.

Couldn't agree more. But I've never met a Calvinist who would agree that the will is forcibly reversed, so it seems harsh to call them liars.

GeneMBridges said...

O: Try reading more carefully. I said compatibilism is biblical and Calvinism is naval gazing.

Where is your argument? These are assertions, and as I recall, the version of "compatibilism" you find "biblical" is one that includes libertarian freedom. So, you've done, as usual, nothing to overturn my objection.

Compatibilism is a philosophical position, just like libertarianism. Try looking in the Oxford Dictionary of Free Will. But since, you're too cheap or lazy to bother:

http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/V014SECT1

For more in-depth coverage, there's:

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/supplement.html

The doctrines of grace are derived from exegesis. We talk about "compatibilism" as such to answer an opponent on his own grounds.

The charge of navel gazing is unintentionally humorous coming from an adherent to Orthodoxy.

O: Just word games. If God changes the will so that its decisions are reversed, how can it be said to be the same will? The only purpose of a will is to will, and if that will does the opposite it can hardly be said to be the same will.

1. Notice that Orthodox does not deny the fact that he has smuggled a tententious assumption into his argument and he fails to note any Reformed theologian that agrees with him. I'll take this as a tacit admission that my original charge was correct.

2. It is the same will, the same way Jesus body today is the same body it was when he walked the Earth. Does Orthodox believe Jesus has an altogether different body, discontinuous with the one in which He died? If God raises the dead body so that it lives and breathes, how can it be said to be the same body?

3. Orthodox is confusing identity and activity, and smuggling in several assumptions about "free will" along the way, for which he offers no support (namely Libertarian assumptions). Orthodox would have us believe that the soul that is resurrected from spiritual death by monergistic regeneration is replaced, not resurrected. Replacement and resurrection are not convertible categories, the will and the desires are not convertible categories, and Orthodox has made no supporting argument for his position to the contrary.

A will that is forcibly reversed can hardly be said to be free.

Another tendentious assumption smuggled into the objection. Which Reformed theologians say the will is "forced?" Regeneration is raising to life. Is the resurrection of the dead "forced" in the terms you infer?

And we have yet to hear Orthodox's exegetical argument for libertarian freedom. That is, of course, because he has none.

Only by making words mean the opposite of what they normally mean can you claim this.

Where is the supporting argument that "freedom" must be libertarian in order for the term "free will" to be the "normal" term? What is his non-arbitrary epistemic warrant for this assertion? The Bible? Where is the exegetical argument for libertarian freedom?

GeneMBridges said...

Hence it appears that the grace of God (as this name is used when regeneration is spoken
of) is the rule of the Spirit, in directing and governing the human will. Govern he cannot, without
correcting, reforming, renovating (hence we say that the beginning of regeneration consists in the
abolition of what is ours); in like manner, he cannot govern without moving, impelling, urging,
and restraining. Accordingly, all the actions which are afterwards done are truly said to be wholly
his. Meanwhile, we deny not the truth of Augustine’s doctrine, that the will is not destroyed, but
rather repaired, by grace—the two things being perfectly consistent—viz. that the human will may be said to be renewed when its vitiosity and perverseness being corrected, it is conformed to the
true standard of righteousness and that, at the same time, the will may be said to be made new,
being so vitiated and corrupted that its nature must be entirely changed.
( Calvin, Institutes, Vol.2, Part 6, xv ).

In short, the (old) will is not destroyed and then replaced, it is renewed or transformed. This is not merely the argument of Reformed theologians, it is the argument of Augustine himself.

pilgrim said...

Some of the same old straw men, and well answered.

If you're going to disagree with Calvinism--fine, but make sure it's really Calvinism you are disagreeing with.

An a said, "When you pray for someone's salvation you affirm Calvinism, but the fact that you pray it at all affirms against it."

Would you care to explain that?
How is praying affirming against Calvinism? Since God is sovereign--it makes sense to pray to Him--if He is not sovereign or ever does things on a whim (Which I am not saying you affirm--but these would run counter to Calvinism.) why bother praying to Him? What good would it do?

Saint and Sinner said...

I just can't understand how non-Calvinists can avoid the eternal decree as a whole and limited atonement in particular (unless, of course, they're open theists).

If God:
a.) knows the future,
b.) has the freedom to create in anyway He pleases,
c.) knows the counter-factuals in every possible created world (including freely chosen acts),

then it follows that He could have created in such a way as to send the gospel out to more people, create less people in heathen lands, or just not have created those whom He knew would not freely choose Him.

Even under the Arminian system, God did, in effect, decree a particular atonement.

orthodox said...

S&S: I just can't understand how non-Calvinists can avoid the eternal decree as a whole and limited atonement in particular (unless, of course, they're open theists).

If God:
a.) knows the future,
b.) has the freedom to create in anyway He pleases,
c.) knows the counter-factuals in every possible created world (including freely chosen acts),

ORTHODOX: In other words, philosophizing, not exegesis as has been claimed. Limited atonement is an adherence to an a-priori philosophical reasoning, not exegesis.

orthodox said...

GB: Where is your argument? These are assertions, and as I recall, the version of "compatibilism" you find "biblical" is one that includes libertarian freedom. So, you've done, as usual, nothing to overturn my objection.

O: You're living in a dream world. I've never argued for libertarian freedom. This is the fantasy of a Calvinist with blinders on.

GB: The doctrines of grace are derived from exegesis.

O: Baloney. The number of verses flatly contradicting limited atonement and perseverance is legion. Calvinism is philosophical naval gazing by scholastics more committed to a nice system than what scripture teaches.

GB: 2. It is the same will, the same way Jesus body today is the same body it was when he walked the Earth. Does Orthodox believe Jesus has an altogether different body, discontinuous with the one in which He died? If God raises the dead body so that it lives and breathes, how can it be said to be the same body?

O: A body is a tangible thing. A will is an intangible whose only measurable quality is what it in fact wills. Your argument is the same as saying that if we transform happy into sad it remains the same emotion.

Witness Christ, who took on human will. His person or identity was unchanged, only his attributes were modified.

GB: 3. Orthodox is confusing identity and activity, and smuggling in several assumptions about "free will" along the way, for which he offers no support (namely Libertarian assumptions). Orthodox would have us believe that the soul that is resurrected from spiritual death by monergistic regeneration is replaced, not resurrected.

O: Our identity is defined by body, soul and spirit. All else are intangibles. You are the one confusing the things that are identity with the things that are activity. To use the resurrection of our being as a soul as an argument about an attribute like will shows you don't understand biblical categories.

GB: Meanwhile, we deny not the truth of Augustine’s doctrine, that the will is not destroyed, but
rather repaired, by grace—the two things being perfectly consistent—viz. that the human will may be said to be renewed when its vitiosity and perverseness being corrected, it is conformed to the
true standard of righteousness and that, at the same time, the will may be said to be made new,
being so vitiated and corrupted that its nature must be entirely changed. ( Calvin, Institutes, Vol.2, Part 6, xv ).

O: Don't you mean Vol 2, Part *5*, xv?

Either you don't understand Calvin, or Calvin doesn't understand Augustine, because if you actually bother to read what Augustine has to say about free will and God's grace, he doesn't set up a false dichotomy between God's sovereignty and man's will. Augustine affirms both as one, just like I do.

GB: Where is the supporting argument that "freedom" must be libertarian in order for the term "free will" to be the "normal" term? What is his non-arbitrary epistemic warrant for this assertion? The Bible? Where is the exegetical argument for libertarian freedom?

O: You are, as always, confused about the position of the Church. I've never argued for libertarian freedom. That's a nonsense distraction from the sad lack of exegesis coming out of your side. Try arguing against something I've actually said.

Lucian said...

OK. Why do You think that free-will and God-as-Love don't make things "click" for You?

God is creative Love [and it is precisely the out-pouring of that incomprehesible and unlimited Love that makes God create], and being also "Lord and God", He is also completely free; and in His image He created man ... what image? : "so that they will rule over ... " -- in other words, God's sovereignity was the image in which He created man (St. John Golden-Mouth). Over what will man rule? "over the fishes of the sea, fowls of the air, beasts of the land"? And what are these? These are the passions, weakneses, sins and temptations. -- So, by ruling over them man becomes holy. God Himself rules over them, (that's why He is called Lord and God in the first place), and in doing that, He is Holy : "The Holy One of Israel" (a leit-motive in the Bible). What says God to man?

"Be holy, even AS *I AM* [is] holy".

and:

"I have said: You are Gods; all of You sons of the Most-High".

So, I'ld conclude that 'rule over passions, sins and temptations!' would be His command to us. Not creating us because of His fore-knowledge of our failures would tant-amount to aborting an unborn baby because the child will be born deformed, diseased, or too weak too live, etc. -- would You consider this to be a sin? If so, Your question is answered.

How does God fail? Fail at what? At loving us infinitely and making all the impossible possible for us, in order for us to be redeemed? maybe Your question would be "Why then doesn't He force us to accept Him, redeem us by force as it were, since He knows already who will eventually end up chosing Him and living by His holy will, and be redeemed?". -- I guess the answer to that would be: God is Love ... Love with force is rape, ... and rape is condemned in the Law [of Moses, of the state(s) in which we live in, etc.].

I'm sorry for answering to You only by analogies (abortion, rape, etc.) -- but bare in mind the fact that we're in God's image ... and our conscious is His holy Voice in our souls ... so, basically, if EVEN our consciuous say: these are bad things, ... HOW MUCH MORE for God, then? (Psalm 5:4).

Hope this helps settling Your struggle and unrest. God bless.

Albert said...

johnMark,

How do Arminians explain the eternal fate of those who never had the chance to hear the Gospel?

Thanks. :)

a said...

Let me get this straight:

Calvinists believe hmans have free will, but that God doesn't let them ever use it? And by their choices they are damned or saved, and This somehow demonstrates God's glory?

They turn God into some sort of sick madman who blames everyone else for his own doing and then takes glory and apparently also joy in their damnation.

So thanks to Calvinistic development of doctrine (although Calvinists deny doctrine develops) they dogmatically conclude
(although they deny they can say anything dogmatically) that "God takes joy in the death of the wicked," in direct conflict with the very scripture thay claim is their sole authoirty (which they also deney in the very assertion that it is.) where the damned are hopelessly created by the billions for the pleasure of God Himself refusing to ever offer them grace so they will suffer eternal torment in Hell; and that this is the picture of the "doctrines of Grace" uder a loving God. Got it.


This is mind-blowingly innane at best, insane at worst. The better one understands Calvinism, the less understandable it becomes.

a to z said...

You know, seriously, when I first started reading this blog and comments, I had the impression that Calvinism was actually main-stream Christianity. But the more it gets explained to me, the less it resembles anything but the doctrines of demons:

Doctrines of grace that actually deny Grace,

Doctrines of scripture that actually deny Scripture,

Doctrines of justice that actually deny Justice

Doctrines of obedience that actually deny Obedience

Doctrines of a "gospel" that is actually bad news for the vast bulk of humanity.

You use all this energy, devote all this time attacking others and calling it "apologetics," while at the same time you steep yourselves in untruths that darken your souls like Pharasees who pray, "Thank you God for creating us to be righteous, unlike all those dammned fools who you hate," while the true followers each pray, "Have mercy on me Lord, for I am a sinner."

You betcha--May God have mercy.

Lynn said...

Forgive the long comment, but this argument could go on forever...as it has already gone on for centuries.

My two cents on the previous comments:

Is Calvinism mainstream Christianity? No, and thank God for that. Mainstream Christianity has not only embraced the broad road, they've paved it and added express lanes.

Why do non-Calvinists get so irritated with Calvinists? It is usually because they are bucking against hyper-Calvinism.

Why do we Calvinists get so irritated with non-Calvinists? It is usually because we are too arrogant to let the argument go.

I sit comfortably with Spurgeon on this issue:

That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring. (New Park Street Pulpit, 4:337)

Grace,
Lynn

Saint and Sinner said...

Orthodox,

"ORTHODOX: In other words, philosophizing, not exegesis as has been claimed. Limited atonement is an adherence to an a-priori philosophical reasoning, not exegesis."

As has been said a thousand times over and over again, the main reason for believing in Calvinism is Scriptural exegesis.

In fact, the argument that I presented above is implicitly found in passages such as Isaiah 46:9-11.

Oh, and by the way, my above argument would not be "philosophizing", but rather, the logical conclusion of God's aseity.

orthodox said...

Isaiah 46:9-11 has nothing to do with Calvinism. It establishes none of the 5 points.

Oh, and the road to hell was paved with "logical conclusions" that are not found in scripture.