Friday, September 02, 2005

Am I a Calvinist?

I don't know. I might be. But since I don't have any schooling in theology I really can't say for certain.

One thing I love about the internet is that it can be very educational. I love forums where people debate things and post links to articles and Bible verses and such. I wish I could sit down and read a book by Thomas Aquinas or St. Augustine or Jonathan Edwards. But I can't do that right now. So I learn by reading articles about such books. Which is why I can't satisfactorily determine any sort of alignment with their thinking, which is why I can't say if I'm truly a Calvinist or not.

I've been frustrated recently by my inability to really get into some serious study of theology. It fascinates me, and as I learn more about it, I realize how important it is in shaping the way Christians interact with God and the world around them. And when I read debates about ideas like Calvin's, I can't help but wonder what process brought my protestant, evangelical, charismatic background to be. And how does that background affect my propensity to embrace or reject Calvinism? Because when you look at who influenced Calvin's ideas, you find Augustine. And so on and so forth. All of these different ideas are built on each other, and it hardly seems appropriate to simply pluck the fruit of one thinker without recognizing the branch that it's attached to… and the tree that that grows from… and the roots that nourish it. That's why C.S. Lewis recommends reading an old book for every current book you read. I just wish I had the time to read ANY book.

Anyway. Based on the very small amount I have read on the subject, here are my thoughts on Calvinism.

Basically, Calvinism says that God elects individuals to salvation. That there is absolutely no merit whatsoever in a person that does not come from God. We can't even claim that our decision to choose God was our own, but rather, came to be because He first chose us. This idea makes a lot of people uneasy because it threatens any sense of control over one's destiny. I guess I dropped that idea a long time ago. I figure that since we are corrupted and sinful we can't make any good decisions. So if we make any good ones, it's because God in His grace led us to them. The problem with believing otherwise is that you loose the idea that salvation comes by grace rather than works. If you think it was your good decision that brought you salvation you are still believing that you -to however small a degree- earned it.

Here is a summation from John Piper:

" Therefore I affirm with John 3:16 and 1 Timothy 2:4 that God loves the world with a deep compassion that desires the salvation of all men. Yet I also affirm that God has chosen from before the foundation of the world whom he will save from sin. Since not all people are saved we must choose whether we believe (with the Arminians) that God's will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to human self-determination or whether we believe (with the Calvinists) that God's will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to the glorification of his sovereign grace (Ephesians 1:6,12,14; Romans 9:22-23).

This decision should not be made on the basis of metaphysical assumptions about what we think human accountability requires. It should be made on the basis of what the scriptures teach. I do not find in the Bible that human beings have the ultimate power of self-determination. As far as I can tell it is a philosophical inference based on metaphysical presuppositions."

I think all theology about the nature of God is fundamentally flawed by our finite nature. How God does things, and Why God does things are simply too 'other' for us to comprehend. We can only take what He has told us in the Bible on faith.

I've admitted I don't have any schooling in theology so my opinions are not necessarily sound. As I have grown and matured my views on things have changed a lot. But I can count on the Bible NOT changing. So it's natural that as one ages and spends more time with the Bible one will conform towards it. I have slowly stopped glossing over the verses that don't seem to fit in with my current view of God, and will try not to rationalize them away, but rather let them inform my doctrine – stepping out in faith and accepting what can't be understood. A really over-simplistic analogy would be children and parents. When you were 3 you wouldn't understand why your parents moved, or changed religions, or told you not to run by the swimming pool. There was just no way you could understand their reasoning. But that doesn't mean that reasoning doesn't exist.

From what I can tell, Calvinist doctrine follows the most scripture the closest. And it doesn't wince when it sees something it doesn't like. (Or rather, what people wish were not the case.) I don't understand God fully. But I can believe what He wrote in the Bible. I think Calvinism is coming from that same place. I'd much rather face the truth than be comforted by lies that sound good to me.

Even if you want to say that YOU have a choice whether or not you believe and follow God, answer this… Who gave you your personality? Who gave you your proclivities? Who determined how stubborn you would be? How intelligent? What people would come through your life and influence your thinking?

I think a lot of people get hung up on the idea that God's call is undeniable because they imagine the mechanism of that call to be a forceful one. As though God straps a collar and leash around your neck and yanks you to Him. But His ways are not like that. We can not refuse the salvation He gives because He has so beautifully and invisibly woven the plan for salvation into every sphere of your life. Like a perfectly arranged set of dominos, every personality trait, event in our life, people, ideas that influence us, and decisions that we make; lead us inexorably to THE conclusion that He has for us.

That doesn't make us robots stuck in a rigid, confined role. It just means He knew all the factors in our lives before He formed us. He knew exactly how our personality and environment would affect our decisions.

So doesn't that take away from our favor all the good things we do? Yes and no. When you do something moral, yes, you are doing the action. The question is this: Who gave you the ability to do that moral action? Here is another analogy. Imagine you are a general in a war. You can pretty much 'predestine' which troops live or die by where you position them and how you arm them. If you send one troop into battle the way they came into the army, with no gun and no armor, you are pretty much sending them to destruction. In this analogy, the troops without guns are those that God did not elect. They simply lack the capacity to succeed in battle. The troops that get weapons are equipped, by grace, to succeed in their calling.

So when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, He was telling someone who had the capacity to do so. And the only reason Abraham had that capacity was because God gave it to him. Every good thing you can do is the result of God blessing you with the heart to do it. He gave you the weapons and ammo necessary to succeed in the battle.

But how can He justify giving some troops what they need and others not? Well if you are asking that question you need to seriously ask yourself who you think you are. How do you dare to question God and His motives? How can you who knows so little, deem yourself worthy to demand an explanation from the creator of the universe? That's what the end of Job is all about. It's not a comfortable, or happy thing to think about. But it is sublime and mysterious. And I trust that it is under-girded, and woven through with Love.

It's not easy, but it makes the most sense to me right now because it addresses all those uncomfortable verses in the Bible that I used to skim through because they made me uneasy. The thought that God either choose to save us or didn't is truly humbling. But I think it is the natural conclusion of Christianity – that submittal to a God we can only trust is Love and will care for us completely. Any other approach I've seen ends up mixing in just the smallest smidgen of 'works' in the yeast. Which completely changes the outcome.

But like I said. I don't know enough about all this to say conclusively that I'm convinced one way or another. I just want to keep a record of my thoughts as I develop what I hope is sound theology.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Josh. I may have some interesting courses on CD (well, actually mp3) on theology and the stuff you talk about here. These courses are by the "best in the field" and are top quality stuff. Remind me sometime and I'll dig them up if I can and send them to you...you know where to get in touch with me.

Jeff (the Outrage one)

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Tony from BZ said...

You know my feelings about Calvinism. I'm pretty sure I understand it. But I don't think I understand God. I don't understand Him at all. It is within His power to 'elect' everyone.. I find myself not wanting to understand God because I'm afraid of the truth. When Jesus lived on the earth among men, He loved every last one of them like they were part of this elect. If He died because of sin, surely he can answer a fucking question viz. "Why this way Lord?"

Is it unreasonable and unscriptural to assume that God calls every one of us, but gives us the choice to choose Him? I can totally understand that and it really makes sense. If God can be just and save some, then He can be just and save pleanty. I wish I knew all the fucking answers. For now, I don't see my mind changing. I'm too scared to face God if this is what He's really up to. I've only been a Christian for two years and it's hard enough being one. God is complicated enough. Life is complicated enough. It's hard enough looking at people who hold such potential.. Who can be convinced of God's love and glory. But if nothing can be said to them.. If nothing can be shown them.. If God has hardened their hearts from before birth, then he had might as well harden mine. And no, I'm not joking. Maybe you can help me with this.. I know feel this way, or at least your did.

Tony

10:06 PM  

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