Saturday, February 25, 2012

Calvinism: A Conclusion

I'm currently reading through the books For Calvinism by Michael Horton and Against Calvinism by Roger E. Olson.  This post is one of a series of posts where I discuss the thoughts, impressions, and questions that surface during this study.  Click here for the first post in this series.

I'll never be a famous blogger.  In order to build a successful blog, I'd need to post every day, and that's something I'll never do.  (And even then I'd need to contend with my lack of actual writing talent!)  You see, the original purpose of this blog is to be my mental clearing house.  A place for me to scrape the metaphorical turd off the bottom of my shoe (hence the name of my blog) and keep walking.  For me, hitting "Publish post" is like flushing the toilet.

This is the reason I haven't been posting more in this series about Calvinism.  As I made my way through the remainder of Roger Olson's book,  Against Calvinism , there were less and less aspects of it I wanted to write about... As he took the five points of TULIP and discussed each one in depth, I found very little that compelled me to write.  I found it difficult to even make my way through the remainder of the book.  The reason is very simple: I was sold.  

Although I'll certainly give Horton's  For Calvinism  it's fair shot, I'll be honest and admit that the topic is off my radar.  My family has started going to an Arminian church, (independent, but historically Wesleyan) and I'm relatively at peace with this issue that has bothered me for a long time.

As I think through this whole issue, one thing has become clear: I've always been an Arminian.  My Reformed upbringing is not without affect: I can fall in line when needed, supplying the typical Calvinist answers to the common questions when the situation arises.  But deep down, the God I've always believed in is a God who has limited his own sovereignty to allow me the genuine choice between right and wrong, to believe in Him or not.  

Before anyone calls me a historical revisionist, take a look at four of my posts from 2008.  In my response to an essay by atheist Richard Carrier titled Why I am Not a Christian, I give my rebuttals to each of his arguments.  Without exception, the God I defend is the God revealed by Arminian theology.  Take a look at my own words from four years ago:

From my response to "God is Silent":

God took the ultimate risk: He gave us free will, and in doing so, took the risk that we would reject Him; that our choice would result in eternal separation from Him. 

From my response to "God is Inert":

Part of loving God is obeying Him. A lot of the evil in the world arises from human beings exercising their free will, disobeying God. Creatures that are free to love must be free to choose.

And in my response to "Christianity Predicts a Different Universe" I adopt Kenneth Miller's words as my own:

God's love and gift of freedom are genuine - so genuine that they include the power to choose evil and, if we wish, to freely send ourselves to Hell. -Kenneth Miller, in Finding Darwin's God [pp. 285-291]

I really struggled with those posts; Trying to clearly communicate why, even in the face of massive doubts, I believe that the Christian God is real.  Looking back has helped me see one reason why I've felt so out of place in my Calvinistic Baptist church:  For me, the god of Calvinism is indefensible, and I simply do not believe he exists.  I believe in a God who offers a choice between good and evil.  And I've believed in him all along.


Jim said...

Joe, you make some great arguments against Calvinism, which I join you in rejecting outright. There is nothing within Calvinism which would cause me to worship, much less love, the "god" which it describes.

I am curious, however, as to your conclusion which basically says that we have the free will to "reject" God, and "freely send ourselves to Hell."

Just what do you see is so wrong with God, so unattractive and abhorrent, that some, if not most, of humanity will reject Him? If something is rejected with full knowledge of its positives and negatives it means that it was found to be more repulsive than attractive. What do you find so repulsive about God that most of your fellow man would reject Him?

Do you believe that someone raised under the Islamic faith has a real "choice" to believe in Christ when they have been taught by people that they love and respect that he was not the son of God, but merely a prophet? Were you somehow smarter than they are for "choosing" to believe in Him when they don't?

"... no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit." (1Cor. 12:3

Joe said...

Thanks a lot for your comments. I would agree totally that some people have "more to work with" regarding whether to reject God. Regardless of our conclusions regarding nature of the "choice" we must come to grips with the fact that nobody has all the information regarding the nature of God, and some have very little.

I don't have an answer to your question, but I tend to keep coming back to a picture of hell similar to what C.S. Lewis describes in The Great Divorce: The people in hell are people who are ultimately concerned with themselves... So even though they might not be fully informed in their doctrines or theology, they are the kinds of people that wouldn't give up ultimate control of their lives even in the presence of exhaustive knowledge of everything, including the nature of God.

I'm not sure if that's consistent with everything else I believe, or with scripture, but it's where I would start.

What do you think, Jim? I'd love to hear.

Jim said...

Well, I would have to say that if someone has "exhaustive knowledge of the nature of God" and rejects Him, then it would be obvious that they find something repulsive about Him. On the other hand, if they reject an inaccurate image of Him then they are not acting with a "free" will, but with one that is enslaved to ignorance and deception.

Do you think God would be just in condemning someone to eternal hell for rejecting Him out of ignorance... if, for example, you rejected Him because you were taught that the Calvinist image was correct? And whose fault is it if someone does not know God sufficiently to make a rational decision?

Jesus himself said that "no one can know the Father unless the son chooses to reveal Him," so it seems that he is taking that responsibility.
Scripture also speaks of the relationship between loving others and knowing God: "Those who are not loving do not know God, for God is love."

Concerning your agreement with C.S. Lewis' description, are you then saying that some people would be happier in hell than they would be in heaven? If so, how do you explain the Arminian view of hell as a place of eternal conscious torment? Who in their right mind would prefer torment over bliss? And if their minds are not "right," why would God not heal them and correct that situation?

If eternal life with God is true peace and contentment then it would be ridiculous for anyone to reject that, for that is what we all seek, I believe. Trying to find fulfillment by placing our own happiness above that of others eventually proves itself as a meaningless existence - one which does NOT result in peace and contentment, but in bitterness and misery. Since God created us to be loving, compassionate beings, doing otherwise only leads to discontent. And the only cure for that is finding that our true happiness is tied to the happiness of others. I don't think it's possible to be eternally happy knowing that someone else is eternally trapped in misery. Every one of the 99 should be willing to seek out the last one until he is found. And that applies especially to the Shepherd.

Finally, if God truly is the potter - with all goodness, power, and authority - could you explain how even one of His clay vessels could break themselves beyond His ability to mend? And if Christ came to free us from our bondage to sin, could you please explain how even one of us could remain eternally trapped in it?

What I am asking is simply this: If you truly have FAITH in God, how could you ever believe that anyone is beyond His ability to find, heal, and restore to a loving relationship with Himself and all of humanity? To claim otherwise is to admit to an inability on God's part, and to your own lack of faith in Him. The misunderstood and ultimately false notion of "free will" is just an excuse to find blame in others, and credit for ourselves, when it is God who is sovereign in salvation. Until God opens our eyes we cannot see... a blind man cannot heal himself... but that is exactly what those who are trying to take credit for their salvation are doing when they claim that they "chose Jesus."

In Jesus' own words to His arguing disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you."

God bless you.

Elisabeth said...

Interesting post, since Calvinism was once the air I breathed and I actually LOVED it, only to be suddenly plunged into Islam, and find that, along with unmistakeably NON-Calvinistic theology, it made completely valid truth claims. I ran across your blog when a google search for C.S.Lewis' essay on the most embarrassing verse in the Bible brought me to one of your 2009 posts, and I'm happy to see you're still posting - at least as of 2012. I love reading others' journeys as they search for what truth is, and I humbly suggest you look into Islam, as I didn't find it in the tag cloud on the right. My own blog is a simple account of a teenager wrestling with the change from a Baptist churchgoer in America to a Muslim wife in the Middle East. You might find some interesting links under the "Why Islam" tab. I'd be interested in hearing your perspectives. Keep writing - I'll be back I'm sure. May God guide us in our search for His Truth.

Shawn said...

For the non-Calvinism seeking to crush free will:
Romans 1 clearly describes people who had knowledge of God, yet chose to suppress the truth. The light came to the world, but men love their darkness-sometimes more than a perfect and holy God. Why? I do not carry the burden of answering for them. I am not proud of my faith, nor do I claim superiority in intelligence, or in an other way. Those who claim to know why another man chooses one choice or another demonstrate their own pride, as they attempt to read hearts.