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Why I Kissed Calvinism Good-bye

posted by xscot mcknight

I’ve been asked by a handful of people to comment about the most recent article in Christianity Today called “Young, Restless, Reformed,” the cover story for September’s edition. Calvinism, the article records, is making a comeback among young evangelical (especially Baptist) Christians.
OK, I know, the title for today’s post comes from Joshua Harris, who wrote that famous book about kissing dating good-bye, but he is featured in this article as a good example of these new, young Calvinists.
What do I think of the article? It’s a good one, and I think everyone should read it. I have watched the rise of these young Calvinists and it is, as the editor says, a sizeable movement. What do I think of the trend? Long ago (in blog time) I posted a series called “Post Calvinism” and I’ll give you the basics here.
I love the “architecture” of Calvinism — that is, the focus on God’s glory and loving God, and I love the magnitude of grace in that theology, and I even love the radical transcendence that is often found in Calvinism. The CT piece frequently connects the attraction of young Christians to Calvinism because of its beauty.
When I was in college I sat for afternoons in our library and pored through Calvin’s Institutes, leading my dear wife to comment that I’d be better off underlining what I didn’t like because I had underlined most everything! Calvin’s Institutes are doxological; I still dip into him and read him. And, at the same time, I was a huge, huge fan of Spurgeon and read his Autobiography twice while in college. And, of course, other Calvinists banged around my desk — like the ever-wordy John Owen and I read devotionally John Brown’s commentary on Hebrews and Manton on James.
Then I went to seminary at Trinity, Grant Osborne asked me to be his TA, and one of his first assignments was to work through his extensive notes on the Calvinist-Arminian debate. Which I did. To be up to snuff on it, I read Howard Marshall’s Kept by the Power of God — and my mind changed. Not all at once, but this is what I remember: the consistency of the OT warnings for the covenant community formed a natural bridge for me to the NT warnings. And I couldn’t contest his many, many passages that all added up to one thing: genuine believers can lose their faith by throwing it away consciously. (You can read my posts on that if you want to see how I spell it out.)
Then I began teaching at TEDS, then I was asked to teach Hebrews, and then I made a special study of the warning passages in Hebrews, and from that time on I was simply convinced that no matter how much I liked the architecture of Calvinism, I couldn’t believe the system (TULIP, etc) because of the warning passages in Hebrews — and they then influenced how I read such things as Col 1:23 and the like. If the warning passages in Hebrews are what I think they are, then the systematics of Calvinism are unbiblical — lest, like one of my TEDS colleagues, you think both sorts are found in the Bible.
Now a few comments about the article:
First, one heart of this movement is the singular, clear, and heart-felt vision of John Piper.
Second, the other heart of this movement is Southern Seminary. The story of the changes at Southern is sketched in the article: the take-over led to a Calvinization of the seminary and the pastors coming out of there now are Calvinists. The article suggests that tensions are rising in the SBC about the place of Calvinism in the SBC.
Third, this movement isn’t going away. It carries with it a robust theological vision that can be intoxicatingly doxological — and I have no quarrel with that — but I sure hope they spend more time in Hebrews and, if the book hasn’t been hidden, I hope students are exposed to Howard Marshall’s Kept by the Power of God.



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Tim Jeffries

posted August 29, 2006 at 4:54 am


Hi Scot, I think similarly to you although I have many early 20’s friends in ministry in Australia who are seriously into Calvanism. I’m confused by a statement in your post ‘lest, like one of my TEDS colleagues, you think both sorts are found in the Bible.’ Both sorts? What do you mean?



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Martin Downes

posted August 29, 2006 at 5:02 am


Hi Scot,
I really appreciated Schreiner and Caneday’s book on perseverance. It struck me that their interpretation of Hebrews 6 had a lot to commend it. Besides which the words of Jesus in John 6 concerning his mission (covenant of redemption if ever it needed a proof text) and its invincibility are utterly compelling. I saw from that passage that it is impossible for Jesus to lose any that the Father has given him, unless of course he lacks power or wisdom to fulfill the Father’s will.
I was a reluctant calvinist but now I really do rejoice at God’s sovereign saving work.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 29, 2006 at 5:34 am


Tim,
Both Arminian and Calvinist sorts.
Martin,
For me it is not about “losing” salvation. God does not lose grip on his own. This is where English terms get us confused. The issue is about humans throwing it away.



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Tim Jeffries

posted August 29, 2006 at 5:57 am


Right. I feel a little out of my depth in this discussion but I don’t really feel that either view is entirely biblical. Calvanism goes too far one way and Arminianism goes to far the other. How about we propose a new view called Calvinianism that finds a happy medium :-D



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Mark Heath

posted August 29, 2006 at 6:28 am


I still count myself “Calvinist”, but I think that the phrase “once saved always saved” is unhelpful, as it seems to imply that Christians can do whatever they like once they’ve “prayed the prayer”. As you point out, this flies right in the face of all the warning passages in the NT.
So I prefer to talk about the “perseverence of the saints”. Those who God has chosen / predestined, he is able to help to endure. There can be no assurance of salvation for those who have since turned their back on God.



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Julie

posted August 29, 2006 at 6:33 am


I wonder if part of the attraction to Calvinism is also the intellectual side of faith? After being raised as evangelicals with parents who perhaps were converts in their adult years, the new Calvinism offers young eager minds who may be bored by their traditions (who isn’t when entering college?) a place to spend endless hours in study with a tradition that has a longer history than the last seventy-five years and that takes the study of the Bible seriously in dialog with theologians.
Also, the welcoming of culture into faith (including alcohol, the lack of legalism related to reading and viewing, the embracing of wit and being culturally current) seems to resonate with many of them.
Finally, classical education seems to be a big draw for many. (Douglas Wilson et al, for instance).
Julie



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Bruiser

posted August 29, 2006 at 6:40 am


Great review Scot. I would consider myself loosely connected with the rising Calvinist movement… perhaps even more than loosely on some days :) I love John Piper.
It also seems that I would fit into the same boat as some of your TEDS colleagues who accept that both views are found in the Bible. And this in part is a responce to Tim’s last comment. The new view was put forth some time ago… the ‘antinomy’ J.I. Packer in ‘Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God’ outlines it well.
I haven’t read Howard Marshall’s ‘Kept by the Power of God’, i will have to check it out.
I think i subscribe to this theology mostly because it gives the glory back to God and not to us. And what humanity needs more than ever is a clear picture of God and his glory and no longer a vision of what ‘we’ (humanity) can achieve. The strive for eutopia has already failed. We need God more than ever and I think more and more people are waking up to this fact.



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Martin Downes

posted August 29, 2006 at 6:44 am


Scot,
In John 6 it is about Jesus not losing all that the Father has given him. If we throw it away then he has surely lost us. Perseverance surely about the elect never finally or totally throwing it away. I don’t find the English terms confusing, isn’t this (the losing and throwing away) viewing the issue from our perspective and the Trinitarian perspective?



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Norton

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:09 am


Scot,
At what point does your reading of one biblical writer (the author of Hebrews, whomever he or she is) drive your exegesis and theological grid for the rest of the Bible?
I’m not suggesting this has happened; I think your exegesis is often very solid. But reading over your description of your “conversion” to Arminianism, one could get the impression that your conclusions regarding Hebrews have set the trajectory for your understanding of all the other Calvinistic-related issues. How would you respond to this?
[On a side note, it seems to me that Calvinists start with the "T" - total depravity - and everything else seems to flow from that foundation. Whereas, you are starting with the "P" - perseverance and working in the opposite direction. Is this accurate and might this explain in small part, arriving at different conclusions?]
Thanks for addressing this sometimes contentious issue.



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John Lunt

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:14 am


Scott,
Thanks for the post. I believe your view is one of the closest to mine that I’ve found. I do believe that we can throw it away or as I’ve said, walk away from it. God is sovereign, but in that, he has chosen to allow us the will to respond to him and accept or reject his grace.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:20 am


Martin,
Good comeback — in all of this it comes down to balancing the warnings of the Bible with the assurances of the Bible. In none of it, it is my firm belief, can a charge be laid against God for unfaithfulness. Let God be faithful and everyone of us unfaithful. Many prefer to hold the two in conjunction: God is faithful and, yet, humans can prove unfaithful. I can’t explain it all.
Norton,
Thanks for this. I do hope my reading of the Bible isn’t determined by Hebrews 6. Instead, it was the sweep of the whole Bible — those constant warnings to Israel in the OT are the beginning — that put all of this into context for me.
It was those passages in Hebrews that tied it all together for me — but if you read Marshall you’ll see that the warnings in Hebrews are not surprising to the biblical reader.
I begin, as you can see in Embracing Grace, with “total depravity” or what I call the comprehensive crackedness of Eikons, and not with perserverance. I am anabaptist, and that tradition no doubt puts more emphasis on praxis, but I can’t see that such an emphasis has anything to do with the issue of Calvinism and Arminianism.



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Bob Robinson

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:25 am


Scot,
I just got my copy of the current issue of CT – I’ll read it today and comment on it ASAP.
This topic is near-and-dear to my heart, because the college outreach org I lead has deep roots in Calvinism but we are (over the last 5 years and more so now) purposely spreading out to become much more ecumenical. We have now partnered with Emergent Village, we have a Roman Catholic in leadership, we are partnering with many different churches (other than the conservative Presbyterians of the past, we are now working in cooperation with Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Bible churches, etc.) and many different colleges (including Weslyan and Roman Catholic schools, whereas our past was mostly connected with Reformed schools).
Anyway, the past summer was telling. Let me tell a short story:
Each summer our new staff go through 5 weeks of intensive training together in community. One of the new staff was a young guy who was vehemently Calvinist. He had just come to faith a couple years before in one of our campus commnunities and began going to a very conservative PCA church. His attitude coming in was, “I know the TRUTH (because I’m a Calvinist) and nobody here could ever change that.”
However, over the summer we watched him transform: He started out as a narrow thinker who thought that Christianity was about protecting orthodoxy and that non-Christians were simply rebellious to God in their sinfulness. He and I stayed up late one night talking about Atonement and evangelism and appropriate apologetics in a postmodern age, and I watched as the gears started to move around in his head.
The leaders of New Staff Training were astonished and relieved and thankful to God that, over this summer, this young man learned that God is bigger than any particular theological system. One major factor in his transformation was the five weeks of love and community he experienced in this Training time that confirmed in his heart that these people are right that the Gospel is bigger than what he had conceived.



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Kevin

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:31 am


Scot,
I s’pose I need to be careful here! What is Calvinism? If Calvinism is TULIP, then–I think I can say this w/o fear of losing my job, tenure and all–I’m no Calvinist. The term “Calvinism” is about as helpful as “evangelical-ism”. It’s too vague, too broad, covers too large a swath of ground, to be helpful, I think. There are doctinal-Calvinists (the TULIP contingent), the cultural-engagement Calvinists (the Calvin College contingent), Ethnic Calvinists (the Dutch, say), etc.
Some in my own department (philosophy, at Calvin) might dispute my own Calvinist credentials. That’s fine. I’ll let others define, redefine and otherwise pigeonhole me. But, here’s my story (very briefly). I grew up Roman Catholic. I left the Catholic Church when I was 20. The reasons I left are not the same as the reasons I’ve not gone back. As my theological thinking began to develop and take shape in my early 20’s, it took a decidedly “Calvinist” shape. It came into full flourish while a philosophical theology student at Yale Divinity school. It was there that I took courses with Brevard Childs. It was there that I was given the conceptual and theological vocabulary to express my growing, peculiarly “reformed” thinking about God, human beings, the world.
What drew me in was the breadth or scope of the vision of God’s kingdom. The evangelical churches I attended in the late 80’s had a very utilitarian view of vocation and a sort of “the world is going to hell in a handbasket” mentality that I couldn’t stomach. In “Calvinism” I found a generosity of vision–creation is good, but fallen, but God came to rescue and heal and our task is to join in God’s program of reconciliation and restoration by establishing little parables of his coming, consummated kingdom. Creation, Fall, Redepmption, Consummation. The breadth of the Kingdom of God, the emphasis on God’s sovereignty, all of this I found utterly refreshing and deeply resonant.
I still find it deeply resonant, but I also feel a powerful pull to the sacramental, b/c I think the gospel is fundamentally incarnational. And I find I need the good news concretized, made tactile and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, to be what a creature like me needs to be sustained in the faith.
As to the perseverance of the saints, I must confess I do not think about it much. Can we human beings turn our backs on God, throw the faith away? Surely. The OT is chock full of stories (or a single story w/many chapters) of God’s covenant people turning their back on God. But, God of course is always and forever faithful to the covenant, and works for Israel’s ultimate restoration (even his “divorcing” them in Jeremiah was, I believe, ultimately restorative). That’s the paradigm for me. God is, as C.S. Lewis said, “the Hound of heaven” and though my grip may slip, his never does.
I guess I find that there is too much work to be done on behalf of God in the world to spend a lot of time worrying over the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. I’m not saying it’s not important, but I find it hard to get worked up about it, kind of like the creation vs. evolution debate or any other debate about matters that are admittedly important, but nevertheless not essential to the faith once for all delivered.
Peace, –Kevin



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Bob Robinson

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:36 am


Scot,
You said “If the warning passages in Hebrews are what I think they are, then the systematics of Calvinism are unbiblical — lest, like one of my TEDS colleagues, you think both sorts are found in the Bible.”
And then to Martin (#3 above), “For me it is not about ‘losing’ salvation. God does not lose grip on his own. This is where English terms get us confused. The issue is about humans throwing it away.”
My question is simple:
What would be wrong with being like that TEDS colleague–thinking that “both sorts are found in the Bible”?
Not that you are doing this, but many times we make the mistake of reducing Calvinism to the “Predestination/Losing Salvation” debate. What if that part of it is factored out? Can we be a kind of Calvinist that embraces much of the system without all of it, or does it all collapse when we take that part out? I read you Post-Calvinism series, and if I remember correctly, you made it sound like its all or nothing. Is that your understanding? I can’t find that post of yours now.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:37 am


Kevin,
You’ve about got me convinced that I, of your sort, am a Calvinist!



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Scot McKnight

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:40 am


Bob,
I’ve met very few — make that none — Calvinists who don’t think the five are tied together: if we begin with total depravity (as defined) and then to unconditional election, then by the time you get to “perserverance” there is a genuine sense (as my Calvinist friends often remind me) in which “perservance” means “preservation.” Yes, I do think the whole house collapses if the believer can genuinely apostasize. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve not any who said it was possible to believe in four points and also in genuine apostasy. I do recall one time Bill Craig saying something like this about some French Calvinists.



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Martin Downes

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:43 am


Scot,
Thanks. With regard to the warnings of Hebrews (and other places), they are given to all professing followers of Christ (or if you like to the confessing Church). I would not want to downplay them in anyway since God keeps his people through faith in his promises and by their heeding his warnings. The warnings of Hebrews 3 & 4 drive you to the throne of grace and Christ as mercificul high priest and not to our own ability to persevere. And Hebrews has such a strong emphasis on salvation as future inheritance it fills out the framework of the tenses of salvation.



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Nick Mackison

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:56 am


Scot,
Just thought I’d chuck in my tuppenceworth with a few misc. thoughts.
1. It seems that where we stand on the debate depends on whether we interpret the classic predestinarian passages in the light of the passages like Hebrews 6, 1 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4, Revelation 3:5 or these Arminian-esque passages in the light of Romans 9, Revelation 13:8, Acts 16:14, 2 Timothy 2:25 (I probably do the latter!)
I freely admit that I still struggle to reconcile how my doctrine of election reconciles with passages which state that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Those of a suprlapsarian viewpoint have double difficulty.
Yet I think those who try to do the opposite have even bigger problems. If it comes down to human will at the end of the day, how do we explain the Calvinistic passages? And what assurance can we have in praying for our friends who don’t know Jesus? We can no longer ask for God to save them, as the final decision rests with the individual. The most we can ask for is that God would speak powerfully to our loved ones.
2. What does it do to our doctrine of Scripture if we say that the authors held opposing viewpoints as your friend in TEDS asserst?
3. Limited atonement could be an achilles heel to the revival of reformed theology. Broughton Knox wrote an excellent essay (which you can find in the Works of Broughton Knox volume 1) which asserts the both/and of limited/unlimited debate instead of the either/or.
4. Please keep posting thoughts on this subject!
God bless you big man.



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Brian

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:56 am


Scot,
Here is a short version of a position that a PCA pastor presented to me.
1. The OT warnings have punch because there are those within the covenant community who have not embraced the covenant.
2. By extension, the NT warnings in Hebrews 6 have punch for exactly the same reason.
3. Paedobaptism is the means by which there are those within the NT covenant community who have not embraced the covenant.
So he sees the passage as being somewhat outside the Calvinism discussion.
As an anabaptist you would reject the conclusion in point 3, as would I. But I am curious. Have you seen such an argument before? Also, how does point 2 relate to the “natural bridge” that you mentioned? Thanks.



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Backwoods Presbyterian

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:15 am


As a Presbyterian Seminarian this is a fascinating discussion. I as well see the resurgence of the Reformed brand of theology but I do not see this reappearance as a return to TULIP Calvinistic orthodoxy but a revival of the Scholastic branch of Biblical exegesis.



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RJS

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:16 am


Scot,
The real world and the theology of the Bible are in fact messy. I think that Calvinism is an attractive way to systematize things and clean up the mess. It is a very “academic” approach, an approach that cleans things up so that they don’t look messy – even when they are, in fact, messy. This is a very attractive feature for many, including young evangelical (especially Baptist) Christians. I think that the pull of neo-fundamentalism on young evangelical Christians is very much the same. It cleans up the mess and presents a nice tidy picture.
I am not a Calvinist for very much the same reasons you state. Because, while it is a nice tidy package – one that can be “proven” by selecting specific passages of scripture, it is not consistent with the whole feel of scripture as I read through the old and new testaments. The picture provided by the whole of scripture and the whole of God’s revelation is much messier – and it is this total truth we must engage with and wrap our thoughts and understanding around. This is also while I am not and never will be a fundamentalist, neo or otherwise, while it is a nice tidy package – and can be “proven” by selecting specific passages of scripture, it is not consistent with the whole feel of scripture and with the whole revelation of the nature of God.
We need to wrestle with the whole messy picture – to try to understand and follow and love God and others. Even as an academic, it is important not to clean up the mess when the mess is real.



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DanD

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:23 am


Scot,
I have used and taught from your Hebrew warning notes connected with your post-Calvinism series. I am not sure if I get all the way to your conclusions as they apply to Calvinism, but I think the focus of Hebrews (and the OT covenantal warnings) are for anyone who reads or hears them–and they call us to keep on in the faith. Just like Col 1:23 (which is a great kicker!)
I understand Calvinism from the inside as I have pastored in a denomination that is built on Calvinism. But I also understand that God has given us verses and passages and emphases that ‘try my system’. (As there are the ‘calvinistic’ sections that ‘try Arminianism’.)
I still am a Calvinist, but I sure want to let the weight of the text rest on my life and those I teach–even when they are the ‘other’ texts. So I love the warnings–because I need to hear how important it is that I keep on in the faith.
I have changed gears a bit when I talk about the ‘doctrines of grace’. I am conversant with sovereignty, but my focus now is much more on the sufficiency of Christ’s work. And I see each of the 5 points not so much as ways to show the Arminian where he or she is wrong (which is the historical origin of the 5 points) but to highlight the glorious work of Jesus.
That said, I am delighted with the movement the CT article describes, but worried because I know how arrogant my own life has been.
Keep saying your say, Scot. I know I need to hear you. Maybe others do as well.



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Tim Jeffries

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:24 am


“I’ve met very few — make that none — Calvinists who don’t think the five are tied together”
Scot don’t you know Doug McComiskey who lectures at Ridley College in Melbourne Australia. I studied under him (and he spoke highly of you which is how I got to reading this blog) and he always talked about being a 4.5 point Calvinist. I’ve met plenty of other thinking types who would say something similar …



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Martin Downes

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:25 am


RJS,
Is your presentation of neat and tidy Calvinism a fair one? Doesn’t it confuse street level pedagogy with the real thing? Whether one agrees with it or not the Reformed tradition is massive, exegetical and nuanced. My understanding is that genuine Calvinism resists the neat package mentality. The neat package is Arminian and hyper-Calvinist rationalism.



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Collin Brendemuehl

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:27 am


Though I am an unapologetic Calvinist, at least WRT the perseverence principle, there are too many “if”s to reject free will out of hand as do the more serious Calvinists.
And while I would still honestly disagree with your conclusion, it is good to see that you’re a student always.
Collin
http://evangelicalperspective.blogspot.com



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RJS

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:32 am


Martin,
It probably isn’t entirely fair because these are short posts. But I think the package entitled “Calvinism” is an attempt to be sytematic and tidy. Arminianism can also be an attempt to be tidy. I wouldn’t consider myself Arminian in a strict sense either. I don’t think either view adequately expresses the whole truth. The view of God in his total revelation is messy and we need to wrestle with the whole thing.



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Dave

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:32 am


Scot,
What are your thoughts about two other possible interpretations of the warning passages: mixed audiences or loss of rewards for Christians? The latter usually is given short shrift in biblical discusssions because there is so little teaching on it.
Best,
Dave



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-the.pilgrim-

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:50 am


I guess I’m the kind of Calvinist who thinks TULIP has very little to do with Calvinism. I say TULIP is just a summary of Reformed orthodoxy’s response in an old in-house controversy concerning God’s eternal decrees and election.
Anyone who’s read the Institutes knows that Calvin constantly worried about speaking where Scripture stops short and engaging in idle speculations. He never summarizes himself in the form of TULIP or anything similar.
I think TULIP was a good and proper response by Reformed orthodoxy to the aforementioned controversy, in that specific context and given the terms of debate. I’m less sure that most of the contemporary champions of TULIP fairly handle all portions of Scripture. But even here there is a diversity of interpretative opinions to be found among Calvinists.
Not to be divisive, but I gotta say that TULIP is handled the worst by “Reformed Baptists” or “Calvinistic Baptists”. When most people think of Calvinists distastefully I suspect they have in mind these folks. But TULIP within a Covenant Theology context takes a slightly different shape from TULIP within a “Reformed Baptist” context. I’ve heard Baptists accuse Calvin of being insufficiently rigorous in his application of the truths of TULIP.



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Richard H

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:57 am


When I preach on perseverance, my main focus is on communicating that salvation is bigger than what we often take it to be. As a pastor of a UM church in Texas, we’re surrounded by Baptists who are known for two things: (1) Telling people they need to get saved – and some people do it every year when the revival speaker comes; and (2) Proclaiming “Once saved, always saved.” Too many theologically “informed” Methodists counter this with simple disbelief: “No, we don’t believe that way.”
The Sunday before I preach on the subject I have the ushers pass out a penny to everyone as they leave. I offer no explanation other than, “Come next week and find out what it’s for.” My usual sermon title the next week is, “Can you lose your _________?” I then ask how many have lost their penny. There’s always a few who have paid attention all week and still have their penny. Most, however, forgot the moment they arrived at Sunday lunch the week before. I then ask, “Is salvation like a penny – something we get and then carry around with us? Something we easily forget and lose?”
I try to help my people see that it’s a mistake to think of salvation as something we “have.” It’s better understood as something that has us – something in which we live. Sure we can take it for granted. We can ignore it. We can turn our backs on it. But it’s not something we can casually lose. God is utterly dependable and faithful, without an ounce of the fickleness we see in other gods (I’m thinking of what poor Agamemnon went through).
In my experience the biggest reason people in the churches I’ve served think about the issue is for their children. ‘My child was saved (i.e., went forward, prayed a prayer, made a profession of faith) early in life, so in spite of his/her wretched life and ignorance of God now, I need not worry.” I understand this parental pain, but I think our faith is better put in God than in our participation in spiritual technology.



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Martin Downes

posted August 29, 2006 at 9:15 am


Scot,
Did you ever read “The Race Set Before us” (Schreiner & Caneday)? The are critical of some Calvinist approaches to Hebrews 6 and seek to offer a more satisfying exegesis. Interacting with that book (or that section of it) would make for useful discussion.



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Ochuk

posted August 29, 2006 at 9:23 am


Scot, I am in the middle of a book called The Race Set Before Us by AB Caneday and Tom Schreiner. I just finished the section on the warning passages and they interacted with your JETS article (it was JETS right?) and I found it to be an interesting take on your work. Have you read it?



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Ted Gossard

posted August 29, 2006 at 9:26 am


I am somewhat of an agnostic on this question. Except to say that it is dangerous for any Christian to become careless in their life and faith. If they’re not growing, or moving with Christ, then they’re drifting. There is nothing in between, though God in his good grace, does give us those times of reprieve, I believe, when he overshadows and protects us from the harm that otherwise would bring us down, as to our faith. But if a Christian continues in carelessness, and in so drifting develops a hardened heart, there can be that time when they either consciously reject God and his revelation. Or they simply are apathetic about it, and no longer care, thus showing themselves against the Lord, they are not with. There are those who once were full of love for Christ and his church, who are now out of fellowship with that, and want no part of it.
I want Scripture to be the foundation for my thinking here, and not apart from the Church. And one’s experience can’t help to enter into the picture here. And as long as there is held the Scriptural teaching of God’s keeping of his own, then I think there needs also to be held the possible apostasy of his own. Though I don’t think apostasy is an easy line to cross, when we look at Scripture. And I also think it is a line crossed in experience, where God and his will is consciously set aside or just lost forever in one’s life. A fearful fate, which it is terrible theologically to set aside, or take the teeth out of (like as in, “I know that can never happen to me.”)



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Rod

posted August 29, 2006 at 9:32 am


RJS,
You’ve expressed pretty much what I planned to say. Calvinism’s greatest strength is also is biggest weakness. It is an extremely efficient system. It has a detailed answer for everything. (I attribute this to Calvin’s background as a lawyer.)
But this efficient system comes at a cost. Terms have to be redefined (almost beyond recognition). Several sections of Scripture have to be overlooked.
Calvinism is like Newtonian physics, while the Bible is like quantum mechanics. It is full of twists and turns. It is laced with paradox.
I just read a post at http://www.colossiansthreesixteen.com/archives/720 talking about the danger of thinking of theology as science. He is addressing this same issue.
While there may be some Arminians who try to mimic the Calvinists by producing a highly systematized theology, Arminianism tends to be more “organic” by nature. Arminianism tends to be more focused on the general sweep of Scripture than tied to isolated “proof texts.”
Richard H,
I like that, “spiritual technology.”
Scot,
Because Calvinism is such an intricate system, it cannot stand if any significant part is removed or significantly altered. Not only does it need every letter of TULIP, but it also needs technical definitions for “choice,” “will” and “freedom.” If any one of these is removed, the whole system collapses.
Most of the “people in the pew” see this as a debate between “once saved always saved” and “backsliding.” Because of my previous paragraph, I think your critique is valid. However, the Calvinism-Arminianism issue is about much more than this. Most people, therefore, miss the real substance of this debate. They tend to choose on the basis of what they prefer.
Good post and good comments.
Rod



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John Alan Turner

posted August 29, 2006 at 9:38 am


Scot,
Do you think there’s a bigger philosophical issue behind all this? Could the real debate be over the difference between Greek Rationalism that says the highest virtue to be attained is power — as opposed to the Hebraic understanding that the willing restraint of power is a more mature character trait?
The Calvinism being presented by Piper and others today doesn’t seem to offer us a humble God. Instead, any suggestion of God’s restraint of power is couched in terms of God’s being “bound” or “tied up” by us.
To me, it sounds like Calvinists and Arminians often end up talking past one another because the two camps have differing presuppositions from which they reason.



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Julie

posted August 29, 2006 at 9:54 am


The “once-saved, always-saved” conundrum is one that I’ve spent much time considering.
If free will is limited, then is it possible for someone to even choose not to be a Christian?
In other words, beliefs are usually arrived at by a complex of constraints… not a conscious rejection as in “I believe this, but I choose to reject it.” Usually the experience is morelike this: “Given X, Y and Z, I now believe this.”
If that is true, then a person could conceivably believe certain tenets at one time in life, then not believe them laer in life, even while hacing been faithful to the best of that person’s limited ability. Pretense is surely not the equal of salvation.
Is it likewise equally possible that the experience of “loss of faith” is outside the person’s control? If mental assent and recognizable Christian practice is essential to salvation, aren’t we now admitting that works don’t just give the evidence of salvation and but are required, therefore salvation is not a free gift?
What I have found fascinating over the years in dialog with Calvinists is how critical they can be of those who lose faith or change perspectives. If God is in control to the degree they say he is (which in Calvinism is to the nth degree), then God is able to keep even those who cannot keep themselves.
If we admit that there is some degree of faithfulness to God that is incumbent on those who believe or confess faith, then we enter the land of diversity rather quickly for no one has exhaustively discovered what that list ought to be exactly.
The benefit of words like “election” and “predestination” comes when we see them as relieving us of burdens. For me, Luther’s monumental gift to the church was the laying down of the unmanageable task to acrue enough “points” to guarantee heaven. He grew up in “works oriented faith” as normative.
Having mostly grown up with “grace through faith” rhetoric in our Protestant experience, we not only don’t know that level of personal striving and failure in a religious system that led Luther to his revelation, but we ironically demand a level of fidelty to our belief systems (the constructs resulting from Luther and Calvin) as evidence of Christian commitment, and therefore salvation, creating our own system of works for those behind us.
Feels to me like we’ve missed the central point: grace. Grace for those weak in practice, grace for those weak in doctrinal assent, grace for those who don’t succeed in just living, grace for those who fail to reconcile all parts of what Christianity is supposed to be in their lives.
We all need it.
Julie



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Kevin

posted August 29, 2006 at 10:35 am


Julie,
I think you’re onto something here. I think there’s a distinction b/w belief and acceptance. The phenomenology is different. Beliefs, I think, are largely outside of our voluntary control. I don’t choose to believe in God or even that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself; rather, I find myself with those beliefs. Sort of like catching a cold. I can’t help but believe them. Other claims, like those under discussion, I either accept or reject. For example, I hold or accept certain claims about baptism or what happens in celebrating the Eucharist. Claims I accept I sort of welcome into my noetic structure as it were. I choose to adopt them and am prepared to defend them, etc. But I wouldn’t say I believe them. Why? B/c I did exercise voluntary control over my embrace of them; they didn’t force themselves on me with sort of irresistiblity that my beliefs force themselves on me. Likewise, my sense is that when someone loses his or her faith the phenomenology is like that of believing, i.e., they don’t decide to throw it away but rather find themselves in a place of estrangement.
Interesting stuff!
BTW: Three cheers for grace!! I need it big-time!
Kevin



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RJS

posted August 29, 2006 at 10:38 am


Rod,
“Calvinism is like Newtonian physics, while the Bible is like quantum mechanics. It is full of twists and turns. It is laced with paradox.”
An interesting way of putting it – and in fact one of my preferred analogies.
I am an academic, something of a physicist, and teach and do quantum mechanics. I can go into the lab and do a series of experiments that prove that light is a wave. I can go into the lab, do a different series of experiments and prove that light is a particle. Likewise I can perform a series of experiments that prove that an electron is a particle, and another series that prove that an electron is a wave.
If I pick and choose between the experiments in constructing a picture of reality – the picture that emerges will be inherently flawed. Even if the picture is neat, tidy, self consistent, and systematic, it is just plain wrong if it doesn’t include and explain all of the observations. I have to let my mind grapple with the entire mess – not just pieces of it.
So in our understanding of God, we have evidence that explicitly or implicitly says “A” and evidence that explicitly or implicitly says “B”. In our intuition “A” and “B” might be mutually contradictory. If we believe that scripture is the authoritative word of God, if we believe that God is the creator of the universe – then we can’t pick and choose to create a tidy picture. We have to let our minds grapple with the entire mess.
It seems to me that Calvinism and many other “isms” are attempts to produce a tidy picture from messy data. We have to learn either to unify the mess – without omitting any of the evidence, or we have to learn to live with the mess.



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jonathan erdman

posted August 29, 2006 at 10:51 am


A systematic organization of Calvinism is great! It answers all questions and neatly packages any perceived inconsistencies (how can a God of love predestine people to eternal damnation) as “mystery.”
Seriously, though, as a systematic theology Calvinism has much to commend itself for. Unfortunately, as others have alluded to here, the Bible is not a systematic textbook and a subtle violence is done to the Scriptures when it is treated as such.
I prefer a more biblical, albeit messy theology….



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Martin Downes

posted August 29, 2006 at 11:02 am


RJS & Jonathan,
Can those given to the Son by the Father and whom the Son says he will not lose but raise on the last day, can they be lost?



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Julie

posted August 29, 2006 at 11:10 am


Kevin, thanks for your narration of how you understand choosing versus not choosing beliefs. You articulated it better than I did.
If we take this further out, then, can we say that those who started with beliefs in God and Christ but who at some point find that they no longer “believe” such are outside of the faith? Is it possible that the limits of their own minds, imaginations, era cloud their ability to coerce belief within themselves? And is it possible that God understands and gives grace for that?
Julie



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jonathan erdman

posted August 29, 2006 at 11:31 am


Can those given to the Son by the Father and whom the Son says he will not lose but raise on the last day, can they be lost?
Kind of a no-brainer here, huh???
If the Father “gives” someone to the Son – let’s call ther person in question “Marty” – and the Son emphatically declares “Marty will not be lost!” in a voice that booms accross eternity, then I, for one, would trust that Jesus is telling the truth!



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Cleveland Dawsey

posted August 29, 2006 at 11:33 am


Scot:
I haven’t posted a comment in a while, but I still read your blog regularly, and I’d like to jump into this conversation because it involves issues I have wrestled with for almost the entire duration of my life as a Christian. I joke that when I was asked in seminary if I were Calvinist or Arminian, I would reply,”What day is it?” I’ve gone back and forth on the positions over the years, which seems to tell me that both are finely balanced.
When I first began getting serious about my discipleship in college and thereafter, as I read the New Testament, I began to encounter passages that seemed to challenge my traditional beliefs (I was raised Southern Baptist in the buckle of the Bible Belt). It would be too strong to say that I began to live in a state of fear, but I did begin to think I could lose what I had, and I began to adjust my life accordingly. I should say that like a lot of kids in my church, I struggled with assurance of my salvation, especially throughout adolescence, and finally, through what I can only describe as an act of sovereign grace, I came through my struggles to assurance.
So now here I was thinking, “I can still lose it!” After trying to live like this for a while I began to realize that I had slipped into some form of legalism. My attitude then became something like, “The hell with this, this doesn’t work!” and scripture verses on assurance began to stand out. Over the years I’ve worked through some of the issues, and if asked, I would have to say that I have mostly leaned toward the Calvinist position more than the Arminian, although I am by no means diehard in my position and am always open to change.
There seems to be a sliding scale when it comes to Arminianism and Calvinism. On the Arminian side,at the extreme end, you have Pentacostal and charismatic types (of which there are many in my neck of the woods) who believe you can get it on Sunday, lose it on Wednesday, and get it back the following Sunday. At the other end are folks such as are in the United Methodist church.
In Calvinism, and particularly in the SBC tradition in which I was raised, you have the danger of antinomianism at the extreme end. Growing up, I got the impression that as long as someone had made a “profession of faith” ( you SBC’ers will recognize the term) his ticket was pretty much punched for eternity. So you have legalism at one end, antinomian lawlessness on the other. Not much of a choice.
For me the issues are: 1)what approach best seems to synthesize all the texts, both those of warning as well as those of assurance, and 2) what is the pastoral and psychological fallout from each position?
There’s a lot more running around in my head but I’ll shut up for now.



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Alex

posted August 29, 2006 at 11:45 am


Scott,
1. Is I. Howard Marshall a Calvinist in any sense? What do you know of his background and distintive beliefs?
2. I’d also like to hear you or somebody respond to the other lead article in CT about “the ancient evangelical future.”



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Martin Downes

posted August 29, 2006 at 12:00 pm


Jonathan,
It is a no brainer. And it isn’t messy.



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Brian Carlson

posted August 29, 2006 at 12:04 pm


Scot,
It is very interesting that you mention Col 1:23 as a reason to believe you can lose your salvation, because that is the very section of scripture that pointed me away from Arminianism to Calvinsim. I didn’t have any idea who Calvin was, and still to this point have read only a limited about of him, however from this passage I saw that I was not taught properly. Therefore, I began researching scripture, and continue even now to make sure what I have been taught, what I teach now, and believe are purely scriptural. So I think it is ironic that Col 1:23 turned you away from Calvinism and it turned me to it.
As for the reason why so many young people are turning to Calvinism, I don’t think has as much to do with John Piper as you would think. For me, I had not read Calvin or Piper at all before I began to believe in the Sovereignty of God in choosing and so on, these from scripture alone. However, it does not take long for people similar to me in Theology to learn about Piper and see his passion and love Christian Hedonism.
Attempting to be not completely conceited, I would say that maybe the reason there are so many Calvinists in their 20’s, is because they read scripture in such a way that points that way, and when they finally hear of Giglio and Piper and Harris, they think this must be the right way.



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seeker

posted August 29, 2006 at 12:14 pm


1. TULIP is not the whole of Calvinism
As many commenters have pointed out, TULIP may outline the distinctives of Calvinism, but may not be representative of the whole. Does Calvin really support the idea that we have NO free will or responsibility for responding to God?
2. Predestination and free will must be balanced
Taking the either/or position on this subject is probably an equal error. But that doesn’t mean that they are to be taken in equal proportions. I’m sure you have read Boettner’s Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. This excellent book makes a nice analogy describing the proportions in which these exist. While both free will and predestination co-exist “free will exists in proportion to predestination in a proportion similar to that of comparing man’s power to God’s.” (my paraphrase)
Of course, such a comparison is a little silly, since comparing the infinite to any finite number pretty much relegates the finite number to zero. But the point is, while both exist, and while we could lose our salvation, as believers, we must focus on God’s ability to keep us, rather than our ability to keep ourselves through committment to God.
3. Hebrews convinced me to *become* a Calvinist
OK, I am not a full-on Calvinist, but reading Hebrews 4 convinced me that I needed to enter His rest, which was to believe that the works were completed already! My salvation was assured based on His ability to accomplish it. I’m not sure if this is a valid interpretation of this passage, but God delivered me from years of performance-based salvation-keeping through personal holiness, which in the end if faith in our own efforts, rather than faith in God.
Can I lose my salvation through personal choice? Sure. Can He keep me? Will He complete the work? Can I trust Him to save me to the uttermost. I sure hope so. I believe so. I am totally dependent on Him doing so.



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David

posted August 29, 2006 at 12:14 pm


This discussion is often like the one in education about Whole Language and Phonics. You have educators in the same room who are vehemently one way or another, when often it can be both. Very very civil teachers if you gave them weapons might use them in thier arguments against the others beliefs. Our little finite minds cant comprehend the totality of what God is up to. Like the glass of water with the spoon……is it crooked or is it straight…? It looks crooked from the outside but pull it out and the spoon is straight.



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John Musick

posted August 29, 2006 at 12:23 pm


Scot, et al,
What a wonderful and kind-spirited debate!
Since you mentioned that the “throwing away” of ones faith and the OT covenental warnings and those in Hebrews as the tipping point away from Calvinism for you, most of the above conversation has centered around questions of apostacy for the believer. I personally don’t have a fear of throwing away my precious relationship with God, so honestly, much of this wonderful conversation is mute for me in a practical sense. I have however spent many, many hours talking ardent-hearted folks off the ledge because they couldn’t accept Christs forgiveness and were plagued by doubts of their salvation due to those blasted verses in Hebrews. I’m gonna lose it, if I hear one more disciple ask, “what if I have committed the unpardonable sin” or “what if I am one who has tasted and walked away?” But I digress.
I am very interested in hearing you and your erudite commentors discuss the double-predestination for the damned: Not predestined to go to heaven and thus predestined to go to hell (if you believe in that sort of thing). I was awakened to God’s grace out of fundamentalism through Reformation theology but this has never rung true to me and has made me allergic to the TULIP Kool-aid. Rather than the “inside looking out” side of the discussion, I’d like to hear perspectives on the “outside looking in.”
How does Calvinism relate to the church being missional?



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Kevin

posted August 29, 2006 at 12:27 pm


Julie (40),
This is tricky business. Who knows, really? Here are my thoughts. Somehow, with respect to the putative loss of salvation, we need to keep in mind Israel and their place in God’s economy of salvation. And we also have to keep in tension Israel’s unfaithfulness, God’s covenant w/them and the irrevocable nature of that covenant. So, eventually we need to grapple with Romans 9-11, notoriously difficult texts to understand.
Are those who throw in the towel outside of the faith? They’re outside of something. Are they no longer in God’s grip, objects of his love, compassion and no longer participants in his program of all-inclusive love and redemption? I can’t say that. I can imagine my children growing up to disown me, turning their backs on my God and the story I try to make sense of my life and world in terms of. I cannot imagine my every failing to love them, turning my back on them, excluding them from my family. My kids are outside of something, but not outside my familial love and grace.
I guess here’s where I may get in trouble. We Protestants are so indivdualistic. We think of salvation in terms of the individual and his or her relationship with God and whether he or she can lose her salvation. Nothing wrong with that per se. But God has always worked his magic in the context of community, clan, nation or people. That’s the starting point, not the individual. Nor is the community or, in this case, the Church a mere aggregate of individuals. We’re an apostolic community. Anyway, I don’t know the answers to these questions. I do know that the story begins and ends in and with God. And I know God is a God of indefatiguable love, grace, and mercy. And I know that his ultimate end for us human beings is wholeness and flourishing. That’s what I’d say I know. I also know that we make messes of things, are fickle, feckless and twisted. I think RJS has been saying it–our lives, like the biblical witness, are messy. The beauty is that God uses us still. Are those who love their faith in or out? My answer: Yes!
Kevin



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Kevin

posted August 29, 2006 at 12:29 pm


Oops! I meant to say “Are those who LOSE their faith in or out? Sorry!



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Terry Tiessen

posted August 29, 2006 at 12:57 pm


Alex,
In answer to your question, I. Howard Marshall is not a Calvinist. He is a Methodist and hence lives within the framework of Arminianism which Wesley developed.



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jonathan erdman

posted August 29, 2006 at 12:57 pm


To Marty:
The conclusion is a no-brainer based on your question, but you had conveniently loaded your question with dubious premises!
You gotta’ love the loaded question!



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Martin Downes

posted August 29, 2006 at 1:07 pm


Jonathan,
Dubious premises? What the pactum salutis? You gotta love the co-operative work of the Trinity. Isn’t that what is at stake in the whole historic debate?



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Terry Tiessen

posted August 29, 2006 at 1:10 pm


Scot,
Thanks for sharing your pilgrimage. I went the other way. Like most of the Calvinists I know in the Baptist world, I became a Calvinist kicking and struggling.
I grant that it is dangerous for us to try too hard to squeeze the teaching of Scripture, with its huge diversity of contexts, genres etc. into a systematic theological mould. On the other hand, I have grown increasingly convinced that to live coherently we all have to figure out whether the basic truth of God’s relationship to the world is monergistic or synergistic. Few things frustrate me more, as a systematic theologian, than students who think they can have both/and.
This was why I wrote _Providence and Prayer_. I wanted to show the coherence between a person’s central theological conviction and one key area of daily life, petitionary prayer. So, I identified 10 key models of divine providence (6 synergistic and 4 monergistic) and demonstrated how we can pray if that is our understanding of God’s work in the world. (I conclude with an 11th model which is, of course, the truth! :-) )
I meet a great many evangelicals who are synergists (Arminians etc.) in regard to salvation but monergists in regard to divine providence. They are sure that human beings decide whether or not they are going to accept God’s offer of salvation but then they speak and pray as though God was completely in control when their apartment got broken into or they were involved in a car accident. This pure and simply won’t work.
Monergists and synergists can trade “proof texts” all day without making any progress. I recommend that people immerse themselves in the biblical narrative and discern the pattern there. Does God accomplish what he sets out to achieve or not? Obviously, we don’t all reach the same conclusion and we are left with “problem passages,” but at least it gives us the big picture within which to live and speak. Over time, we may change our minds about the big picture, but it is essential to have one and to live within it consistently.
Cheers,
Terry



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Richard H

posted August 29, 2006 at 1:18 pm


“At the other end are folks such as are in the United Methodist church.”
We UMs are a curious lot. In the past generation or so a fair number of us (though I am not in their number) have taken up with universalism, which I take as a possible variant of Calvinism. Certainly they view God’s grace as irresistible. Their primary difference seems to be in the supposed extent of election.



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jonathan erdman

posted August 29, 2006 at 1:25 pm


Terry,
I loved your post!
I hear a lot of Calvinist who expressed similar sentiments: “I came kicking and screaming to Calvinism.” Mightn’t this be because Calvinism, as good as it is, has something a bit wrong with it?!?! Just a thought.
I believe most of what Calvinism teaches in regard to TULIP, but I must confess (to your utter dismay, I’m sure!) that I often want the “both-and.” Maybe God has the future meticulously planned, but I still find myself pleading with him to work in the future and change things. I don’t ultimately pray that God’s will be done. That’s fine as far as it goes, but I really feel strongly about something (a loved one for example) I pray that God will actually do what I ask. Isn’t that the way people in Scripture pray? Hezekiah for example, pleaded with tears and God changed his mind!



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RJS

posted August 29, 2006 at 1:46 pm


Terry,
I agree whole-heartedly with the the suggestion that people immerse themselves in the biblical narrative and discern the pattern there. Not relying on proof texts, but on the big picture. But as I try to do that, the impression that I am left with is that Calvinism lives or dies on specific proof texts. It simply isn’t consistent with the big picture. Biblical reality and our reality is much more complex, messy.
If the evidence supports both/and we must live with both/and whether we feel right about it or not.



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Terry Tiessen

posted August 29, 2006 at 1:55 pm


Jonathan,
The kicking and struggling in conversion to Calvinism happens because we live in a society which deeply impresses upon us the importance of human freedom and defines that freedom as libertarian, the power of contrary choice.
I, too, pray earnestly that God will do the things I ask him to do when these are really important to me and when I can see why they might be things God would want to do. I find it very encouraging to know that some of the things God has chosen to do, he has chosen to do in answer to prayer. So, my praying really does contribute to the outcome. It affects the future, even if it does not cause God to do something that he was not planning to do. I am happy, though, that God won’t say to me: “I’d really like to answer your prayer, Terry, but there are people to whom I’ve given libertarian freedom who are making it impossible for me to do so.” It is also comforting to know that, in glory, I’ll understand why it was best that God not do some of the things I earnestly asked him to do.
Meanwhile, I keep listening to the Spirit and trying to discern what it is that God is working for in the world, so that I can be a part of it. I find that much more satisfying than seeking to get God on side with what I am trying to achieve.
Terry



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Scot McKnight

posted August 29, 2006 at 2:00 pm


I join RJS in saying the big sweep is what I would call human responsibility, and no matter how hard the stronger Calvinist says responsibility is sustained in a compatibilist framework, for many of us it doesn’t make sense that way. And I’m not talking by way of experience but the sheer power of text after text that summons people to respond and warns them of consequences if they don’t. The other factors are obvious in the logic of this problem.



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jonathan erdman

posted August 29, 2006 at 2:05 pm


Terry,
I wonder if the importance of human freedom is something more innate, rather than just societal/cultural as you stated.
The innate desire for freedom is something we just presume upon for sake of meaning and accountability. If my choices are ultimately controlled by another then they become less meaningful and I feel less accountable because, after all, the choices were not made by me!



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Terry Tiessen

posted August 29, 2006 at 2:11 pm


RJS,
Am I right to gather that you do not think that God has revealed to us whether he is meticulously sovereign or not? If so, I really do wonder how you live. How do you pray for someone’s salvation, for instance, when you are not sure whether the decision rests with God or with the sinner? How do you know what is the appropriate response to God when something bad happens to you and you don’t know whether it happened because he specifically permitted it or whether he was doing his best to prevent it and is as unhappy about its occurrence as you are?
It seems to me that a genuine both/and approach (both monergism and synergism) would leave us completely unable to act with any coherence. I don’t think I have ever actually met someone who lives that way. They speak about both/and but they live from moment to moment on the assumption of one or the other, just not consistently. Is that how the both/and works out for you – sometimes you assume one and sometimes the other? If not, I’ll be happy to get a clearer understanding of how the both/and theology works in daily life.
Thanks,
Terry



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Greg

posted August 29, 2006 at 2:19 pm


Instead of debating with Calvinists, which generally leads nowhere, we should praise God for giving us the ability to make free decisions. We should praise God for giving freedom to His creatures to choose Him or not, and to live their lives in conformity to Him or not. Though God initiates by offering His love, we actively respond by choosing to receive it and walk with Him daily. It is the most wonderful truth!! And we must all always give God glory for His love and eternal salvation that extends every person He has ever made.
The Calvinists or Reformed believers I believe are in grave error, and I wish I could persuade them all, but from my experience debating with them is hardly is fruitful. Instead of debate, those who affirm our genuine free responses to God’s grace should be teach it widely and celebrate it with heartfelt passion and intellectual robustness!! Only then can we safeguard against this toxic theological influence.



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Terry Tiessen

posted August 29, 2006 at 2:20 pm


Scot,
You have certainly put your finger on the toughest point in monergism – compatibilism. As I have told my Arminian friends, I have tried hard to be an Arminian, particularly because I would like to incorporate libertarian freedom into my theological model. For a while, I thought that Molinism might have it right but I eventually concluded that it wouldn’t work and put forward what I call “middle knowledge Calvinism.”
My proposal regarding “universal sufficient grace” in my chapter “Who is able to believe?” in _Who Can be Saved?_ is my best shot at making sense of compatibilism, for what its worth.
Terry



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aly hawkins

posted August 29, 2006 at 2:22 pm


#42: It would be too strong to say that I began to live in a state of fear, but I did begin to think I could lose what I had, and I began to adjust my life accordingly. I should say that like a lot of kids in my church, I struggled with assurance of my salvation, especially throughout adolescence, and finally, through what I can only describe as an act of sovereign grace, I came through my struggles to assurance.
Cleveland, I had much the same experience growing up heavily Arminian. In college I flirted with Calvinism, mostly as a reaction against the insecurity and fear. Now, however, I think the problem wasn’t Arminianism, it was that “salvation” as it was explained to me was salvation from hell…my fear at “losing my salvation” was not a fear that I would no longer be living and loving in God’s kingdom and on His redemptive agenda, it was a fear that I’d go to hell if I died in my sleep. It was the narrow definition of the Gospel that was the fear-inducer.
I tend now toward the Arminianism of my youth, knowing that if I were to reject God’s provision for salvation, I’d be rejecting much, much more than an assurance that I won’t burn for eternity: I’d be rejecting what we’re saved to…and having experienced God’s kingdom, that’s a loss I couldn’t bear. The motivation for “perseverance” is love toward, not fear of.



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Terry Tiessen

posted August 29, 2006 at 2:24 pm


Jonathan,
I grew up in India and later lived in the Philippines for 16 years and that lies behind my sense that our commitment to individual (autonomous) freedom is a cultural thing, part of the baggage we got from the Enlightenment. My theology students in the Philippines, for instance, rarely had any difficulty with an Augustinian understanding of original guilt but try that out on a westerner!
Terry



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Greg

posted August 29, 2006 at 2:34 pm


“So, my praying really does contribute to the outcome. It affects the future, even if it does not cause God to do something that he was not planning to do.”
To me this is simple to understand. If our prayers do not influence (cause) what God chooses to do, then how can they possibly affect the future? If He chooses to respond to your prayers, but it was really inconsequential to Him carrying our His plans, then nothing hinges on your praying. In other words, if God will carry out His plans with or without your prayers, but chose to include your prayers, then still your prayers are inconsequential. It didn’matter if you prayed or not, because by God’s “sovereinty” He will carry out His will. It is only when God’s will is done or not done, depending on whether we pray or not, that are prayers really matter. Why pray? Because the future really does depend on our prayers, because God designed it to work that way. Prayer is a good example of the awesome power of God limiting His control because HE wants to give us genuine freedom in shaping the events and circumstances of this life and of world/cosmic history.



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John Musick

posted August 29, 2006 at 2:47 pm


Greg’s post #65 made me think that I’m surprised no one has really put forth a classic ‘open theism’ argument.
Unless…perhaps that really has been happening, but I’m not bright enough to recognize it within the folds or the debate.



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jonathan erdman

posted August 29, 2006 at 3:13 pm


In my humble opinion Open Theism makes the same mistake as Calvinism: An obsession with one aspect of theology to the detriment of all others.



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Brian

posted August 29, 2006 at 3:39 pm


Scot,
While you would not agree with how someone like DA Carson systematizes, do you think there is something essentially wrong with his exegesis of the so called compatibilist texts? (I’m not trying to trap you here. I just want to clarify whether the difference of viewpoint with these texts is primarily systematic, or also exegetical.)



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RJS

posted August 29, 2006 at 3:47 pm


Terry,
I think that God has revealed both his sovereignty (although I don’t think I would use the adjective meticulous) and the fact that in his created world he summons people to freely follow him with consequences for the failure to respond. We cannot pick and choose to make a tidy package in accord with our logic or intuition.



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Mike Swalm

posted August 29, 2006 at 4:01 pm


I was predestined to Arminianism.



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Chris

posted August 29, 2006 at 4:05 pm


I think I may be jumping into the conversation too late, but what do you think of the reformational branch of neo-calvinism as espoused by someone like Herman Dooyeweerd, Craig Bartholomew, Al Wolters, and, finding its roots in, Abraham Kuyper. I still find some tensions within the reformational neo-calvinism, but I find some affinity with some strands of it.
As Brian Walsh once said in a conversation with a few students (including myself), “I was a five point Calvinist for about 10 minutes.” To which a student replied, “What about Limited Atonement?” Brian Walsh responded in a loud voice, “Limited atonement!? You mean that God-damning heresy!” And then in a quieter voice, “I wasn’t going to go that far, but it is literally God-damning.”



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Julie

posted August 29, 2006 at 4:08 pm


It seems to me that a genuine both/and approach (both monergism and synergism) would leave us completely unable to act with any coherence. I don’t think I have ever actually met someone who lives that way.
The other alternative is to live in hope rather than certainty. Modernism requires us to solve problems or to pick and choose.
Could it be that we simply don’t know enough to judge absolutely and so act with humility, sometimes trusting in sovereignty, other times pleading for intervention and other times still, doubting that either human will or God’s sovereignty makes a single bit of difference in the outcome of a particular situation. In fact, this cluster of experiences seems to be the scope of the poetic literature of the Psalms and Ecclesiastes.
Julie



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Scot McKnight

posted August 29, 2006 at 4:31 pm


Brian,
I do think I am a compatibilist — if you mean that God remains sovereign and humans retain responsibility — so that genuine believers can apostasize. I have not read Don’s dissertation (I assume you are referring back to that book).



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Gina

posted August 29, 2006 at 6:27 pm


I don’t really feel that either view is entirely biblical. Calvanism goes too far one way and Arminianism goes to far the other. How about we propose a new view called Calvinianism that finds a happy medium
In the early church, this “middle way” (then between Pelagius and St. Augustine) was articulated by St. John Cassian, in a position that has essentially been always the teaching the eastern church. It was and still is often ignored in the West or dismissed as “semi-Pelagian,” and even in this discussion we see people using the term “synergist” as synonymous with Arminian.



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Daniel

posted August 29, 2006 at 6:29 pm


Compatibilism is definitely a Calvinist philosophical position. I don’t think that you can be Arminian and actually hold to compatiblism. Compatibilism denies human responsibility in a liberatian sense (i.e. that you have it within your power to refrain from your action).
Compatibilism can be illustrated by the relationship between an author and the characters in his story. Take for instance Mark Twain’s Huck Finn. Who decides that Huck should let Jim escape? Well, it’s Twain, of course. But in another sense, it’s Huck’s own decision. The problem is that Huck can’t make that decision unless Twain first makes it.
I don’t think compatibilism does justice to how the Bible describes our relationship with God, because in the Bible God actually enters the story and is a character in the story.
BTW, I just started reading your Galatians commentary, and it’s very helpful. I think that it’s one of the better ones in the NIVAC series.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 29, 2006 at 6:54 pm


Daniel,
Thanks for that one. I have for twenty years “compatibilism” for the view that God’s determinations and human choices are compatible, even if we don’t know how they can be. Your comment got me to read my Oxford Companion to Philosophy, and I see I may have been wrong in my understanding — but am not sure.
Compatibilism teaches that God determines all and, at the same time, that we are sometimes free and morally responsible. As I read that entry, I’m not completely clear.
A free act, it says, is one in which I could have done otherwise.
Let me say that I believe that. If God determines all and we do participate in “free acts,” then compatibilism. I think an Arminian could believe that, since he/she would emphasize the freedom of the person. I’m not sure that Arminians are so concerned with God’s mysterious as much as they are with the capacity of humans to choose (which is often understood as freedom, but that has its own history meaning).
The incompatibilist believes in the freedom of the will, right?
Here’s what I would say: the human will does not have the freedom to choose never to sin. It is bound to its human condition of being a cracked Eikon.But, it can choose otherwise in certain matters — including faith in Christ.
Your turn, Daniel.



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BeckyR

posted August 29, 2006 at 6:57 pm


“my people”? “help my people.” Man, if that doesn’t show the split between pastor and congregants. Do you live in the plantation big house too?



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Backwoods Presbyterian

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:21 pm


I am beginning to believe that one of the emergent pastimes is to tack “neo-” on the front of everything.



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Daniel

posted August 29, 2006 at 7:46 pm


I would agree that the human will is bent by sin and is in need of grace to respond correctly to God. I just think that God’s saving graces can be resisted.
Compatibilism does hold to “free will,” but I just think that their definition of free will is not robust enough. They would say that someone is free to act according to their strongest desire. We also only have the potential ability to refrain from an action.
That’s why Calvinists can accept this definition.
But Libertarians (which I think is a better Arminian prospective) hold that we are even free to change our desires (assuming the invention of God’s saving grace).
Of course, Calvinists just hold that God just gives us new desires and that we can’t resist this gift.



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Terry Tiessen

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:00 pm


Scot and Daniel,
I believe that Daniel is right, that Arminians are not compatibilists. They believe that humans are libertarianly free but that they do not believe that God determines history. So, they are incompatibilists.
You, Scot, on the other hand, affirm both of those things. That puts you with Thomas Aquinas rather than Calvin who affirmed divine determination but not libertarian freedom.
I like John Martin Fischer’s distinction between hard and soft compatibilism. Thomists are hard (because they include libertarian freedom) and Calvinists are soft (because they do not affirm libertarian freedom), but both are forms of compatibilism.
I sounds to me as though you have been holding hard compatibilism, Scot, which makes you a Thomist rather than an Arminian.
Terry



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Brian

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:30 pm


Scot,
The idea of Ariminian compatibilism could be a helpful addition to the discussion. I would encourage you to try fleshing it out. Yes, there is a question of how to define compatibilism. You would need to define what you mean, of course.
Don Carson’s view is popularized in his “How Long, O Lord?” His view hinges on the assertion that there are numerous biblical texts in which God determines the outcome of responsible human actions.
Looking backward, there are many narratives in which a sequence of events occurs involving human choices, only to be followed with a commentary such as “this was from the Lord.” Looking forward, it is characteristic of much predictive prophecy to decree (and not merely forsee) what responsible human choices will be.
If it is acknowledged that this is what these texts are saying, then much of the philosophically driven Arminianism falls to the ground. If God can determine the outcome of some responsible human choices, as these various texts seem to assert, then the notion of freedom as absolute power to the contrary must be abandoned as an objection to Calvinism. (Yes, even Carson struggles with how then to define freedom.) If God can determine some responsible human choices, then it is conceivable that he could determine any or even all of them.
And so, in light of this understanding of compatibilism, Arminianism needs to be textually driven, rather than philosophically driven. This is essentially where you started with Hebrews 6. This pulls the whole discussion back to the Bible and asks questions such as what has God decreed, rather than is it possible for God to decree. That would be a helpful shift in the discussion.



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Mike Rucker

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:33 pm


Scot,
I was depressed by the CT article. I saw it as more proof that the evangelical movement wants to become more and more focused on its bibliolatry. What better than to have a book you can bury your head in and feel you are being a good “Christian” in your world. What better than to paint Christianity as exclusive, as being “us” vs “them”, and then having the audacity to say God is God and, well, if He wants to willy-nilly split everybody into heaven-headed or hellbound, by george he can do that because He’s God and even if He’s wrong He’s right. And if it looks like He created some folks just to torment them eternally, well, that’s our problem. We’re just too stupid to see the “wisdom” in that.
And what’s even worse is we really think God has this big self-esteem problem where He put this great plan is in place so that we all can sit around for all eternity telling him how wonderful He is.
Please.
Let’s give God a little more credit. Let’s see Him as more interested in THIS world and our lives here than we have ever given Him credit for. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get out of this mindset that everything’s going to end here in a great calamity, with all of us believers pulled out just before the sh-, uh, well, before it all goes to hell.
Jesus mirrored the Father, and Jesus was truly humble and serving. We should be, too. And somehow that same spirit of love and service is in God, too.
-mike rucker



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Scot McKnight

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:33 pm


Brian and Terry,
How does middle knowledge — the view that God knows the outcome of all possible free choices and guides them along — fit into such a scheme?



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RJS

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:46 pm


Word games? This is one of the problems of using labels extensively without everyone have an agreed upon definition table.
Maybe part of the problem is that time and space are not as our limited intuition understands – we do not have the right perspective. And analogy with fictional characters is also the wrong perspective. In no sense whatsoever does Huck have the freedom to choose. God as the novel writer is a poor analogy for the image of God provided throughout the breadth of scripture.
But I will hold with free-will defined as the God-granted capacity of humans to choose to follow him or not.



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Denny Burk

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:52 pm


Well, I guess I’m too late to comment on this one. Who’s going to read comment number 86?! I could probably write anything here, and no one would be the wiser. I could write “My feet smell like butterscotch” but who would ever know way down here in the lonely number 86 position? :)
:)
Denny



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Brian

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:56 pm


Scot,
I am not well read on the middle knowledge issue. One version I have heard is that God chose the best of all possible worlds based on middle knowledge. That makes me think of Candide. If this is the best of all worlds then I will go tend my garden.
I think certain biblical texts indicate that God has middle knowledge, but I am unconvinced that this solves anything. Any biblical eschatology will contend that this is not the best of all possible worlds. A better one is to come, indeed one in which we will be free, and without sin.
In all of this it is frequently overlooked that much NT thought views freedom soteriologically. We are only free when enslaved to Christ.



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BeckyR

posted August 29, 2006 at 8:56 pm


Yum, butterscotch.



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BW

posted August 29, 2006 at 10:07 pm


People need to pick up LeRon Shult’s “Reforming the Doctrine of God” ASAP if they are interested in this stuff. He doesn’t provide some ‘middle-ground’ (that’s been tried and found stupid), but blows up the shared philosophical presuppositions of both Calvinists and Arminians (oh yeah, and middle knowledge people) that lead us to denials of the obvious or logical absurdities. Nor does he try to ‘figure it out'; he tries to illuminate core biblical intuitions by destroying the philosophical presuppositions that lead people away from biblical ideas. It’s a must read.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 29, 2006 at 10:17 pm


BW,
I’ve got it ready to read: how about a little more of what he says?



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Tim Jeffries

posted August 29, 2006 at 10:24 pm


Butterscotch hey? That’s kinda wierd. Could be worse I guess …



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Anonymous

posted August 29, 2006 at 10:41 pm


Linking Up (8/29)– Stepping in Faith

[...] Post Calvinism? Scot McKnight’s latest addition to his Post Calvinism series really caught my eye yesterday. His entry, entitled “Why I Kissed Calvinism Goodbye,” is very thought provoking. I would encourage all my readers to check it out. Also, if you would like to read more on some of the objections he raises, check out this blog, which is totally devoted to the book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance, by Thomas R. Schreiner & Ardel B. Caneday. [...]



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Matt

posted August 30, 2006 at 12:04 am


At the risk of sounding theologically naive, does it matter if an Arminian can be a compatablist or not? Can’t one say that Armainian thought has some really good points about freedom of the will and Calvin has some really good points about the sovereignty of God? Will that automatically get a person elevated or damned (depending on your view) into the category of “neo” or post-modern? This seems to be the problem. If I have to rely upon a theologian that wrote umpteen volumes of theological systems in order to understand a 6 chapter book of the Bible, then I am trying way too hard to control and diagram how God chooses to work. Where is the trust for God’s sovereignty AND the concern to carry out His will in my life? Seriously, if a person believes that another person cannot choose to do something good or bad on his own; or they think that God cannot will something into being if He chooses just because a theologian wrote a book about it; then they are spending way too long with their nose in books and not long enough in the actual Bible and prayer.



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Roderick

posted August 30, 2006 at 12:23 am


Oddly enough, “Calvinism” isn’t really about John Calvin. In fact, John Calvin himself was dead over 50 years before the so-called 5-points of Calvinism/TULIP were ever penned in response to a diversion from accepted Reformed/Protestant faith.
I certainly agree & advocate spending more time in the Scriptures than in any theologians work (even McKnight), but the problem is clear from Matt’s last comment. It goes back to WHAT DID THE ADAMIC FALL DO TO MANKIND’S WILL? — Matt implies that people can “choose” on their own, but then we must ask, as Jesus pointed out to the Rich Young Ruler — “Who is ‘good’?” – What is this talk about “choosing” good & bad unless first a person is regenerated to choose God, which is the only “good”?
An error in understanding what happened in the Adamic Fall will reverberate into every area of a person’s theology to the point if they “kiss” off the reality of the sinful nature of mankind, they will instead start embracing things like postmodernism/emergent just so they can feel “good” about their theology.
Roderick Edwards
thekingdomcome.com



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Andy Rowell

posted August 30, 2006 at 1:03 am


Tony Jones is talking about the issue as well at
http://theoblogy.blogspot.com/2006/08/even-more-reformed.html



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Brian

posted August 30, 2006 at 5:42 am


Scot,
An illustration will help expand what I said about middle knowledge. I once sat in a study of Acts 9 and heard a man say, “Isn’t it amazing that God knew Paul would be ready to repent at that time?”
While the Bible does make use of God’s middle knowledge at times, that simply doesn’t do justice to how Acts 9 and the rest of the NT describe Paul’s conversion.
More broadly, the cross and the dominant themes of the Bible are not described as merely options within God’s middle knowledge.



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Scott M

posted August 30, 2006 at 6:06 am


I find it odd that people seem to use Calvin and Arminius as the only two options, as if they offer the only two perspectives on Scripture. I find that more than a little odd. But a lot of the discussions I see tend to try to put people in one camp or the other. And they seem to make the question of ‘losing your salvation’ the deciding factor between the two. In reality, Calvin and Arminius are both part of the same strand of theology and thus are more similar than not.
And I’m not particularly comfortable with either. Apparently in an effort to construct a thoroughly and completely rational, certain system of theology, Calvin takes his points to what looks to me like extreme overstatement. He forces scripture into his mold rather than letting it simply be what it is and that tends to lead to distortion. Arminius works from essentially the same presuppositions as Calvin, but tries to soften some of the points and bring back into the picture some of the scripture that receives less attention in Calvin’s system. But the two seem to agree on more than they disagree, at least to my eyes.
Although it’s the one everybody seems to want to talk about, I don’t even find ‘perseverance of the saints’ the most troubling part of Calvin’s view. ‘Total depravity’ and ‘limited atonement’ are much, much, much more troubling and seem to require a serious reshaping of the entirety of scripture. Heck, ‘irresistable grace’ is more harmful to the full picture of scripture than ‘perseverance of the saints’.
Anyway, since everyone likes talking about them, I did at one point look into their perspectives. And for reasons stated above, I essentially found myself a 0 point calvinist and maybe a 1 or 2 point arminian, though I would have to squint and look sideways a little. That whole Reformed strand of theology to which both Calvin and Arminius belong simply doesn’t speak to me. I can see how it developed in response to the pressures of its age and I can appreciate much that its best authors have to say, just as I can appreciate much in any of the great Christian writers through the ages. But that’s as far as I can go.



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John Frye

posted August 30, 2006 at 7:05 am


This fine discussion could be informed by all of us reading or re-reading Scot’s article in the TRINITY JOURNAL, Volume 13 NS, No. 1 Spring 1992 “The Warning Passages of Hebrews: A Formal Analysis and Theological Conclusions” 21-59.



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Nick

posted August 30, 2006 at 8:31 am


arminians would be wise to drop their idea that God knows the future exhaustively, since this idea makes the truth that we freely determine our actions incoherent.
by the most meager standards of common sense and sanity, we cannot freely determine anything that has always been settled in God’s mind. open theism can cure the aminians’ muddled thinking, and may even convert some disillusioned calvinists.



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Terry Tiessen

posted August 30, 2006 at 8:50 am


Scott, you asked:
“How does middle knowledge —— the view that God knows the outcome of all possible free choices and guides them along —— fit into such a scheme?”
You have pushed my button, but I’ll try to be brief. I am an enthusiast for the acceptance of middle knowledge within Calvinism but I’m one of a rare breed. John Feinberg has been receptive to it and Bruce Ware shares my enthusiasm.
I’ll give you my bottom line answer to your question and then explain why I reached this position.
I see middle knowledge as immensely important to soft-determinism or compatibilism. It enables God to achieve what he wants with minimal coercion. Here, I concur with Open Theists that God is primarily persuasive and only rarely coercive. This is what preserves the moral responsibility and authentic freedom of creatures in a world where God is meticulously sovereign. God is able to choose whom he will save (and I am hopeful that this includes most of the human race) and then to have these people believe in him willingly. No one goes to heaven who doesn’t want to and no one goes to hell who does not want to.
Or, to return to your original theme of perseverance, God glorifies all whom he justifies (Rom 8) but he can do this with minimal “intervention” because he knows us completely and he knows in which circumstances we would fall and in which we would not, given his sustaining (but not coercive) grace. I take this to be the point of 1 Cor 10:13. Paul’s statement that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to bear is an affirmation of middle knowledge, or at least of his knowledge of counterfactuals. God knows, in other words, what situation would be beyond our ability and what would not. He does not allow a situation to occur in which we have no way of escape or in which the grace of God would be insufficient to preserve us. Because God works in the world from the very beginning, with very minimal intervention, he is able to have things come out the way he wants them to. That’s the bottom line. Middle knowledge is immensely useful to God and is an important ingredient of my compatibilism.
Here’s the background to my current stance:
I think that Molina was on to something with his suggestion of middle knowledge. He proposed that, in this particular world, creatures are libertarianly free but God chose this particular world. Thus, in this world, you choose to remain faithful to Christ and persevere in faith, but God chose the world in which you do so, rather than one of the worlds in which you do not.
I can understand why Thomas Flint thinks that Molinism is great. It gives people what they want: a strongly sovereign God and libertarianly free creatures. Regrettably, I do not think it works. This is one point at which I am on the same page as the Open Theists that were mentioned previously in these comments. The problem is the famous “grounding objection.” It is impossible for anyone to predict (and hence to foreknow) what a libertarianly free creature would do in a situation that is not real (i.e., to know “counterfactuals”). I think that William Lane Craig (the leading evangelical Molinist) is right about God’s actual foreknowledge (against the Open Theists). God can know the actual future because it has real existence. Unfortunately, I have not found Craig’s response to the grounding objection persuasive so I am not a Molinist. I also think, however, that the Open Theists are correct in their assessment of the simple foreknowledge that classical Arminians insist upon in their dispute with Open Theists. Simple foreknowledge is virtually useless to God in his governance of the world. As Hasker says, by the time God knows what is going to happen it is too late for him to do anything about it!
Traditionally, Calvinists have rejected middle knowledge because of its association with Molinism and libertarian freedom. It was guilt by association. They have always affirmed that God knows counterfactuals but they include this in his natural or necessary knowledge. As I have said to other Calvinist theologians, I am not primarily concerned about whether God’s knowledge of counterfactuals is natural or middle. But, I do think that Calvinists should be much more explicit about the significance of God’s knowledge of what creatures would do in any possible situation (and I think that it makes best sense to see this as involving deliberation and hence, as happening at a middle “moment.”)
Terry



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jonathan erdman

posted August 30, 2006 at 8:52 am


Middle Knowledge
Middle knowledge is God’s knowledge of the free choices that individuals would make if they are put in any given situation, i.e. if I were to go out for ice cream tonight I would pick chocolate over vanilla. God possesses a seemingly infinite array of knowledge of an infinite number of different scenarios of how we would freely choose this or that in any given situations. Together all these choices come within a seemingly infinite number of possible worlds that God could freely choose to create.
According to the theology known as Molinism God freely choose one of these possible worlds composed of all of our free choices. God knows just what would happen and what we would choose in this world and freely choose to create this world. God thus predestined and foreknew all that would happen because he created a world in which all possible choices were known by him in advance.
The most common objection to this theological system seems to be the so-called “grounding objection.” In a nutshell, this objection calls into question whether a choice can truly be free if it is known ahead of time. In other words, no one (God included) can know my choice of vanilla or chocolate until I make the choice. If a choice is determined ahead of time, then it is not free.
Matthew 11:23 seems to be a biblical example of this where we have Jesus saying that if certain miracles had been performed in Sodom then they would have repented. This seems to indicate that Jesus knew what the free choice of individuals would have been if circumstances were different.



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Nick

posted August 30, 2006 at 9:11 am


sure God knows every possible choice we could make, but if we are truly free to make one of those choices, how could He know in absolute certainty which choice we will make, before we actually make that choice. to me, if we are going to choose between options, then that choice is still up in the air until we make that choice. if the choosing among the plethora of choices is unsettled to us, why insist that they are not unsettle to God as well. your example that Jesus knew Sodom would repent if miracles were performed there doesn’t work. Jesus showed ability to know what was in peoples’ hearts, which gave Him foreknowledge of events. If you know what is in someone’s heart, you can accurately know (or predict) what they will do. But could Jesus have said that statement five years earlier? No, because most likely the heart of the Sodomites were not the same back then.



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BW

posted August 30, 2006 at 9:18 am


Hey Scot,
LeRon’s contention is that today’s evangelicals continue to use philosophical categories that lead to illogical conclusions concerning God’s sovereignty and human freedom (among other things). These philophical presuppositions are shared by both Calvinists and Arminians (and middle knowledge folks); so the problem isn’t with one or another, its with the philosophical framework that is assumed by everyone involved. It seems to be an evangelical problem; you don’t hear these kinds of debates in non-evangelical circles. Probably because many outside our camp have moved away from some of these presuppositions.
In Reforming the Doctrine of God, he displays the modern tendency to see God as a single subject whose ‘before’ time with finite terms. Now, any good evangelical would affirm the Trinity, God being ‘beyond’ time (which still creates problems) and God’s infinity. But LeRon (in my opinion) accurately shows how the working understanding of God in most evangelical theologians writings actually lean to a God who is a single subject, who is before time and who is finite.
I’m being a little facetious, but if God is a really big guy with a mind who knows things like we know things, only perfectly, and who is before time, then yeah, we are going to have enormous problems conceiving of God as absolutely sovereign and humans with responsibility. It doesn’t seem to make sense. But maybe God isn’t a really big guy who knows things with a mind like we know things, only perfectly. And maybe he’s not ‘before’ time. But maybe he is the origin, condition and goal of our creaturely existent and isn’t set against our workings where we need to decide if it’s God or me. This is some of the direction LeRon provides and its changed me for good. I know longer have the typical calvinist/arminian questions. Don’t let anybody think that LeRon thinks he ‘figured’ things out. You don’t figure out an infinite God.
Yeah, he’s been helpful to me. Thanks for the question, Scot.



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Amie

posted August 30, 2006 at 9:46 am


What of the idea that the “elect” is applicable only to the first century? (Details: http://pantelism.com/Election.htm) The “Pantelist” view, by my understanding, is the “third option”.
Amie



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Roderick

posted August 30, 2006 at 9:56 am


Well then Amie, convo is over — if the Elect were only the first-century, the tribal god is done with collecting his tribe from earth. We who remain are merely hairless apes, beasts of the field, non-elect.
All this talk about a “middle knowledge” continues to ignore what happened at The Fall — this is what happens when you “kiss” off the reality of the sinful nature of mankind, you start smooching up to universalism & all sorts of humanistic doctrines.
Roderick Edwards
thekingdomcome.com



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Amie

posted August 30, 2006 at 10:04 am


Roderick said, “Well then Amie, convo is over — if the Elect were only the first-century, the tribal god is done with collecting his tribe from earth.”
That (what I quoted) might be true, if there were no outworking. That is also explained in the link I gave (http://pantelism.com/Election.htm).
Roderick said “All this talk about a “middle knowledge” continues to ignore what happened at The Fall”
Not at all, in fact, it affords a solution to the problem in the garden (a return to grace).



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Roderick

posted August 30, 2006 at 10:36 am


Amie, the solution is belief & faith in Christ & the Bible is clear than no man comes to the Father but by the Son & it is the Father that must GRANT people to come.
Since that is repulsive to you, instead you & your universalist/postmodern/emergent/always on a journey friends ignore that & look for a 3rd way, a “middle knowledge” — UGH!
Roderick Edwards
thekingdomcome.com



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Matt

posted August 30, 2006 at 10:48 am


Roderick,
I agree with you about the Adamic fall. I’m merely pointing out that just because we are depraved in nature (from Adam) does not mean we lose freedom of will. A depraved nature does not equal a lack of decision-making capability. On the flip-side, now we have a good nature (from Christ) and we still have a responsibility to choose to live according to it. Again, I realize that probably some theologian spent volumes on this, making up large words to categorize what I’m saying; but I’m just going with common sense reading of the Bible and common sense awareness of living and how it works.



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Amie

posted August 30, 2006 at 10:51 am


Roderick,
We do have some different opinions on theology, but you and your view certainly do not “repulse” me dear bro.



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Rod

posted August 30, 2006 at 10:55 am


Seems to me that this discussion has reached its “sell-by date.”



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Roderick

posted August 30, 2006 at 11:02 am


Matt,
You pointed out a very important point. Most people will say, “Those Calvinists teach mankind doesn’t have freewill” — THAT is untrue, of course mankind has freewill but since The Fall that will is corrupted by nature — not “good” (No one is good except the Father in Heaven) & thus for anyone to choose God, God must impose His will upon that person, change that person’s heart.
This is repulsive to the universalists & the “middle knowledge” people.
Roderick Edwards
thekingdomcome.com
P.S.
The reason “Rod” thinks this discussion is over is because people can’t continue to talk in relativistic terms. Its just no fun for some people when absolutes are introduced.



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JH

posted August 30, 2006 at 1:03 pm


I think it is interesting how the insults and categorical language comes out when the discussion becomes intense. Does insulting others fall within absolutism? Perhaps we’ve lost sight of heart of Christ in our discussions of important theological topics.



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Roderick

posted August 30, 2006 at 1:15 pm


Another side effect of sissified postmodern/emergent churchism is that it doesn’t have the internal fortitude to call error, error — instead it “re-images” Christ as some hippie-like guy wandering the Judean countryside passing out food to people & healing them just to be nice.
This is the SAME Jesus that called people “names”, like “brood of vipers” & “sons of Satan” when their doctrine was intently false.
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” — IS 5:20
Roderick Edwards
thekingdomcome.com



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Julie

posted August 30, 2006 at 1:23 pm


Rod, I think Jesus also said, “He who is without sin may throw the first stone.” Perhaps your eagerness to embrace Jesus’s judgments ought to be tempered by humility that all of us fall short and don’t see clearly.
Julie



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JH

posted August 30, 2006 at 1:28 pm


All of the stereotyped rehtoric is easy to through out there Roderick, but it fails to stay focused on a loving and truthful discussion. If the “sissified postmodern/emergent churchism” comment was directed at me, I’m willing to take your name calling. However, the difference between Jesus’ “names” toward the Pharisees and your comments is that he understood the real heart of their doctrines. I haven’t shared with you what I think, and yet you are self-confident enough to stereotype me for your own enjoyment. How is this accomplishing a movement towards the truth?



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