A friend of mine emailed me today about Calvinism, and I thought the resulting conversation would make a good blog post…

Friend:

So after you let the Calvinism-Arminian debate started.  I have little exposure to either one of these theologies. I did a little reading on them and don’t even know if the debate is even worth devoting time to.    As I don’t know much about I was wondering if there are good biblical references to shed light on the subject.  Let me know what you think or a good place to find some basis on the subject.

 

Me:

Yeah… I’m not really into that debate anymore. When I was first starting at Baylor I thought I was a hardcore Calvanist – you know the kind that really makes everyone else mad… Romans 9 was one of my go-to texts for that view. I should probably mention that I’m no expert in this area. I mean I’ve had a class dealing with it (long time ago) and read some books on it, but I’m a Hebrew- Old Testament expert. The danger that I came to see in the hard-line Calvanist sort of view is that you end up having to believe that God creates and predestines some for destruction. The basic tennents are quickly remembered in the acronym TULIP. Total Depravity of Man – we can do no right apart from God; Unconditional Election – God chooses who will and who will not be saved; Limited Atonement – Jesus died only for the elect; Irresistible Grace – If God reveals himself to you, you can’t resist; Perseverance of the Saints – What Baptist rightly or wrongly call “once saved always saved” – the belief that if you accept Christ then you will never turn your back on him.

That kinda faded though… and I became more middle of the road or even Armenian. My main issues are with the “L” and the “P”, and once a week with “T”. Verses like Romans 5:8 and John 3:16 kinda make me question the idea that Jesus only died for some people. Calvinists usually argue that the Grace of God is not wasted on those who don’t believe, and that Jesus doesn’t need to have died for them…   From personal pastoral experience, the Perseverance of the Saints thing is one that I just don’t know about. Basically people have either fooled me really well, or they have chosen to stop following Christ after a while. I personally think that they chose to reject Christ. At the same time, the Calvinist will say one of two things: 1) they never really did choose to follow God, or 2) God knew that they would ultimately reject him, even while it looked like they were living for Christ.
The Total Depravity thing…. yeah. Sometimes from reading the OT I get these crazy ideas. My Calvinist buddies always say that “the fall” occurred in Genesis 3. But it never says that Adam and Eve “sinned” (the word for sin is not used, instead its more of a disobedience thing) or that they had a “sin nature” after that. But I do think something changed there. Like I said, maybe only 1 day every week or two do I quibble with this point… Really my issue is more with terminology I guess… We have a tendency towards choosing the wrong, but I feel like Scripture gives examples of people like Able (Gen 4) who chose to do the right thing and please God without having a specific command to follow. I’ll gladly admit this last point is not something which I’m settled on or “have arrived at”, it is more of a musing.

I’ve actually read John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (his book that they base the whole Calvinism thing on) twice. I think the seed for Calvinism was there, but I just don’t see a hard line stance on the “L” and the “P” point.

I like to use the word “foreknowledge” instead of predestination – and I think scripture often gets mistranslated (in the NT) in some occurrences making the English word sound more “Calvinist”. This is a whole other debate. You’ll be able to notice that the NASB translation reads much more Calvinistic than does the NLT for example. Anyway, I am convinced that God knows me (and you and everyone else) so well that he actually knows all of our choices. After all, he created us if we believe scripture. In that sense he has predestined (in more of a passive sense – because he knows it to be true) our choices. It’s not that we have no freedom, but that God knows what we’ll do with that freedom.

NOW, the danger of getting away from the whole predestination (God determines who will be saved and who will be destroyed) thing is a position which has been called Open Theism. They talk about the “openness” of God and sound all cool and post-modern. Several college friends got sucked into this position. It has been widely condemned as heresy by the Evangelical Theological Society (Academic society of biblical scholars of which I am a member). What they mean is that God doesn’t really know everything. He only knows what you will choose in the next instant. The instant after that is still undetermined, as is the rest of the future. So, there is no way God could actually know what you’ll choose. I’ve read a few books on this topic and I’m convinced that I should remain within the bounds of orthodoxy and those not embrace “open-theism”.

 

Friend:

Wow- I didn’t mean for you to write a doctoral thesis on the subject but with my little exposrue to the debate I struggle with the same ideas you did.  I really had issues with the “L” more than anything because of things like “so that none shall perish”.  I’m not sure the debate is even worhy of our time because being on one side or another still puts us on the side of one man’s view/belief or another.  I feel as long as I’m on the Jesus side, I’m on the side that counts.  I also believe we as man try to explain every aspect of God and if we can do that, then God isn’t God.

Again, I didn’t mean for you to give it a lot of thought or spend a bunch of time writing on it but I’m glad to see someone else sees some of the same things I see.  Thanks again and see you Saturday.  Have a good week!

 

ME:

Yeah, Rachel calls me long-winded too. But that’s what happens I guess. Not that you asked for it, but here is a pdf of a chapter from a book I have which describes Calvanism and the debate in more detail.

And it wasn’t trouble – I’m always looking for a good excuse to convert books to searchable PDF files and store them on my computer so that I can quickly quote them in my next paper 🙂

P.S. I am open to persuasion here, I’m not above being corrected or taught…

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