Lately I have been thinking about Calvinism – what it means, whether it makes sense, and how it relates to Hobbes (OK, just kidding about the Hobbes part). According to Theopedia.com,
Calvinism is named after 16th century Reformer, John Calvin whose overall theology is contained in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559). Sometimes Calvinism is referred to by other names such as “Augustinianism” because Calvin followed Augustine(A.D. 354–430) in many areas of predestination and the sovereignty of God.
Theopedia further explains Calvinist doctrine can be summarized in five points referred to by the acronym “TULIP”. Each of the following excerpts of the acronym are taken from the Theopedia.com entry for Calvanism.
“T” is for…
Calvinism teaches that humanity is totally depraved. Due to the Fall, the original relationship that Adam and Eve enjoyed with God was severed by sin. This affected the entire human race, corrupting the heart, mind, and will of every person born. Thus, people’s natural actions and affections, whether viewed by man as bad or good, are never pleasing to God. The Calvinist understanding of total depravity does not mean that people are as evil as they possibly could be. People still make good choices (from a human perspective), but no matter how good they may be, they never gain favor with God. While total depravity is commonly associated with John Calvin, this theological viewpoint is based on the theology of Augustine (b. 354).
While I believe human beings are sinful by nature I believe labeling us all as “totally depraved” is a bit much. I do agree with Calvin that making good choices relative to human perspectives is not congruent with doing that which pleases God, I disagree with Calvin’s stance that we will never gain favor with God. I have said in the past, and this view still hold true for me today, that God is the definition of good. As such, anything contrary to God’s will is less than good. Thus, considering humans have both free will, and access to the Word of God we can and do sometimes make choices that are purposefully congruent with God’s will. Logically, such choices would be pleasing to God, which would likely, in turn, mean that we would find favor with God having made such compatible choices. Why am I so sure? Because, folks are still allowed into Heaven. If that is not a demonstration of having favor with God than nothing would be. So while I would agree that humanity is pretty jacked up, let’s save the phrase “totally depraved” for the extra tough cases.
“U” is for…
Unconditional election is the doctrine which states that God chose those whom he was pleased to bring to a knowledge of himself, not based upon any merit shown by the object of his grace and not based upon foreseen faith (especially a mere decisional faith). God has elected, based solely upon the counsel of his own will, some for glory and others for damnation (Romans 9:15, 21). He has done this act before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4–8).
Unconditional election is a tough pill to swallow. The most important bit here is the indication that God has chosen “some for glory and others for damnation”. This is flat out incorrect when compared to what scripture teaches. The verses referred to in Romans are intended to drive home the point that God can do as He pleases. These verses are not intended to indicate that God arbitrarily picks and chooses people for damnation or glory like some luck-of-the-draw plane boarding. Attention all passengers, if your ticket reads “Zone 1” you are destined for damnation. Thank you for choosing air Hell, and better luck next time. Furthermore, the verses mentioned in Ephesians 1:4-8 are meant to explain that all of our sin was destined to be paid for by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, not that the sin of some folks would be cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. This specific doctrine speaks directly to predestination. The fact that God knows what is to come is not the same as God putting specific pieces in play to cause specific outcomes.
“L” is for…
Limited atonement (also known as “definite atonement”) is a doctrine offered in answer to the question, “for whose sins did Christ atone?” The Bible teaches that Christ died for those whom God gave him to save (John 17:9). Christ died, indeed, for many people, but not all (Matthew 26:28). Specifically, Christ died for the invisible Church — the sum total of all those who would ever rightly bear the name “Christian” (Ephesians 5:25).
I think this concept of limited atonement requires further clarity. Christ did not die only for those pre-chosen by God to be destined to know His glory. Rather Christ died for the past, present and future sins of all of those who accept Jesus as lord and savior. I would agreed with the last bit stating “Specifically, Christ died for the invisible Church — the sum total of all those who would every rightly bear the name ‘Christian'”. To me this means that Christ died for those who actively seek and maintain a positive relationship with God, and share the good news with others so they may do the same. As long as we stay away from the concept of predestination this limited atonement piece makes sense to me.
“I” is for…
The result of God’s irresistible grace is the certain response by the elect to the inward call of the Holy Spirit, when the outward call is given by the evangelist or minister of the Word of God. Christ, himself, teaches that all whom God has elected will come to a knowledge of him (John 6:37). Men come to Christ in salvation when the Father calls them (John 6:44), and the very Spirit of God leads God’s beloved to repentance (Romans 8:14). What a comfort it is to know that the gospel of Christ will penetrate our hard, sinful hearts and wondrously save us through the gracious inward call of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 5:10)!
I have written in a previous post, The Morality of God in the Old Testament Part 1: Would a Moral God Kill Children?, about how God does not directly harden the hearts of humans, rather God allows the circumstances that lead to the hardening of hearts. The same can be said of the softening of hearts. After all, God is committed to this free will thing, and directly influencing decision making negates the purpose of free will. While the grace of God should not be underestimated, I do not believe people come to God because he has pre-chosen them to be knocked over the top of the head with grace. If this were true, why even bother with the charade of free will. Furthermore, if God truly wants us to love Him, why intervene at all? Can someone really love anyone if that person is left with no other choice? There is no “I” in me, so this doctrine is not for me.
“P” is for…
Perseverance of the saints
Those called and justified will certainly be glorified (Romans 8:28–39). The work of sanctification which God has brought about in his elect will continue until it reaches its fulfillment in eternal life (Phil. 1:6). Christ assures the elect that he will not lose them and that they will be glorified at the “last day” (John 6:39). The Calvinist stands upon the Word of God and trusts in Christ’s promise that he will perfectly fulfill the will of the Father in saving all the elect.
Interesting that Romans 8:28-39 is used here. Even in the above explanation it seems that these “elect” have favor with God. How can people have favor with God, yet be totally depraved? Apparently tulips are contradictory. Once again we should touch on the concept of election and predestination. While I would agree that God has some level of predestination for us in that after Jesus’ death and resurrection God predestined those who chose to seek Jesus to be saved for eternity by Jesus, God did not pick and choose who would seek this opportunity.
Free Will is Incompatible with Calvinism
Free will, and predestination simply do not jive. How can we have free will if some plan has already been set in place that dictates exactly what the outcome of our lives will be? Simply stated – we cannot. How can we show love true love to God if we are not allowed the choice not to love God – we cannot. How can we ascertain the point of life in a if all of the most important choices in life have already been made for us – we cannot. It is for these reasons that I am not a Calvinist. Fortunately, Calvinism is not my only option. I have choices, and the freedom of will to make such choices. That is why I am…