Wednesday, November 19, 2008

John Piper explains Why Calvinists are so Negative




Here is a very interesting and indeed revealing brief interview with John Piper about why Calvinists not infrequently come across in such a negative and arrogant way. I find his explanation in some ways convincing.

What he does not add, that could have been added, is that, for whatever reason, Calvinism seems to feed a deep seated need in many persons for a kind of intellectual certainty about why the world is as it is, and what God is exactly like, and how his will is worked out in the world, and most particularly how salvation works and whether or not one is a saved person.

And all too often, the apparent intellectual coherency of a theological system is taken as absolute and compelling proof that this view of God, salvation,the world must be true and all others be heresy, to one degree or another. But it is perfectly possible to argue logically and coherency in a hermeneutical or theological circle with all parts connected, and unfortunately be dead wrong-- because one drew the circle much too small and left out all the inconvenient contrary evidence. This sort of fault is inevitable with theological systems constructed by finite human beings.

A minutes reflection will show that intellectual coherency, as judged by finite fallen or even redeemed minds, is not a very good guide to what is true. The truth of God and even of the Bible is much larger than anyone's ability (or any collection of human being's abilities) to get their mental calipers so firmly around it that one could form it into a 'coherent theological system' without flaws, gaps, or lacunae. That includes Calvin's very fine mind as reflected in his Theological Institutes. The real paradox about the God of Calvin is while Calvin does all in his power to stress the enormity and consequent sovereignty of a great God over all things, sadly but inevitably even his God is too small to encompass everything that is said about God in the Scriptures, even just everything that is said about soteriology in the Scriptures.


While I certainly believe that God's own worldview is coherent, and that some of it is revealed in the Bible, the facts are that the Bible does not reveal everything we always wanted to know about God so we could be certain God exists and form that body of knowledge into a self-sustaining fully coherent theological system with one idea leading to another idea, and so on (and now we can all sing a chorus of 'Will the Circle be Unbroken').

A strong sense of assurance provided by the living presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit in our lives is not the same as intellectual certainty. Nor does God reveal so much about the eternal mysteries that a finite human mind could form it into an airtight theological system of any kind. Indeed, the Bible is pretty clear that God quite deliberately did not 'tell all' either in general revelation in creation or in the Scriptures(read Job), not least because God wants us to trust him and to build a trust relationship with him. What God has done is that God has revealed enough so that we may be redeemed but not so much that we do not have to trust God about the future.

I must confess that as a NT scholar I am inherently suspicious about theological systems like Calvinism or Dispensationalism or even Arminianism and the like which seem to foster certain kinds of feelings of intellectual certainty and even smugness about things that are in fact profound mysteries.

When someone brings up a topic like "why is their evil in the world, and why do even God's people suffer so much" rather than give a pat answer I am more apt to repeat the words of John Muir who said words to the following effect-- "We look at life from the back side of the tapestry. And most of the time what we see is loose threads, tangled knots and the like. But occasionally God's light shines through the tapestry and we get a glimpse of the larger design with God weaving together the darks and lights of existence."

I must tell you that whenever I have had a profound experience of God through reading his word or encountering God in worship or community, it tends to just humble me, and make me want to say something like what Joni Mitchell said about love--- "its love's illusions I recall, I really don't know love, at all". I have barely touched the hem of the Master's garment, I hardly know him though I long to know him better. In the face of the divine-human encounter, even Barth's Dogmatics appear to be little more than a good start to understanding God.

Please understand that I am not suggesting that we should not think logically and coherently about our faith, and do our best to connect the dots. Nevertheless, we should be placing our faith in God, not in a particular theological system. There is a difference. In the former case the faith is largely placed in whom we know and whom we have encountered. In the latter case the faith can be too often placed in what we believe we know about God and theological truth.

I always want to ask the 'theological certainty' folks who have this great conviction that their theological system must surely be exactly what the Bible says and means-- Where exactly does that conviction and ardor come from?

Not even Paul in the Bible dots all the i's and crosses all the t's of a particular theological system and more to the point, he has no compelling interest in doing so. He is interested, as are all the Scriptural writers in simply bearing witness to a truth and a reality they have not merely come to believe in, but which they have experienced and which has changed their lives. They still have questions and intellectual doubts, and we hear about them in various places and ways in the Scripture. Their faith in God is not based on a conviction that they have a coherent theological system which they in essence fully understand and can explain. Their faith in God comes from having a personal relationship with God which provided them with enough evidence to produce faith in God. They know enough to know-- that they don't know enough to produce a comprehensive system called 'the knowledge of God'.

Humility is fostered more by a recognition of and an owning up to what you don't know about God, than what you do. This is not because we do not know a good number of things about God both from the Word and the through the Spirit. We do. We know enough to trust God for what we do not know and understand. And in the end our posture should be that of Anselm-- 'fides quaerens intellectum' faith seeking understanding, not 'intellectus quaerens fidium' 'Understanding seeking and defining and limiting faith'.


[N.B. I have posted this now, instead of Friday, as I will be away from the blog until next Wednesday, at the National SBL meeting. In the meanwhile, ya'll just go to town discussing this little non-controversial post]

P.S. Yes I do know many Calvinists who are very gracious and humble, and for this I am truly thankful. Many of my teachers at Gordon-Conwell low these many years ago, come to mind, especially J. Christy Wilson and Richard Lovelace-- true saints.

BW3

83 comments:

Michael Gilley said...

Spot on!

Lemuel Vandenhoff said...

It often seems that Calvinism's need to fit everything into a graspable system is the reason they tend to react harshly against anyone who might try to suggest that free will and predestination need not be considered contradictory...say, Molinists, for instance.

Yet perhaps even Molinism goes to far in trying to put together an absolute, complete picture of God...

Blake said...

As a seminary student hoping to be a theologian someday these very thoughts have weighed heavily on my mind the last couple weeks as I ponder what to do my thesis on. I like to study the Germans because I think systematically like they do, but I'm also very aware of all their shortcomings. I don't want to create a system that's just a little more nuanced than what's come before it, then I'd fall into the same hole everyone else has. However, academia doesn't seem to interested in mysteries and paradoxes either. How can a theology student these days both honestly build up the faith and excel in the field?

Jc_Freak: said...

"I must confess that as a NT scholar I am inherently suspicious about theological systems like Calvinism or Dispensationalism or even Arminianism and the like which seem to foster certain kinds of feelings of intellectual certainty and even smugness about things that are in fact profound mysteries. "

I wonder though. Though I am passionately Arminian (proud member of SEA), I don't have any sense that my particular view is definately right, and I find that most Arminians feel likewise.

I agree that adopting a label can generate a feel of "I am right", and thus that can happen with any label, but Arminianism, as a whole, as avoided the attitude that you discribe.

I think it is because Arminianism tends to be more of a class of beliefs that have certain features in common that a strict system like Calvinism. There is a larger variety of belief that falls under the label, very simular to the label Evangelical. There's the original beliefs of the Remonstrantes, Open Theism, corporate election, and not to mention the myriad of techniques dealing with TD. Many even consider Finney to be Arminian, though I would contend with that.

Kyle Nolan said...

thanks for this. I live in West Michigan--the Calvinist Mecca, for those who aren't familiar with it--and this post really resonates with me. I hate to see an enormous intellect tainted by over-certainty and arrogance.

On another note, I'm considering Gordon Conwell for seminary next year and I might try working for Young Life after finishing my under-grad in writing. There are apparently some benefits to going to the Charlotte campus for YL employees. I was wondering if you have any thoughts or recommendations regarding the campus I apply to. I'm leaning toward trying urban ministry, or possibly continuing with YL in an urban setting if I can. But going further and teaching is a possibility too.

chris said...

Just as another comment. Ben - you concentrated a lot on the first issue that Piper raises.

I think the second reason is also a huge factor, I also believe that in general some of the reformed churches tend to explain grace better than a lot of other churches. So you end up with people who first really hear about the doctrines of grace in a Calvinist context, and are incredibly angry that their own churches didn't pass them on.

Ben Witherington said...

I must say that I find it hard to imagine an Evangelical church of any kind that never talks about the grace of God, or never explains it. I've never seen that. If what is meant by grace is irresistible grace, Calvin's notion, well then of course, it's true that perhaps many Christians have never been taught that. It is interesting that Piper uses the illustration of a drowned person at the bottom of the ocean, to illustrate what he means. Its' a poor choice as what the NT says, including in places like Ephes. 1-2 and Rom. 8 is that we are saved by grace through faith. A drowned man is not capable of responding in faith to the life-guard. Ignoring the faith response as a part of the rescue operation is a very lopsided and inadequate view of both faith and grace.

BW3

Walk said...

I don't think that most Calvinist ignore the faith response. Most, as I understand, hold to a compatiable view of free will which seems to uphold that there is a tension or mystery between God's election and mans response. Could it be argued that Arminians are more systematic and rational since they attempt to resolve this tension?

Mr. Brown said...

Ben:

I'm a Calvinist and an elder, and I approve your message.

I find that most of my compatriots in calvinism are not fastened body and soul to a system of theology so much as the person of Jesus Christ. Their faith is lively and other-directed, and I'm very grateful for that.

Seems like the blogosphere attracts the more arrogant theological militants who dot every i and cross every t and betray no sense that uncertainty is permissible in following Jesus. Reading some of these blogs is a real exercise in discouragement. Lots of heat and flame to win an argument, but at what cost?

Thanks for this.

Mason said...

I'll second the suspicion that you voiced here Ben of theological systems. I see a healthy place for them, and fall more in some of the systematic camps than others, but fear that usually these systems are not approached with a critical mind by their own adherents and thereby keep them from a deeper more nuanced understanding of the faith.

As another blogger from West MI I have seen not only the Calvinism (which can certainly be abused or overemphasized, but which I find in many ways to be a deep and beautiful theology), but also Dispensational theology as this area is a hot spot for that as well. I grew up with DT, but no longer agree with it. The point here is not that I am so much frustrated that others I know adhere to it, but that far to many clearly do so with little understanding of what the basis or implications of their system are, or that they are adhering to a system at all. Indeed, many just assume that Dispensationalism is the natural outcome of 'just reading the Bible', which whether they are right or wrong about the system it is certainly a more complicated process than that.

Keith said...

Maybe it's just converts. This showed up this morning also: http://www.frederica.com/writings/why-converts-to-orthodoxy-are-obnoxious.html

Gary O' said...

Dr. Witherington, thank you for this posting on such a sensitive & often divisive issue.
Having studied at a seminary in a Baptist denomination I have encountered both sides of this issue & in my own understanding, from personal study of scripture have come to see myself as a
Cal-Minian, probably a 1-2 point Calvinist, certainly a General Atonement proponent. The ardent Calvinists I've talked with or debated on this issue seem to at the heart of it want an answer for every spiritual question. The most ardent are extremely negative & do see others with any differing opinion as heretics. I did find Piper's interview interesting in that he didn't really respond to the question but sought only to defend his position as a Calvinist.

Brett R said...

Alot of "Calvinist" are just people that have grasped onto 5 points of summary for the Synod of Dordt without taking into account the entire breadth and depth of the entire theological system. Because of this and because of the internet, you get alot of AYCs (angry young Calvinists).

As a reformed believer myself, I am more impressed by the systems approach to issues such as the Law, justification, the sacraments, and worship.

There is a flip side to the coin of how you would approach questions such as the origin of evil, and that is that many times the "light" that comes in is more confusion than anything else. One must only look at your own denomination to see what I mean.

Mike Mitchell said...

This is so true. Something I've said for years about Piper and many hyper-Calvinists like him is that they operate on a sense of false omniscience.

And another thing, that seems to be a fundamental flaw in Calvinism; it is an elaborate theological system based on a body of Scripture that is not systematic.

Stanford J. Young said...

Ben - interestingly, I agree with you very much within the area that many may not agree - your criticism of Calvinism and the finite knowledge of God, and even his word, that we possess, but disagree in the area where you likely find the most agreement (more in a moment).

I am reminded of a comment by Timothy Keller in which he notes (paraphrasing) that our theology is based on the questions we ask and a) we all ask different questions; and b) no one can ask all the questions (or get all the answers).

The disagreement I have is that Paul and the NT writers "faith in God comes from having a personal relationship with God which provided them with enough evidence to produce faith in God."

I believe Paul's faith was far more objective than that. His faith led to a personal relationship, it was not the reverse. His faith was grounded on the historical reality of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15; Rom. 1:4; Acts 17:30-31; etc.). This led to his "obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:5). And, I would add, that his personal relationship was not a mystical feeling of the presence of the Spirit, it was a conscious decision to embrace the sufferings of Christ. It seems to me, Phil. 3:8-11 demonstrates that "Knowing Christ" means to choose to have fellowship with his crucifixion; to embrace his sufferings in our own lives on behalf of the gospel.

Stanford J. Young said...

If I may add another comment. I over heard a fellow who is a complete skeptic (but a friendly one) once make this observation I found humorous:

"I'll say this. I am an unreserved one point Calvinist. I wholeheartedly believe in the total depravity of man!"

Mike Mitchell said...

Sorry, I wrote the first comment without listening to Piper's audio interview.

That has to be one of the most arrogant ways possible a person could resond to a charge of arrogance. The "doctrine of Grace" (AKA Calvinism) is not taught by thousands of churches?-- According to Piper, If this is so, it's because those churches are heretical by God's immutable, sovereign decree!

And how is it so very intellectually coherent to beleive that God will punish people in Hell for eternity for doing exactly as he preordained them to do?

ddmiller said...

Nicely said. Thomas Aquinas, after laboring for years on his masterwork (Summa Theologica), had some sort of transcendant encounter with God. Afterwards, he lamented that all he had written was straw, and he wrote nothing more after that. (Wouldn't even finish his Summa, despite the urging of friends). (I learned about this from Dr. Franks James III, in his RTS class on Church history). Spurgeon, (technically a Calvinist), said that he didn't pretend to be able to reconcile the mystery of the sovereignty of God and the free will of man.

Rachel said...

So the question is, why aren't Calvinists more like Jesus? hmmm...

It seems to me that in order to accept and celebrate the notion that God created the majority of the human population for the sole purpose of inhabiting hell, one must have a bigger head than heart. It's a nice, cohesive theory, sure, but it's absolutely heartbreaking when you imagine its implications.

I think that's why the theological system attracts people who like black-and-white, cohesive, systems...not "warm, fuzzy" people like me who feel compassion toward the "non-elect."

Daniel said...

Hello, Prof. Witherington,

I'm a reader of your blog, though you don't know me personally, and I am a philosophy PhD student. I hope it doesn't sound impolite for me to suddenly drop a note here. I think there are two more points in Piper's interview that deserve criticisms.

First, he claims that Calvinism is intellectually very appealing and coherent. This actually is biased. In some versions of Calvinism (which I have seen when I studied the philosophical issues behind open theism), human beings do have real freedom. The reason why there is still Calvinistic sovereignty is that such freedom somehow is compatible with such sovereignty. This is highly controversial and, in my humble opinion, probably false. The reason why Calvinism looks logically coherent is that it pushes all problems to a tiny little contradiction, hoping people to overlook that part. Then of course everywhere else can look very logically coherent. On the other hand, systems like Arminianism look less logically coherent because they are not willing to have all logical issues to hang on one point. They celebrate some forms of unsystematicity. But this very feature actually makes them more reasonable (and closer to the biblical theology you mentioned).

Second, Piper talks about the urge of Calvinists to "make everybody a Calvinists" with the language of preaching the Gospel - something like you have got the great salvation and you really want everybody to get it! This is equating Calvinism with the gospel, which is arrogant, imperialistic, and, I daresay, heretical.

William Birch said...

Great post! Great response! But why did Piper's answer still anger me so much? :)

Billy

david said...

Dr. Witherington,

I am reformed, but I will grant that what you have said in this article is spot on.

Particularly with the apologetics of Gordon Clark and Vincent Cheung (who are borderline hyper-calvinists), one can observe their desire to form a bullet proof and coherent system. It leads to all sorts of hermeneutical gymnastics.

I once toyed around with foundationalism, and the idea that you can start with "the Bible is the Word of God" and deduce the entire Christian worldview from it. I now look back and see how futile and silly my approach was. At least Van Til had more humility about revelation.

Not to deny the perspicuity of Scripture by any means, but some parts are more clear than others. It is on those things that I try to focus.

Thanks again for the thought provoking article!

Seeker said...

The Lutheran system talks about "God Hidden" and "God Revealed", the obvious difference being that what we can know about God has been revealed to us through scripture, and to some extent, nature. What hasn't been revealed is not open to speculation, though that has not stopped some, including Piper, et. al. I recall Luther as saying, though the source of the statement escapes me, that when it comes to God, there are some topics where we need to, "put our hand over our mouth." Wouldn't that be a sight on Sunday mornings?

Jc_Freak: said...

Now that I've had the chance to hear what Piper said, I have a few more comments.

First of all, I do not think that Calvinism is humbling. This isn't to say that their aren't humble Calvinists, but Calvinism will keep a humble man humble, and an arrogant man arrogant. There is nothing about the system to causes one to be more kind or gentle to their fellow man. I wrote a post about this recently.

I also think that Piper is rather elitist, though I wouldn't say arrogant. The very phrase "doctrines of grace" is elist in nature, since other Christian theologies have things to say about grace. Arminianism is particular is a grace centered theology. There are other things where he sees himself speaking from a superior viewpoint, rather than a different one.

I would agree that Calvinism has an appeal to a certain kind of mind that is argumentative, as he said, and that is not the only kind of person attracted to it.

In the end, Calvinists come off as negative because negative people are the loudest. But there is something about Calvinism which grants these persons ammunition, i believe.

I think i'm beginning to ramble, so I'll leave it at that. I don't think I'm being as clear as I want to be, so if anyone doesn't like what I have said, I am more than willing to clarify.

Ben Witherington said...

What I have noticed over the years is that in the pursuit of and lust for certainty, Calvinists tend to look for an intellectual certainty of some sort, but Arminians seek an experiential certainty (e.g. a second blessing or post-conversion crisis experience that assures one that one is right with God and so, saved).

BW3

Mich said...

I concur with GaryO:
The most ardent are extremely negative & do see others with any differing opinion as heretics. I did find Piper's interview interesting in that he didn't really respond to the question but sought only to defend his position as a Calvinist.

Many Christians follow Paul and attempt to "work out their salvation" and this leads them in some sense to theology. But I believe most use Theology as a way to organize or describe their faith. When you believe in a systematic theology, as Ben said, you start realizing it wont neatly compartmentalize scripture and you have to keep explaining away the problems. Before you know it you believe in the system and not scripture! Also I find most Christians are humble enough to discuss these issues without becoming defensive and belligerent--except Calvinists! And this is why they are seen as negative.

Having said this, I know several Calvinists and they are humble and Godly men.

derek4messiah.wordpress.com said...

Brilliantly stated. I excerpted it on my blog with links back to you. I prefaced it with this paragraph:

The point of my including Ben Witherington's comments below is not merely to critique Calvinism, but to critique a lot of Christian (especially evangelical) assumptions about knowledge and theological systems. We all need to be reminded of exactly what Witherington so eloquently describes here . . .

Derek Leman
derek4messiah.wordpress.com

david said...

Is there a good Arminian exegesis of John 6 and Romans 9 out there? I've been looking for one, but have yet to find something that doesn't look like gymnastics and special pleading.

Ben Witherington said...

You will find a detailed dealing with Rom. 9-11 in my Romans commentary with Eerdmans.

BW3

Lemuel said...

Daniel said: "The reason why Calvinism looks logically coherent is that it pushes all problems to a tiny little contradiction, hoping people to overlook that part."

What's more, usually if you point out an obvious contradiction in Calvinism...for example, that humans are blamed for what God causes them to do...Calvinists like J. White will accuse you of desperately trying to rob God of his glory.

david said...

Lemuel,

That doesn't seem like a very fair interpretation.

The problem of evil applies to both sides, but it does get expressed differently.

One could simply ask why God created anything in the first place if all these people were going to end up in hell for eternity...well over half if you look at pre-Christianity and assume that only those who put faith in YHWH go to heaven.

Darryl Schafer said...

Somewhat on-topic:

I had a former professor comment one time: "I never met a Calvinist who was going to Hell."

Jc_Freak: said...

To david,

I am quite happy with Kieth Schooley's work on Romans 9. It has several parts to it:

Introduction, Isaac and Jacob, Pharoah, The Potter and the Clay, and conclusion. It's a good work, and I think he is right on. His assessment is that Paul remains on topic, talking about salvation by faith as opposed to heredity.

John 6, there isn't a specific work that I can endorse with that level of confidence, but there are several pieces on it at that site. Just go to the Bible Passages link over to the left, and look for John 6. Try the search function to at the top. We have plenty of posts on that topic.

Ryan Phelps said...

I suppose I will be the first to enter the foray angrily, a Calvinist. Well, at least insofar as I don't find Dr. Witherington's assessment all that helpful.

1. I would hope that we would all do theology the way Dr. Witherington and Piper have communicated we do so; namely, out of humility. We should say along with Paul, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" (Romans 11:33-34).

2. It seems that this conversation has more to do with sinful people misusing and misappropriating language and affection, more than it has to do with actual systems of theology or how those systems are determined.

3. Is it not the task of theology to draw an outline of God as best we can? We have been given certain faculties to make this endeavor possible, and it is clear that God asks this of us. Dr. Witherington says as much.

4. Dr. Witherington, it is quite easy to say that Calvinism draws the outline too narrowly. What about other historically orthodox claims? I am certain you would say many things unequivocally about the scriptures, and you might even order these things systematically. My assumption is that you would place in this category those things required for a saving faith. Two questions:

5. Orthodox soteriological prerequisites definitely say things about the front of the “tapestry.” Why are we allowed to be certain here but not elsewhere?

6. Why are these soteriological prerequisites the only things we can be passionate about?

Shea Cole said...

All this talk over how God's movement toward man and man's movement toward God today, and somehow we forget about the mediator. It seems to me that which is a big help in "grasping" some of this stuff is to look into the self-revelation of God in Christ on the one hand and his vicarious humanity for all of mankind on the other. By union with him we are enabled to make a faith response. Prior to our faith is his faith as the great High Priest. What a mystery! We are so steeped in western rationalism!

david said...

Michael over at Reclaiming the Mind just wrote a very similar article from the Calvinist perspective. He claims that Arminians are also guilty of avoiding tension. Cross fire!!!

http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2008/11/why-calvinism-is-the-least-rational-option/

Ben Witherington said...

One of the problems in this discussion is when a necessary element in a theological system is made central to that system even if, it is barely, if all mentioned in the Scriptures themselves. I am thinking for example of the notions of either irresistible or prevenient grace. These of course are not Biblical phrases, and indeed they are quite difficult to demonstrate on any straightforward exegesis of any particular text. And yet, whole theories about salvation are based on these two different notions (see my The Problem with Evangelical Theology). Now in my view passion should be reserved for things we can talk about with more certainty and clarity and which more nearly seem to be major themes or emphases in the Scriptures themselves. I demonstrated at length, in the Problem of Evangelical Theology that it is no accident that it is precisely where a theological system tries to say something distinctive is where it is exegetically the weakest. This should have told us something. For example, the rapture theology is precisely the least exegetically defensible element of Dispensationalism.

What we should get fired up about are the major repeatedly emphasized theological themes in Scripture, not what at best are mere implications of a possible Biblical theology.

Blessings,

BW3

Ryan Phelps said...

Dr. Witherington-

"What we should get fired up about are the major repeatedly emphasized theological themes in Scripture, not what at best are mere implications of a possible Biblical theology."

I truly appreciate your sentiment and can even agree with your statement. Of course, what constitutes and is comprised in Biblical theology is not as obvious as you make it seem. Calvinists (some of them ranking among the best exegetes and theologians in the world and history) exist precisely because they believe Calvinism's tenants are not "mere implications" of Biblical theology but foundational to it.

In the end, I am comfortable with the debate, despite the fact that Calvinists exude, at times, unbridled passion.

For Christ,

Ryan

Jc_Freak: said...

"I am thinking for example of the notions of either irresistible or prevenient grace. These of course are not Biblical phrases, and indeed they are quite difficult to demonstrate on any straightforward exegesis of any particular text. "

This is very true. It is good to give names to these things so we can talk to them, but passion should only be bridled in regards to the clear text of Scripture.

David Beasley said...

I thought of this blog entry today in the bible study "Jesus in the Gospels, Disciple" series.
All is vanity under the sun?
In the NRS "vanity" is written 31 times in Ecclesiastes. I wonder if "theology" is chasing after the wind... windy constructs? After trying to understand Matthew 6:14-15 and Mark 11:25 with just congregation folks (average age mid 70's?) I was greatly confused about grace of any sort and conditional forgiveness in the Lord's Prayer. While eternity looms a shortening of my breath away I realized again as before that I have a seemingly unforgiving mindset (something hits the fan) -- hurt and vengeful heart towards some -- and/or a mind that cannot grasp "sin", "justification", "holiness as God saying, 'be holy as I am holy'". Some absolutes of righteousness and justice become heavier than law while Jesus is saying "cheers" and inviting us to "my light yoke" through what I hope is "faithfulness" and a pretty unintellectual confessional plea with my eye on the Lamb of God, his blood. Does this mean I'm a Southern Babtist?

Bryan said...

What seems most evident and explicit in scripture to me is that unconditional election is clear. And many of the words themselves (elect, predestined, "not of ourselves that no one may boast", etc) all speak to a work of God apart from the will of the human. The weakest arguments I hear are from the implicit texts about free will. The concept of free will is not something, it seems to me, that God ever inspired the writers of scripture to argue for. In fact, it seems that explicit arguments for unconditional election are argued for explicity (Romans 9-11, Eph 1, etc). I know this is somewhat sophomoric, but it is amazing to me how many people I talk to start their argument about virtually anything with the assumptive phrase "Since God did not want robots, he made us with free will..." to which I have heard a thousand things that could stand on their own without that statement even being made.

Sorry this is not at all as thought through. I just feel like spewing a little bloggorhea.

Mike Mitchell said...

To Bryan:

Yes, Romans 9 through 11 does argue explicitly for the election of the people of Israel as God's chosen race (not individual salvation). And very clear points made in 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Tim. 2:3 are plenty explicit in saying that God wants ALL people to be saved, not just an elect few.

At the bottom of their hearts, I don't believe most Calvinists really believe in Calvinism anyway. They don't believe it because they live and they preach like our choices matter. Piper talks in his podcast about how zealous the regenerate person is to go and tell others about...about the fact that no one has any real choice, and at the end of all things nothing will be any different than it was preordained to be? No Piper and most Calvinist go out and call people to repentance, as if people have a real choice. You can say all you want about God "ordaining the means," but if Calvinism is true, there is really no purpose in anything we do, because nothing we do could have been any different in the end--all dictated by the "immutable" will of God.

Calvinism is a good example of a philosophy that can be thought but not lived.

Brett R said...

One question for all of those that are so convinced us Calvinists are arrogant. Have any of you been involved a confessional Reformed or Presbyterian Church?

I agree with much of the criticisms here as it applies to many of the Calvinists on the internet (although there are just as many bad anti-Calvinists such as Dan Corner), but don't find the same sort of issues as prevelant in the many well balanced Reformed and Presbyterian Churches. Now, there are as many problems in these churches as any others, and we do tend to be more focused on theology than some others, but we aren't quite as arrogant and sectarian as some here might think.

kangaroodort said...

David,

You wrote,

Is there a good Arminian exegesis of John 6 and Romans 9 out there? I've been looking for one, but have yet to find something that doesn't look like gymnastics and special pleading.

This is a very interesting statement as the primary reason I reject Calvinism is the exegetical "gymnastics" I observe regarding universal atonement passages and warning/apostasy passages.

Anyway, here are two essays on John 6 which I think are superior to the Calvinist exegesis of the passage:

The Order of Faith and Election in John’s Gospel: You do Not Believe Because You Are Not my Sheep

John 6:37

And I have yet to read a Calvinist exegesis of Romans 9 that adequately addresses Rom. 10-11 in connection with Romans 9 (at least not without a great deal of gymnastics). But that is just my opinion.

God Bless,
Ben

Jc_Freak: said...

Bryan:

Personally, I find the most explicit texts in the discussion the ones for Atonement for All, and the weakest the one's for Limited Atonement.

I admit that there are really no texts that teach free will. The freed will is a conclusion that some reach given other factors, much like the Trinity. It is also not the center of Arminian Theology: Atonement for All is. Scripture is clear that God desires to save everyone, though not everyone is saved.

(Mind you, I dont find the texts for Unconditional Election very strong either, but I at least see where you are coming from there)

Litl-Luther said...

I would disagree with the first commenter, Michael Gilley, who said the article was "Spot on!" But I will say the article has spots!

As a staunch Calvinist I have yet to find any other Christian belief system which gives more glory to God for our salvation than Calvinism. Is it flawless? I would not go that far. Is it the best Christians have come up with in a faithful attempt at understanding God and His word? I would say "Yes."

Litl-Luther said...

As a staunch Calvinist I have yet to find any other Christian belief system which gives more glory to God for our salvation than Calvinism. Is it flawless? I would not go that far. Is it the best Christians have come up with in a faithful attempt at understanding God and His word? I would say "Yes."

DP Cassidy said...

Ben,

Thanks for the post. A couple of thoughts:

*One response said Piper was a hyper-calvinist. Really? I doubt it. And why all this chatter about Calvinism as essentially Dortian formula? John Piper would get a tongue-lashing from Calvin on a whole host of matters, from ecclesiology to sacraments.

*More to the point, it seems that the most ancient Christian creeds were written to create the boundaries of the Faith as opposed to the pagan world, whereas later confessional statements were written to demarcate who belonged to which Christian tribe. Unfortunatley many Christians ostracize and ex-commune other Christians based on confessional statements, which may or may not have a bearing on who is 'ordainable' but not necessarily on who is 'communable'. This arrogance exists in Reformed circles to be sure; it also exists throughout the Christian Church. Singling out the Reformed for that sin is hardly gracious or just.

* The same can be said about the best line in the post - we trust in God not in a system. While there are calvnists/reformed/whatever that have this inverted, it is as much a problem in other circles, except where trust in 'experiences' is paramount.

David

Manisha said...

If spiritual death is a reality and not just an analogy (which I believe is a certainty if we are to take Scripture seriously) then all these debates really should not even be. Spiritually dead people cannot believe, nor repent, nor call out to God, nor come to Christ. Why do we even debate these things? They are all things impossible for dead people to do. It really should not even be something we disagree on. God has to do a work in us so powerful in order for us to believe upon Him it is equal in power to raising Jesus from the dead. Paul said as much (Eph. 1:17-20). It baffles me why there is such disunity on these things. It should not be.

If fallen people are not dead, then right from the beginning the serpent was right and God was the liar. I really wish Christians would take the “dead in sin” passages more seriously. This would bring about more Christian unity.

Greg Anderson said...

I have looked at both Calvin and Luther's systems of thought and what I find is a failed attempt to produce a "proof" by induction that cannot and will not make all the dominoes fall into the sequence they want it to.

The sheer hubris of attempting to speak for God is what astounds me the most though.

More Christ Like said...

The Calvinist that are angry are angry because they are still in Romans 7 and they refuse to get free by the grace and power of God thought faith. They refuse to be diligent and add to their faith (2Pet 1:4) and be keep from falling (vs10) and to get redeem not only from the love and penalty of sin but the power of sin. They need to find the power in the blood that Wesley found and forsake sinning.

Kyle said...

The answer to this is really quite simple.

Calvinists are so negative because they were predestined to be so by God.

bobbyt said...

It is of course possible that the highly analytical nature of Calvinism, its carefully worked-out theology and ecclesiology were more the products of the historical situation in the 16th 17th centuries than the Bible itself. We all carry a framework into our Biblical interpretation, none of us is able to escape from certain cultural assumptions that we bring to our reading of the Bible. Perhaps after 2000 years of different interpretations, we are in the advantageous position of being able to trace our own assumptions more accurately than ever before and therefore (perhaps!) to avoid the most egregiously mistaken interpretations.

The position of early Protestantism was in danger from both the resurgent Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation and the break-away groups who took to highly individualistic interpretations of the Bible. What better way to ensure the survival of the new movement than to find in the Bible a theology of individual election to salvation? This would ensure that God’s ‘special people’, those chosen individually by God through a pre-mundane decree would find the strength to deal with whatever their enemies threw at them. This carefully thought-out and comprehensive theology is the springboard from which Calvin, in both his commentaries and the ‘Institutes’ attempts to score points against the ‘sectarians’ on the left and the ‘papists’ on the right.

Calvinism therefore guaranteed its survival via a theology, which while appealing to specific Bible verses, was more in the nature of a political / social programme. It ensured the continuation of the reformed church, with all its varied offshoots. Along the way it certainly brought to light much that has proved to be off theological value since, but its origins in both late medieval thought systems and the very pressing needs of the Reformation, should not guarantee it a central place in the thinking and worshipping of Christian people today.

Corpus Christi Outreach Ministries said...

good comments, just some recent thoughts I had (947) 1ST CORINTHIANS 3:11-23 Paul teaches that once the foundation of Jesus is laid, that no other foundation can come in and replace it. Remember, Paul is speaking about a spiritual foundation. He is not building ‘a literal building’! I know we know this, but for some reason modern church planters can’t seem to break the mindset of having a building ‘to do church’. Now we begin to get into some doctrine. I believe Paul begins a New Testament doctrine here that could be called ‘the sin unto natural death’ or the judgment of a believer when he falls into open sin and rebellion and refuses to repent. Now, I have looked at this doctrine from different views over the years. I try not to allow my own leaning towards reformed theology to effect me. But I have come down on the side of ‘eternal security’ in viewing these verses. Paul teaches that even though the foundation of Jesus is laid, it’s still possible to build a life of worthless things upon it. He says ‘if any man defiles Gods temple, him will God destroy’. This same language will be used in chapter 5 ‘deliver the sinning brother to satan for the destruction of the flesh so the spirit may be saved’. Paul also uses the term again here in chapter 3 ‘yet he will be saved as by fire’. Also in chapter 11 ‘for this cause many sleep [physical death] and are sick among you’ he uses this as a judgment that came upon them for their abuse of the Lords table. So reading this in context it sure seems that Paul is saying ‘if you, as a believer, allow yourself to fall into sin in such a way that you are doing permanent harm to the temple [which he describes as their bodies, both individually and corporately] than God will destroy you’. This seems to fit all these other verses. The apostle John also speaks on the ‘sin unto death’ [which I see as physical death] in his letter. He says ‘if any one sees his brother sin a sin unto death, I do not say you should pray for them’. Now, the Arminian brothers [those who do not believe in eternal security] obviously see these a different way. They would apply some of these verses as meaning the loss of salvation. Though I personally do not see it this way, yet they have some of their own scriptures to back up their belief. They are certainly not out of line with historic Christian belief to hold to this view. So Paul introduces [in my mind] the concept of the possibility of the rebellious believer falling into such a sin that he can ‘be destroyed’ [lose his life] while at the same time saying ‘yet his spirit will be saved’. This ‘in house’ instruction [in house meaning Paul’s dealing with them as believers who fall into sin] should not taint the overriding view of Paul in his entire corpus of teaching. His main teaching on ‘those who live in constant sin’ is they will not inherit the kingdom of God. John also teaches this doctrine in his epistle. So we begin to see the ‘minefield’ we can get into as we tread thru the New Testament. It will be important to make these distinctions with much grace as we continue our journey thru the New Testament. Many well meaning believers view the ‘other camps’ as heretics over these issues. I see it more as a matter of believers being influenced to see these verses from a sincere standpoint of their upbringing. If you were raised Baptist, you more than likely view them from a Calvinistic lens. If you were raised Pentecostal [or Methodist], from an Arminian lens. Both good camps, with their own ‘slant’ affecting their view. I don’t think we should call each other heretics over stuff like this.

Litl-Luther said...

Lazarus could have patted himself on the back and said “I walked out of the tomb myself (by God’s grace, but I did it myself). I’m the one who stood up and walked to my Lord! But of course, Lazarus would be forgetting that he was previously a dead man, and Jesus made him alive before he could do anything. I think this is the same mistake many non-Calvinists make. They forget they were once dead; God made them alive, making it possible for them to believe, possible for them to repent, possible for them turn and walk willingly to Christ.

Unbelievers are incapable of submitting to God’s Laws (Rom. 8:7). They are incapable of comprehending or accepting the things of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14). They are incapable of coming to Christ (John 6:44, 65). They are incapable of seeking God (Rom. 3:11). Period. Repentance must be granted to them (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25). Faith in Christ must also be granted to them (Phil. 1:29). Unbelievers can do nothing Godward. They are blind to the things of God (John 3:3), deaf to His voice (Matt. 13:15; John 5:25). Their hearts are entirely deceitful (Jer. 17:9). Every thought they have is only evil (Gen. 6:5). The Bible paints an ugly picture of our fallen race (Rom. 3:10-19). Of themselves, they are utterly without hope (Eph 2:12; Matt. 19:25-26). In short, it takes much more than simple prodding for an unbeliever to turn to Christ. It takes resurrection from the dead! (Gen. 2:17; John 5:25; Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13)

The dead must be brought to life in order to repent and believe. And Regeneration (AKA: Being born again) is something completely of God; something we are completely neutral in. We see our passivity in regeneration, for instance, when John 1:13 assures us that our human wills did not play any part in our being born again. God makes us alive so it is possible for us to come to Christ.

As the above shows, God deserves ALL the credit of our salvation. That is all most Calvinists are trying to do: give God the credit He alone deserves.

Carlo said...

If I can join the discussion, I just want to use another angle. I am not a Theologian and may be you guys might laugh or just put my comments to the recycle bin.

For me the Reformed Theological Systems (Calvinism) is the greatest contribution to all people 'created' by a man (created by God) who is God's own child and a man who fear the Lord Jesus.

Just as we are given Bach, Handel, and Mozart who created 'timelessly beautifully' masterpiece. Just as we are given Michael Angelo. There are things in the world that are created 'perfect'='timeless beauty'. And it is alligned with God who made us perfect - with two feet, two arms, two eyes, five finggers, etc. Man is the image of God. So man might create perfections.

Then, something perfect does not need corrections. You might, you could correct it, but you will look like an idiot - for instance if you try to correct 'Magnificat' of Bach.

Blessings,

CARLO
From Indonesia

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Terry Hamblin said...

Manisha has hit upon the central point. Those who are dead in trespasses and sin cannot believe unless the Spirit intervenes. Each believer is a miracle of grace. By grace are you saved, through faith - and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. How humbling is that!

Spurgeon was my kind of Calvinist. "God must have chosen me because I know I would never have chosen him, and he must have chosen me before I was born because had he seen me after I was born he certainly would never have chosen me. And when he was chastised for preaching to those who were not elect he replied, "If you will put a chalk mark on the shoulders of those who are the elect, I will make a point of only preaching to them."

Systematic theology is man's poor attempt to systematize what is written in Scripture. Our poor understanding finds it impossible to reconcile God's sovereignty and man's responsibility even though both are taught by Scripture. CS Lewis told us that when we get to heaven we will find (both of us Calvinists and Arminians) that the things that divided us were down to our weak minds not being able to comprehend the magnificence of God.

yuckabuck said...

Re Litl-Luther,
That is an impressive array of biblical quotations strung together. It also completely misrepresents the Arminian position. No Wesleyan Arminian with a partial understanding of his theological tradition would recognize him or herself as being rebutted by your verses, least of all Dr. Witherington. The Wesleyan position has been referred to as "free grace," not "free will." There is a concept of prevenient grace which holds that God has given enough grace to unbelievers to enable them to respond in faith to the Spirit's leading towards salvation, if they choose. You may not agree with this, but it is a far cry from the view you seek to refute.
God bless you,
Chuck

bobbyt said...

Some of the discussions seem to miss the point. No one would dispute that a work of the Holy Spirit is required to convict a person and to bring them to Christ. No one would dispute that our faculties are marred by rebellion and disobedience and that we naturally turn in on ourselves, rather than turn to God. But is it necessary for there to be a detailed working-out of the ‘exact’ mechanics of how all this works together?

Very often the verses (particularly OT) that are marshalled to prove (for example) the ‘total depravity’ of human beings are taken out of their textual context and their historical context. What the prophets complained of about the erring and idolatrous people of God in the OT, who had forsaken their first love, is surely not meant to be applied to human nature in general? This kind of thinking is where so many ‘isms’ of the Christian faith have erred. Their systems have been constructed on misunderstandings of the original context.

Is it not also true that the word ‘elect’ when used in the NT refers to those who are already saved and not to those God intends to save? And is it not also true that the context of Romans 9-11 is the story of Israel and how that story fits into God’s work through Christ to the Gentiles? It is not about individual salvation at all.

Of course, such textual arguments are quite apart from any moral arguments. When the Bible states that God is a God of justice and that he deals impartially with everyone and that all are given over to disobedience so that God may have mercy on all, what are we to make of justice and impartiality when we are told by Calvinists that God has in fact already made up his mind as to who will be saved and who will go to hell?

Dave Billings said...

Ben,

Since it is clear that you disagree with Calvinism and Arminianism then what theological system would you fall under and how does it differ from these two?

Kyle said...

"The dead must be brought to life in order to repent and believe."

The problem with this is that it's not the biblical order of salvation. Scripture is very clear: repent, believe, then you will be saved/regenerated - not the other way around.

However uncomfortable it makes the Calvinist, it is sinners who repent and believe, not God - although God's grace enables it. Simply giving into God is hardly a reason to boast before God. Faith and boasting are mutually exclusive.

Calvinists also need to own up to the fact that God unconditionally sends people to hell in their system, a notion that is so contrary to what the Scriptures reveal about the character and will of God that it's amazing that it needs to be refuted.

zefiriel said...

Manisha has hit upon the central point. Those who are dead in trespasses and sin cannot believe unless the Spirit intervenes. Each believer is a miracle of grace. By grace are you saved, through faith - and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. How humbling is that!

I cannot disagree with your point, but somehow I feel you just quoted a verse out of context.

Jim Nichols said...

wow - what timing Doc? I'm reading Death by Love by a modern day Calvinist Fire-cracker. It's amazing to me that, while the book contains great truth, it feels like it's coming from a really irritated person. It's sad really.

Beyond the negativity and the intellectual superiority complex, the down right mean behavior that is usually thrown at "other" Christians who don't share their thoughts or beliefs creates paralysis. When someone says be wary about an author who has pointed me to a deeper appreciation and love of Jesus I get tend to get frustrated myself.

It's sad really and again while I appreciate the truth which many of them speak the demand to be right overwhelms it to the point of scary certainty.

I'm no heady theologian (my time at ATS is proof of that) but I'm pretty sure Jesus, even as a Sage and truth speaker, didn't repel the lovers of God who were misled but rather corrected them. It was those who were more about being certain they were right that Jesus had a problem with.?.

Thanks Doc!

Jason Dollar said...

"What he does not add, that could have been added, is that, for whatever reason, Calvinism seems to feed a deep seated need in many persons for a kind of intellectual certainty about why the world is as it is, and what God is exactly like, and how his will is worked out in the world, and most particularly how salvation works and whether or not one is a saved person."

I think, Dr. W, that this is moderately hypocritical of you to say. Surely every Christian will be interested in knowing what God is exactly like. Surely all believers will be interested in how God is working in the world. Surely all who are in Christ will be curious about how it came to be that they are in Christ.

Humble Calvinists are not seeking absolute certainty in these matters. Rather, they are seeking to understand the whole of biblical teaching on these matters. And surely, Dr. W, you are too. Those Calvinists who are not humble (along with those Arminians who are not humble) have bigger problems to deal with. Is it I, Lord?

I do appreciate the thrust of your post, especially in regard to our attitude in this discussion. Point well taken. However, I think your theology is mistaken, as so many others do. (Not spoken arrogantly at all - seriously :)

I did read a lengthy section from your Romans commentary (9-11), and find that Tom Schreiner's response to mere corporate election (Brian Abasciano's version) to be much more convincing and exegetically sound than what you have written.

The link:

http://www.monergism.com/Schreiner,%20Thomas%20-%20Corporate%20and%20Individual%20Elect.pdf

In spite, of this, I count you my dear brother in Christ and appreciate your insight into these matters. The same goes for the others, from both sides of the theological spectrum, who have commented.

himmiefan said...

I agree with Bobbyt in that even though bits and pieces of Reformed thought existed from early on, Calvinism itself sprang from the religious extremism of the 16th century.

Even though I've always been a Methodist, I attended a Presbyterian Church in America church as a teen. My experience is that with all their Reformed teachings, Reformed universities, Reformed churches, etc., Calvinists have turned Calvinism into an idol. It's too bad that they haven't made as much to-do over Christ's teachings on loving one another as they have about Romans 8 and 9 and other verses they quote to back up their position. The people in the church I attended really do believe that God so loved some of the world that he sent his only begotten Son and purposely created the rest to burn in hell. All in all, the PCA turned me into a die-hard Methodist.

By the way, in the video, Piper mentions his death. When he gets to Heaven, he's going to be shocked on how wrong he and Grudem are on their position on women!

Terry Hamblin said...

Zefiriel:
"Manisha has hit upon the central point. Those who are dead in trespasses and sin cannot believe unless the Spirit intervenes. Each believer is a miracle of grace. By grace are you saved, through faith - and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. How humbling is that!

I cannot disagree with your point, but somehow I feel you just quoted a verse out of context."

The context is Paul describing to the Ephesians just how they were saved. He goes on to tell them that it was 'not of works so that no-one can boast'. This means neither Arminian, who can't boast that he made a contribution to his salvation by choosing God while others failed to do so, nor Calvinist, who cannot claim that there was something special about him that God chose him as one of the elect.

Kyle said...

"
The context is Paul describing to the Ephesians just how they were saved. He goes on to tell them that it was 'not of works so that no-one can boast'. This means neither Arminian, who can't boast that he made a contribution to his salvation by choosing God while others failed to do so, nor Calvinist, who cannot claim that there was something special about him that God chose him as one of the elect."

Faith is the opposite of boasting, so it makes no sense to say that those who have faith can boast that they have done something to earn or merit God's favor.

Moreover, if God's actions alone are sufficient to save, they are also sufficient to damn, so man is not blameworthy for his sin, but God is in Calvinism.

Litl-Luther said...

Zefiriel writes:
"[A] Calvinist ... cannot claim that there was something special about him that God chose him as one of the elect."

You must not understand what any Calvinists believe to ever make a statement like the above. There is nothing about us that made God choose us. That is the point of Calvinism! We have nothing, did nothing. There was nothing about us that made God choose us. It was merely the pleasure of God's will to show people mercy.

PS: I really appreciate the article on Romans 9-11 by Tom Schreiner which Jason Dollar encouraged us to read. It was "Spot on!"

kangaroodort said...

Manisha,

you wrote:

If fallen people are not dead, then right from the beginning the serpent was right and God was the liar. I really wish Christians would take the “dead in sin” passages more seriously. This would bring about more Christian unity.

Arminians contend that these passages are being misused by Calvinists. Nowhere does the Bible equate spiritual death with the inability of a physical corpse. Spiritual death speaks to the fact that we are seperated from the only source of spiritual life- Jesus Christ. Only when we come to be in union with Christ can we share in His life and be born again. We come to be in union with Christ through faith.

Really, if you want to draw such a strict parallel with the inability of a physical corpse then you must also admit that a physical corpse cannot reject nor resist anything either. Therefore, we should also conclude that those who are dead in sin cannot resist the Holy Spirit nor reject the gospel. Yet we recognize that this is not the case which should serve as a red flag concerning the way the Calvinist understands "dead in sin."

The Arminian agrees that we need a resurrection but this resurrection comes by faith. The Arminian also agrees that God's enabling grace is necessary for one to believe but this enabling grace is not regeneration. God is powerful enough to overcome our depravity and enable a faith response.

The Bible is clear that faith precedes spiritual life and does not support the Calvinist understanding of what it means to be dead in sin.

You may disagree but at least you can see why it is not quite as simple as you would like it to be.

Terry Hamblin said...

The Bible teaches that we are saved without any merit of our own, but also that we are responsible for our sins. Any human system that says that the two cannot be reconciled is at odds with the Bible. Perhaps you can't get your head round it - if you could you lay claims to being God! For myself, I am happy to accept it. No-one ever got to heaven by passing an exam in theology.

kangaroodort said...

Jason Dollar,

You wrote:

I did read a lengthy section from your Romans commentary (9-11), and find that Tom Schreiner's response to mere corporate election (Brian Abasciano's version) to be much more convincing and exegetically sound than what you have written.

FWIW I found Schreiner's response to Dr. Abasciano to be very weak. He basically just repeated the same mistakes that Dr. Abasciano initially critiqued and demonstrated a continued misunderstanding of what corporate election entails. I also found that he continually begged the question of his position which really hurt the quality of his rebuttal overall.

I happen to know that Dr. Abasciano sought to respond to Schreiner, but was not allowed to do so in the same journal because the theological journal (as a rule) does not allow further responses to rebuttals. He has written a response and plans to publish it. So Schreiner had the luxury of the last word which alone will prove convincing to some, but Dr. Abasciano's response will eventually be published and, in my opinion, demonstrate the errors in Schreiner's essay as well as the Biblical superiority of the corporate view. I for one am looking forward to it.

God Bless,
Ben

Jc_Freak: said...

Terry said:

"This means neither Arminian, who can't boast that he made a contribution to his salvation by choosing God while others failed to do so, nor Calvinist, who cannot claim that there was something special about him that God chose him as one of the elect."

I believe you have misrepresented both positions here Terry. Litle-Luthr is right that no Calvinist would say there was something special about them. In Calvinism, God elects unconditionally. I would agree that this makes a sort of caste system, but the idea that there was any quality that made them special other than election itself is foriegn to Calvinism.

Likewise, you misrepresent Arminianism. Arminians do not believe that we can earn our salvation. We have always taught that we are saved by faith, which is not a meritous act. Works are but filthy rags. Arminianism is often libeled by popular Calvinists, so please look into what Arminians say about Arminianism.

Jc_Freak: said...

I'll have to agree with Ben. I found Schreiner' response to Dr. Abasciano to be sophistry at best. He never really rebuttal's Abasciano's points, since he constantly misses the mark on what they are. Basically, I kthink Abasciano went over his head.

As far as Scriptural use, Schreiner pulled out some verses they sounded a bit like what he was saying, but that was about it. Dr. Abasciano was interacting with the entire OT, and allowing that to speak to the NT verses.

Terry Hamblin said...

Of course, I was deliberately using the descriptions that each side uses against the other. Biblical theology, not systematic theology is what we aspire to. Any attept to systematize falls into a trap.

Jc_Freak: said...

"Of course, I was deliberately using the descriptions that each side uses against the other. Biblical theology, not systematic theology is what we aspire to. Any attept to systematize falls into a trap."

Well, that really only obfuscates. If the discriptions are wrong, they shouldn't be used, regardless of who uses them. It is best to define a theology best off of the adherants, not the opposition.

That in mind, all systematic theologies attempt to be biblically based. They have their advantages and disadvantages, but to disregard them for "biblical theology" is often premature. Though I agree that being bibilical is more important than being "consistant" or other systematic qualities, the act of trying to develop a conscience general framework to understand reality isn't a negative thing, and is very important for certain kinds of people. If you are disinterested in looking at systematics, fine. They are not required. But others need that kind of framework because of who they are, and how God made them.

Caleb said...

I have had the idea of predestination personaly explained to me by two calvinist leaning believers. Both times they emphasized the fact that we can't explain how it all occurs.

I am more of a four point Calvinist. But I look at the scriptures and see passages that talk of free will and those that talk of predestination. I believe it is because both are going on. Kinda like our natural birth. I believe God made us exactly as he wants us AND we are the product of two individuals' personal choice to engage in physical intimacy and the joining of two random sex cells. I don't see this position as neatly packaged or easily explained. It really doesn't make sense, atleast from out point of view.

I don't argue theology much but are you sure your generalizations of calvinists are accurate?

Jc_Freak: said...

Caleb,

I don't mean to pry, but I'm not sure who you are speaking to. Can you please officially state that?

Caleb said...

The original poster.

Litl-Luther said...

Caleb wrote:
"I look at the scriptures and see passages that talk of free will and those that talk of predestination."

Really?? I have never once seen a single verse of Scripture mention freewill. But what I do see in Scriptures over and over again is an enslaved will to sin and Satan. Freewill after the Fall is a myth. We are slaves who God must first make free in order for our wills to be capable of moving Godward.

On another note, "A Calvinist Poem":

With whom do I lash or turn obnoxiously brash? There are no tantalizing comments to bash, or commenter to sass. Woefully I must continue to endure this surly debate fast....Yet, Arminian, don’t bemock my resolve—neither gent nor lass. Such would be amply rash. If necessary, I shall come back with a Herculean cache, quivering in underpants the natural result from a Calvinist' blast. Trauma follows last; even urine may pass.

charles ray loudermilk said...

"I must confess that as a NT scholar I am inherently suspicious about theological systems like Calvinism or Dispensationalism or even Arminianism and the like which seem to foster certain kinds of feelings of intellectual certainty and even smugness about things that are in fact profound mysteries."

I shall qoute you time and again, if I may, Mr. Witherington. I cannot express my complete agreement with this statement, that my lips have uttered countless times.

I love HaShem and figure He has given we His children the wisdom necessary to carry out His work upon His world. No more, No less, HaShem does the salvation work.

Thanks Ben.

djb said...

I am not sure it is helpful to press that Calvinism is simply an expression of the 16th and 17th centuries, since it can just as easily be argued that the current preference for uncertainty is nothing but an expression of the times in which we live. Both are true, but not very helpful in a search for the truth. Likewise, Calvinism may attract certain mindsets, but other approaches attract other mindsets and are perhaps the products of those mindsets. All true but still not helpful. Ben W says that he does not like systems which claim too much certainty, but it seems to me that he is very certain about this being the wrong way to go. In other words, he is no different from Piper. We all do theology every time we think about God, and we all put it together in some order. Even uncertainty can be systematic. The only way not to have a 'system' is to not think at all, which I assume nobody would recommend. I am not a Calvinist, but I appreciate their efforts to come to grips with what God has revealed about himself. I share many of the criticisms voiced in this blog, but to have a go at them for trying to put it together while ignoring that we all do the same is a little hypocritical. Let everyone bring their reasons forward and leave it at that.

TruthMill said...

Greetings all.

I hope this post helps others that like me have found themselves perhaps torn between systems like Calvinism and Arminianism.

Here is what God has shown me from His Word. I hope my experience can be a blessing to you.

1. Why is it that with two seemingly diametrically opposed systems such as Cal. and Arm., there are such large numbers of adherents on either side? Why isn't one of the systems clearly right and the other clearly wrong to all believers?

1a. Because there is some of God's truth expressed in each system, and this is recognized to varying degrees and in varying ways by redeemed believers in Christ. Thus there is a split.

But in an effort to create a systematic theology from God's Word - which does not detail a systematic theology - both systems incorporate human assumptions (logically derived or otherwise) to plug the gaps in our understanding.

Unfortunately, these assumptions attempt to insert flawed human reasoning into God's flawless Word, and by their very presence give testimony that these systems describe movements away from God's word. Is God's Word augmented with human reasoning still just God's Word? No.

News flash.. God neither requires nor requests any augmentation on our part.

His Word is complete enough to bring us to faith in His Son. Going beyond what is written is not of faith, and that which is not of faith is sin.

Requiring some level of clarity, some level of understanding beyond what God has given us in His Word is not of faith, because it is not trusting (simply) in what God has given us. In no way is it child like trust, nor in any way is it obedient.

My advice: stick with the truths of God's Word and let the chips fall where they may. This side of our glorification we see in a mirror darkly. Lighting our own fires to try to brighten up the mirror only brings trouble and division within the body of Christ. It's not what we are called to do.

Here is what God has shown me from His Word:

1. God cannot sin.
2. #1 means means God cannot lie - He cannot bear a false witness.
3. God knows everything about everything and everyone. There is nothing hidden from Him because every thing and every fact exists because of Him and for His pleasure. God never has to assume anything - nothing ever occurs to God.
4. When God's Word indicates that anyone who will be saved must exercise repentance from sin & rebellion, and instead turn to Christ as their sole redeemer in complete and total faith and obedience, that is one thing.

When myself or any other preacher of God's Word, exercising our ministry of reconciliation based upon God's call on our lives and His Word, tells people that they must repent and exercise faith in Christ, we are making the assumption, to some degree, that they can do it aren't we?

We aren't merely informing them of a responsibility. We are also indicating possibility. At most we are indicating that they can in fact do this, and at least we are indicating to them that there is a possibility that they can do this.

Arminians may assume that they can because they believe everyone already can, Calvinists may assume that they can because they just might have won birth-lotto and are elect (Calvinist definition).

In no way are we lying to them, or misleading them, because we do not have perfect knowledge. Contained within our imperative is ignorance.

But for God to give such an imperative, with His perfect knowledge... that is another story altogether.

For God to indicate that anyone who will be saved must repent and turn to Christ in faith... well, that is merely indicating responsibility, not ability. I am responsible for many things in life that I don't have the ability to do... that's the short definition of life (being an adequate father of three comes to mind). There is no problem here with the difference between responsibility and ability.

But for God to give a personal imperative, a personal command, to every man, woman, and child that they must repent and turn to Christ in faith... that is again something very different (Acts 17:30-31).

For God to demand this personally of someone in light of His perfect knowledge would mean that there is a way for them to do what God is demanding. There must be, or otherwise God is lying to them. He is bearing a false witness. He is indicating to them that they can do something when in fact there is no way, internal or external, that they can do it.

It would be no different than someone demanding that a known paraplegic run the bases at the local ball field. It would be cruel, sadistic, and actually totally depraved. It would be lying about their capabilities.

5. God has shown me that He would rather exercise His mercy to sinners than His wrath against their sin. (Jonah 4:2 among many, many others).

6. God has shown me that nowhere in His Word does He *ever* hold out one hand in demand to someone, without offering them the means to obey with the other. God never demands something from us that He is not willing to grant. Everything that we have has been given to us by God. Everything that we will ever have has been given to us by God.

For instance:
When God gave Israel the law with one hand, His just law - birthed from His own justice - that must be followed perfectly or it will bring death, what did He do next?

With the other hand He delivered the offer of grace and mercy, sourced from His great love for us. He gave us the blood of a substitute for atonement of our failures to comply with His imperatives in the law.

An offer by the way that must be accepted and acted upon with faith. Faith that trusts God that the blood of the sacrifice does indeed cover our sin, and that the failure to meet the standards of His law personally and perfectly can be 'wiped away' and drowned in the sea of His forgetfulness.

The list of biblical truths in this regard are many.

7. God must grant repentance. (2nd Timothy 2:25).
We cannot repent on our own. The crippled cannot just decide to walk, the deaf cannot make themselves hear, the blind cannot make themselves see, no more than rebels can pronounce themselves exonerated, or dead men can make themselves alive.

8. God must grant faith.
(Phil 1:29). (Ephesians 2:8-9 - grammatically the 'gift' here is salvation (the being saved), not faith - check your gender in the Greek, but Phil 1:29 lays aside all doubt that faith must be granted from God).

Because of the same reasons above.


Thus enters the 'Good News': the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The gospel of Arminianism is not good news, because it says that I possess something (the ability to have saving faith from within myself), when God clearly teaches that I don't.

The gospel of five point Calvinism intimates that God is either schizophrenic, or sinful, or possibly both. Quite simply it slanders God's character because it does not portray God as He has revealed Himself in His Word.

Because of Christ's obedience in laying down His life as the vicarious and substitutionary atonement for our sin (and not just ours, but for the sins of the whole world - 1 John 2:2) - God is willing and able (within the stricture of His justice) to grant repentance and faith to any and all that will simply ask Him.

Thus He is just, and also the One that justifies (Hallelujah!)

If you are reading this and you are not in Christ, you are not born again, if God has not made you into a new creature in the second Adam, His Son. If you don't meet the examination of 1st John (a proper belief, a proper obedience, and a proper love), I urge you will all my heart to let go of your own abilities (actual and assumed) and fall on your face before God and ask Him to grant you repentance and faith.

You cannot repent on your own. You cannot produce saving faith on your own. And without repentance from sin and saving faith in His Son, you cannot please God.

If you have been living legalistically, stop trying to please God with your own merit.. you don't have any. You are simply piling up wrath for yourself. Instead, accept what God has already done to put you into a right standing with Himself.

Time and time again God has shown us in His Word that He loves saving sinners... in fact, He *runs* to save sinners. He throws His arms around us, falls on our neck and kisses us. He gifts us with Himself. There is no greater gift that has ever been conceived by any mind, than what God gives us in Himself.

What ever could lead God to run, except His great love for you?

God does not promise any of us another hour on this Earth, not even another second. But He does promise us that those that call upon His name (His person and His character) will be saved. I urge you to make the call that God Himself is ready and willing to fulfill.

May you find His salvation and His peace.

In love and with a clear conscience before god...

C.S. Countryman

www.truthmill.com / www.truthmill.org / truthmill@yahoo.com