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Calvinism Q & A

August 21, 2006

The comments thread on this post will be a place to ask honest information gathering and clarification seeking questions about Calvinism.  It will not be a place to debate.  There are plenty of places in the blogosphere where you can do that ad nauseum.   If I answer your question and you don’t like the answer and want to tell the world why, get your own blog.  But follow-up questions seeking further clarification are welcome.   Ask yourself, “Am I asking or arguing?” before you press “Submit Comment”.  If you are still unsure if your question is appropriate or not, here is a semi-serious, semi-humorous set of guidelines I read today on Justin Taylor’s blog.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 22, 2006 7:48 am

    Why are most Calvinists mean and nasty?

  2. August 22, 2006 7:54 am

    Good question, isaiah543. Meanness is not an essential part of the theological system. But when Calvinism is cross-pollinated with American fundamentalism, the results can be catastrophic. That’s why we drink beer. It works like mosquito repellent.

  3. August 22, 2006 9:54 am

    Do you think, through the course of witnessing to someone, that we should go into the details of predestination? I mean, should I be saying “You should accept Jesus as your saviour, because that’s the only way you’ll become justified, but you can’t do that unless God has predestined you to make that decision.” ? It seems kind of silly to do so.

  4. Oddball permalink
    August 22, 2006 11:31 am

    (I hope this comment isn’t taken as an argument. If so, please feel free not to post it.)

    Based on my limited reading of Calvinists and other determinist philosophers, they generally allege that libertarian free will (LFW) ultimately posits random (uncaused) human choices. Their solution is to insist that all human choices are determined by the strongest desire of the agent involved. My question is this:

    What determines an agent’s strongest desire?

    Determinists reject the LFW notion that the agent himself is the cause. In a Calvinist framework, isn’t God the ultimate cause of evil desires? Wouldn’t this mean that Adam was “wired” to fall? Does Calvin’s “dreadful decree” idea mean something else?

  5. Reepicheep permalink
    August 22, 2006 11:49 am

    I would propose that it can be easy to be argumentative when one enters a discussion with pre-conceived ideas about what the other person believes based on their theology. For example when we label people Calvinists or Arminians or Charismatics. Ideally we could have a cup of coffee or a beer and have a deeper discussion with one another about our perceived differences.
    I agree with the original post in that back and forth contentiousness is not productive on a blog and by God’s grace I will not ever be guilty of it.

  6. August 22, 2006 1:27 pm

    Mobile Oak,

    No, I don’t think we should talk about predestination when witnessing to someone. The evangelistic sermons of Peter and Paul in the book of Acts are good models for us and they do not bring up election and predestination. They simply tell the story of Jesus life death and resurrection and then say, “forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39)

    Of course, Luke then explains a few verses later that “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:52) But you don’t evangelize by saying “whoever is appointed for eternal life may be saved” you say “whoever believes may be saved” and you know that those who are appointed for eternal life will show themselves to be the elect by believing.

    But, meat and milk. You don’t give steak to infants.

    The best presentation of how Calvinists actually believe more, not less, about the atonement and evangelism than Arminians was in the third message (Evening message Wed. Nov. 10, 2004) that Piper preached at a conference at Mark Driscoll’s church. Download and listen to that sermon here:

    http://www.reformission.com/audio.htm

  7. August 22, 2006 1:57 pm

    Oddball,

    The decree of God is the ultimate cause of whatsoever comes to pass, including evil. But he is not the immediate cause of evil. The immediate cause of our evil desires is that they arise from our own depraved hearts. God does no violence to the will of the creature. We choose sin because we want to sin. Here’s how the Westminster Confession says it:

    WCF 3:1 God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass:(1) yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,(2) nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.(3)

    (1)Eph. 1:11; Rom. 11:33; Heb. 6:17; Rom. 9:15,18.
    (2)James 1:13,17; 1 John 1:5.
    (3)Acts 2:23; Matt. 17:12; Acts 4:27,28; John 19:11; Prov. 16:33.

    Now with respect to Adam, the situation is unique, for he did not have a depraved nature. He was not wired to sin. God made him good. But God also made him mutable. And God knew he would sin. I’m even comfortable saying that God decreed that he would sin, but not as though it was against Adam’s will.

    Why would God decree that evil exist? The ultimate answer I have found, (and I believe this was impressed upon me by the Lord as I was meditating on Rev 5:9 “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation”) is this: God is more glorified in a world where sin is overcome than in a world where sin is non-existent. No sin, no cross.

    I believe that the best answer that has ever been given to this question is in Edwards, “On the Freedom of the Will” Here’s an excerpt from Part IV, section 9.

    “If by ‘the Author of Sin’ be meant the Sinner, the Agent, or the Actor of Sin, or the Doer of a wicked thing; so it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the Author of Sin…. But if, by ‘the Author of Sin’ is meant the permitter, or not a hinderer of Sin; and, at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy, and most excellent ends and purposes, that Sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow: I say, if this be all that is meant, by being the Author of Sin, I do not deny that God is the Author of Sin, (though I dislike and reject the phrase, as that which by use and custom is apt to carry another sense,) it is no reproach for the Most High to be thus the Author of Sin.”

  8. August 22, 2006 2:09 pm

    Reepicheep,

    I agree. Someone told me once, “never assume you know what the other person believes” That was good advice. So the goal here is to let people get clear answers about what I believe so that they won’t assume something about my doctrine that isn’t true.

    Today we had a nutjob in an “Impeach Bush” T-shirt come to the quad day table and excoriate us for trying to hasten the rapture. I don’t know what he meant, neither did he. He just saw the word “evangelical” and started venting against someone that wasn’t us. I kept trying to tone down the rhetoric and explain to him that he knew nothing about us and should try to find out what we believe before assuming we believe what he heard somebody on TV say we believe, but to no avail. I finally had to show him the right foot of fellowship.

  9. August 22, 2006 2:52 pm

    In line with not talking about predestination with someone when you’re sharing the gospel:

    Would it be an accurate rule of thumb to say this:
    “When you are considering matters of the present moment, it only makes sense to think of God’s revealed will, what he commands, what he has told us, both in making decisions for our own lives and persuading others to adopt a certain course of action.

    But when we are considering the past, we can and should see that all the events and decisions that have transpired were ordained by God, and that he was in ultimate control all along.”

    Those could probably be phrased more succinctly.

    In other words, is there ever a reason to try to be aware of God’s ultimate control of everything right in the midst of the act of making a decision?

  10. Oddball permalink
    August 23, 2006 1:28 am

    I think this short treatise from John Wesley is an apt commentary on the pitfalls of mischaracterizing what others believe, particularly fellow Christians:

    http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/arminian

  11. August 23, 2006 4:14 pm

    Gorfchild,

    I guess it’s good to be _aware_ of God’s ultimate control in the present (and to consider the implications of this for our future hope), but I agree that doesn’t have any bearing on our decision making. We decide what to do by the revealed will of God, not by trying to peer into the secret will of God. (See Deut. 29:29 for the secret/revealed distinction.) The secret will of God, as my pastor used to say, is software that doesn’t run on your computer. No point trying to look into it. People often ask, “Why should I witness to my neighbor if he might not be one of the elect?” That’s trying to peer into the secret will of God. You can’t know if he is elect or not. But you do know the revealed will, which is preach the gospel to all creation. So just preach the gospel to him and if he is one of the elect, he’ll respond in faith sooner or later.

  12. Egana permalink
    August 27, 2006 4:29 pm

    I am so glad that the people I met on campus (IlliniLife they used to be called, I Life now I think) preached non-discriminately. Not many were calvinists, or whatever, but they preached the gospel to me, and the Spirit made me alive. Awesome!

    Finer points of doctrine and theology came later. Even when I asked my questions, the lord guarded me from too heavy answers, and surrounded me with people who loved and accepted me, and directed me back to Himself instead of demanding that I think more accurately that I was able.

    I can tell I’m in the wrong place here on this Q & A, becasue I don’t even understand some of the questions others are asking. *grin*

    So I know this isn’t a question, or an answer, and I will refrain from discussion in the future on this thread. Thanks for letting me pop in, though!

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