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5/12/2006

CALVINISM PART5: PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS

So far in this series of posts we've learned that a Calvinist believes...

Everyone is born depraved which means we are all born "sinful" and helpless to do anything about it. (Total Depravity)

Out of the sea of depraved human beings God chose certain people to be separated from Him forever (Hell) and certain people to join Him forever (Heaven). All people are equally unworthy of being chosen by God. God chose some of us, not because of any merit in us, to know Him and represent Him on earth and chose others to never understand Him or want to and to eternally be miserable without Him. (Unconditional Election)

When Jesus dies on the cross He took away only the sin and depravity of those who were chosen, or elected, by Him. Any one who is not a Christian was not died for by Jesus on the cross. "The world" in John 3:16 really means "the elected or chosen people in this world." (Limited Atonement)

God "draws" the elected or chosen people of this world to Him; He causes them to want to believe in Him, trust Him, etc. This drawing power of God is so great, and God is in such control of all things, that the chosen person has no choice but to give into this drawing and believe in Jesus. No one God draws can refuse to follow God and believe Jesus is the Christ. (<Irresistible Grace)

The final belief of Calvinism or TULIP theology is this: Once saved. always saved. Or Perseverance of the Saints, as the Calvinists have labeled it. To "persevere" means that belief in God and acceptance by God is a permanent state. A "saint" is someone who is accepted by God because they have been given the gift of belief in Jesus.

If God chose me and left me no choice but to choose Him then how could I later make such a choice against Him, renounce my faith and loose my salvation? How can something be lost that wasn't found to begin with but was given instead? There's no logical way to refute the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints IF T, U, L and I are true.

Of course, it's said, someone who renounces their faith, someone who says in effect they no longer believe the story of Jesus to be true and no longer want to follow God or be one of God's people, is not a Christian and has no place in Heaven. BUT, a Calvinist argues, that person NEVER WAS a Christian or else they could not have made such a move. 1 John 2:19 says, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us."

"Not of us" is said to mean they never were of us - they never were "true believers" in Jesus, never chosen, never died for by the Christ etc.

This is then applied to other passages in which people who SEEM to be Christians renounce their belief in Christ and are separated forever from God because of it. These people never were Christians to begin with, the Calvinist says.

This argument is convincing but hits at least one snag:

Hebrews 6:4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

It seems that the person in question in Hebrews is a Christian because they have been given the gift of heaven, received the Holy Spirit, and understood the word of God to be "good". These are all things a Calvinist would argue cannot be true of a non-Christian, yet this person, this seemingly Christian person, has "fallen away" from God and CANNOT BE BROUGHT BACK.

And this is just one example of such a person "falling away" from God because they decided Christianity was a lie. There are also examples that support the Calvinist view of Perseverance in which people are "damned" because they never produced "good works". It is stated again and again in scripture that a person who truly knows God makes Him known, loves others, lives in a righteous trajectory. When this does not happen it is evidence not that a person has lost salvation but that a person never was saved. 1 John is a big book on this subject. People are called liars by John for claiming to love God while not sharing their wealth or loving fellow Christians. He says these are not children of God.

So those who fall away...Were they ever Christians to begin with, Christians who stopped believing in Jesus or is there another explanation to be heard.

Again, if a person believes T,U,L and I'm not sure how they could NOT believe P. Any of my non-P-believing friends want to explain that one to me?

Have at it.

30 Comments:

Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Thankfully we're through with this series. Anyone learned anything? Rethought their own beliefs? Been bored into a coma?

5/12/2006  
Blogger Kathryn said...

i found it interesting. not bored. . just so . . . gah. . .the second paragraph, describing 'unconditional election' makes God sound like someone i want nothing to do with!!! ick. . I have read all these instalments. i've learned that i'm grateful i don't accept Calvinism -- in fact i find it distasteful. Its a 'why bother' kind of thing when i read it. . if i was slated to be damned, why should i give a damn? why not just sink down into my damnededness and be what i was fated to be? This Calvinism seems to be such a hopeless venture -- an elitest picnic for the accepted ones and a dark future for the rest. What kind of God is this who predamns ppl? i thought he loved us all with his gorgeous, great heart. maybe i'm an igno. . but I'm happy to be.

5/12/2006  
Anonymous Qatfish said...

If anyone's interested in a short Catholic perspective on TULIP, check out Jimmy Akin's "A Tiptoe Through TULIP." It's interesting to compare & contrast.

5/12/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

kathryn, is there anything about your understanding of God that you don't like? In other words, is your God always what you like, what you want Him to be?

Not rhetorical.

5/12/2006  
Blogger Vox Lupi said...

i am so sick of people picking on calvinists. what do you think you are going to prove? we're all christians here, you know.
dont let my mother see that you have been nitpicking over this, or she might come on and give you *ahem* a piece of her mind.

5/12/2006  
Blogger Brody Harper said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/12/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who's picking? I haven't seen any picking...

5/12/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Simmer down, anon. I'm not sure vox lupi was serious. The invocation of mommy was a slight clue...I'm hoping.

5/12/2006  
Blogger Chaotic Hammer said...

Shaun - I've enjoyed this series a lot. I have not commented at all during any part of it, because I don't feel like I really had anything useful or intelligent to add. I was curious to see the responses, and did quite a bit of reading when people made recommendations and offered reference material to explain their positions.

I personally do not believe in Calvinism, but I don't have a big hangup with anyone who does. It's very much a "we can agree to disagree" issue, which should not have been allowed to cause such severe strife and contention in the Body as it has.

I feel like it is intellectually honest to say that strong cases both for and against Calvinism can be made from the Scriptures. My sense is that man is trying to wrap a very finite mind around a very infinite and majestic God. Many concepts in the Bible are presented in simple terms, to help us relate things that we can understand from everyday life experiences to things which are extremely complicated and beyond human comprehension.

Words are used to present ideas and concepts, and to represent real things; but words are very limiting. Likewise, I think doctrines of man often try to codify and use words to describe things which are far beyond words. How two things which seem to be diametrically opposed can simultaneously both be true is unsettling, and seems to demand an answer.

Maybe someday in my study of the Bible, I'll reach a place where I feel that a solid subtext or doctrine supporting or refuting Calvinism has come into clear view for me; at that time I will embrace it. It has been my experience in over 20 years as a sincere follower of Jesus that every time I really start to lean heavily toward extremes in some specific aspect of my walk with the Lord, that He draws me back toward Himself and back into balanced doctrine. It's just human nature to want to discover subtext doctrines that we can stand by -- but if you decide on something like Calvinism, you'll find yourself having to defend it -- and I just don't have the time or energy to defend a belief system that tries to take certain aspects of God's character and elevate those over other equally legitimate aspects of His character.

I'm sure seminary scholars and others who get to spend all their time thinking about this stuff may feel differently than I do. But I've got my hands full enough just trying to apply the things that I do know and understand; things that are clearly and unambiguously spoken in the plain, simple language of the Bible.

5/12/2006  
Blogger Kathryn said...

wow, how to answer that? don't even know cuz i'm not sure why you ask.

5/12/2006  
Blogger The Cachinnator said...

On a Christian-to-Christian basis, I can agree with the Hammer there. But unfortunately, an unbelieving world hears two messages: one says that they can be forgiven and saved by a grace that covers them no matter what they've done; the other says that there's nothing they can do whatsoever to change their fate in hell. That's not an oversimplification. That's how an unbelieving world hears it.

And who can blame them? To follow Calvinist thought is to render null the Great Commission. What need would the disciples have of authority from heaven if heaven had already decided the fate of the world? How can one make disciples of all nations if disciples are made before time? And the answer is the same garbage every time: that scripture clearly means all elect nations despite the obvious fact that it is absent entirely from the text.

Calvinism, (which is really not the correct term for double predestination, it simply serves as a catch-all for this line of thought), is about as clear an example of eisegesis as you can find. It takes, at best, ambiguous references and creates a doctrine that sends people to hell where God has not. It relies entirely upon logic and eisegesis, neither of which are the bedrocks of faith. It serves as a pacifier for insecurity with a desire for power; it is yet another example of creating a Christian inner-circle that pushes out those not like us.

And what kind of God does it create? One who cruelly dangles hope, since there is no hope in Calvinism. One who intentionally misleads people through scripture, since he does not make this doctrine clear. (Again, unless you're elect, and on the inside where the filth of the damned humans can't touch you.) And one who condemns people to do what he created them to do, and then punishes them eternally for doing what he has forced them to with no opportunity for reprieve.

And the most awfully sad part about saying all this is that some people will dismiss it without a thought because they've been taught that I don't get it because I'm not elect. No matter how urgent the fire in my bones for God. No matter the dedication of my life to his service. Either that or I am saved, and what a lucky schmuck that makes me since I don't even believe I got there the right way. Both perspectives spit on me and my life.

Calvinist election is a salvation for heaven alone - the world here and now be damned. Literally.

Eisegesis. Faulty logic. Insider protectionist snobbery.

Hope no one feels I was holding back.

5/12/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Kathryn, I ask because the reason you give here for not believing in the God described by Cavinists is that you don't like that God. But what if the God that is wasn't the God you liked? What then?

There is much about God I don't like. I'd prefer Him to be less mysterious, clearer spoken, not allowing famine and disease, not standing by while little girls are raped, not ever creating a place called hell or a being named Satan. I'd rather Him not ask me to die for Him. I'd rather Him give as much proof of His existence in my time as He did in Moses' time. I'd rather Him not be the Son of a virgin. I'd rather Him not say there's only one way to be with Him. I'd rather be able to be wealthy and warring and still represent Him well.

Becoming a pacifist was the hardest thing for me to become. I'm mean. if I were big, I often say, I'd be a bully. I like taking vengeance into my own hands. I want to punish my enemies. And when scripture began to paint a clearer and clearer picture for me of a God who wanted something else from me I rebelled and said, "That's not a God I want or that makes sense to me." But I've had to remember my place and love the God that is even when He's not the God I want.

I just wonder if when our God is completely acceptable to us, the God we would create if we could, if He's no a God we've created.


SG

5/12/2006  
Blogger Kathryn said...

I don't even know how to fit my thoughts in a comment box. wow.
i've tried a couple of times and i just can't seem to convey what's in my heart. let me try again. i've read everyone's comments here and i appreciate them. sometimes i have thoughts that come into my head like this: "Where did evil come from? How could it incubate in God's perfection? Why did those 5 'I wills' come out Lucifer's mouth?" It all goes back to that. The very origins of sin. . . I honestly get so, so over my head with that and it feels like i'll drown *of course, who wouldn't feel that way?* When I put aside everything else that's ever happened and go way back to that. . i'm not sure what i think about God and all of us. do you know? So that's a 'question mark' in my heart, but i can live with that mark there and i do. . my heart soars when i read the Bible, or practice listening prayer or listen to music, or spend time just 'being' with God, or when i help others. and there have been way too many answers to prayer and dreams and beautiful ideas and love and compassion for this all to be some illusion or blind faith. Yet I read stuff like this calvinism series and i go back to those dark questions and i feel like I'm not even sure about what I thought I felt most sure about.

5/13/2006  
Blogger Chaotic Hammer said...

Cach - Wow, why don't you tell us what you really think? :-)

You're right, I was definitely addressing Calvinist thought as it relates to doctrine within the church, not as it relates to non-Christians. I guess this is because in my (admittedly limited) experience with the subject, I've only heard this sort of discussion inside the church, and not outside. I guess that I've always figured that to somebody who is not a believer, it's a little useless to talk about the deeper particulars of doctrine, when they are not even convinced of the basics of the Gospel, or even that there's a God at all.

You certainly make a compelling argument about the apparent uselessness of the Great Commission in light of Calvinist thought, but I'm sure they (Calvinists) have an answer for that, too -- right? And that's part of the problem with this whole Calvinist thing in my mind; if you go into the Bible to find supporting evidence of a preconceived doctrine, you can always find things that appear to solidify that position. How about prayerfully approaching the scriptures without preconceived doctrines, and just let the Holy Spirit reveal the truth, and then believing that? (Yes, I know, that's an easy argument to rebut -- as Christians, we go to scripture already believing Jesus is the Son of God, He died for our sins, etc, so it's impossible to go in without preconceived notions about the content...). But at least have a teachable spirit, that genuinely wants to know the heart of God, and seeks to hear what the Bible says, instead of using it to prove you are right about certain suppositions.

Good stuff, Cach.

5/13/2006  
Blogger Chaotic Hammer said...

Kathryn - I don't know exactly how to convey this right, and hope I don't mess it up or come across wrong... but I feel like I understand what you're saying; I get a similar feeling from pursuing some of these matters, and the "unanswerable questions" about God and the nature of evil.

I think everyone has times in their life where someone they really look up to disappoints them; where someone they've idolized and seen as a rock-solid example of all that is good and right, instead proves to be a huge disappointment, and maybe even causes you deep and uncurable pain. It knocks the wind out of you; makes breathing hard; covers your whole world in a dark and inescapable gloom. It can shatter secure worlds and leave you unsure of the most basic things you accept.

But we can always come back to Jesus, even when others have disappointed us; when nothing else in this world makes sense, or feels right, or brings comfort. Jesus, He really is different. The Peace we've experienced, the Goodness we've known is real -- and He tells us that the things we know of Him now are just a small taste, just a vague sense, of what we're really going to experience when we know Him as we are known, and when we behold Him face to face.

So, when somebody devises a doctrine that paints Him a cruel cosmic joker, who plays a strange game where he decides everything in advance, and then in a sick slow-motion exercise makes it all play out, to the torment and suffering of so many... well, that just doesn't seem like the Jesus we know. It doesn't square with our experience.

"But there it is", they tell us, "in black and white, written in the book."

I take Shaun's point to be (I know Shaun can speak for himself, but my understanding of his statement) that ultimately, we are to submit ourselves wholly and completely to the True God, regardless of whether we understand Him, regardless of whether He is as good as we think, or just some giant bully. Ultimately, it is true, and we do accept it: He is the potter, we are the clay; He is the Creator, we are the Creature; He is God and we are but dust, made for His good pleasure.

Personally, I think He is every bit as good as we think He is when we are praising and worshipping Him (I don't mean music, I mean when we are focusing on Him, and experiencing Him tangibly), and every bit as Wonderful as our wildest imaginations can even begin to touch on.

5/13/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

He's good and just as He defines it - not always as we do.

SG

5/13/2006  
Blogger Kathryn said...

yes, yes, to all of what you've all said - thank you for thoughtfully 'speaking'. I can't understand him but I love him more than i love anyone. . yes i trust him, even with questions and with his mysterious ways. This is where relationship for me wins over any 'ism' that humans can concoct.

5/13/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Absolutely.

5/13/2006  
Blogger Matthew Smith said...

So, when somebody devises a doctrine that paints Him a cruel cosmic joker, who plays a strange game where he decides everything in advance, and then in a sick slow-motion exercise makes it all play out, to the torment and suffering of so many... well, that just doesn't seem like the Jesus we know. It doesn't square with our experience.

I've largely avoided this whole Calvinism series because I've found the internet to be the worst place to talk about this stuff, and the discussion here has been more of the same I've seen elsewhere, despite Shaun's even-keeled approach. But I had to respond to this.

Calvinism does not paint God this way. I understand why some would say it does, but the big fact that's been left out in this description is that Jesus really did become a man, live a perfect live in our place, and suffer a horrific death on the cross. God himself suffered. And that changes everything. A perfect being who is in perfect control of the universe chose to suffer, because it's not game.

He does not play games, he is not cruel, he is not sick, though he is, by our standards, a bit strange. He rescues some of his enemies, changes their hearts, and makes them his friends-- even adopts them as sons. And I, for one, am grateful that he does. I would still be his enemy if he did not override my choice to live life by my own terms, in my own strength, by my own foolishness.

Here is a hymn that will be on the new record that I'm working on. It was a written by a Baptist guy about a hundred years ago. I think it sums up well what God's sovereignty in salvation means, and puts it in the context of experience (since we're talking about experience) instead of in easily twisted theological terms.

My Lord, I did not choose You,
For that could never be;
My heart would still refuse You,
Had You not chosen me.

My Lord, I did not choose You,
For that could never be;
My heart would still refuse You,
Had You not chosen me.


You took the sin that stained me,
You cleansed me, made me new;
Of old You have ordained me,
That I should live in You.

My Lord, I did not choose You,
For that could never be;
My heart would still refuse You,
Had You not chosen me.


Unless Your grace had called me
And taught my opening mind,
The world would have enthralled me,
To heav’nly glories blind.

My Lord, I did not choose You,
For that could never be;
My heart would still refuse You,
Had You not chosen me.


My heart knows none above You;
For Your rich grace I thirst;
I know that if I love You,
You must have loved me first.

My Lord, I did not choose You,
For that could never be;
My heart would still refuse You,
Had You not chosen me.

5/15/2006  
Anonymous keith said...

As I’ve wrestled with Hebrews 6 (and 10), I’ve come to focus on the phrase “brought back to repentance.” It does not say “brought back to salvation.” Maybe it just means that there is nothing we can do for the one who has fallen away to change his mind. He’s already been instructed about “the elementary teachings (v.1).” Only the Holy Spirit through his understanding of these teachings can bring him back to repentance. So, he’s still “saved” but just doing things that do not “accompany salvation (v.9).” In the end, his work will be burned (v.8), but he will be saved as though by fire (1 Cor. 3:15).

For those who are railing on Calvinists, I believe there are intelligent students of the Bible who come to a strong view of election through genuine exegesis. It is certainly possible when dealing with difficult passages like Romans 9. Also, Calvinists can still be strong evangelists. John Piper says that his strong view of election gives him greater confidence to share the gospel. Because the salvation of the hearer is God’s burden, he can share with no fear and with the expectancy that some will be saved. It actually motivates him to share, not to sit back.

5/15/2006  
Blogger The Cachinnator said...

Sure, Piper can share with no fear or expectancy - he's elect, he risks nothing. He also then doesn't have to care about how he shares his faith since only those who are meant to hear it will and the rest be damned.

And I don't doubt most Calvinist's sincerity, I just have a problem with a view of salvation that was largely absent from Christian thought for 1500 years. Really, its origins lie more with Luther and Zwingli than with Calvin, but this particular view wasn't articulated throughout the majority of Christian history. (No, Augustine didn't hold the same view, there were serious differences.)

And back to evangelism and missions real quickly, how do we take seriously the Great Commission, or any of the "I am" statements of John with all their 'whosoevers', or Romans 10 (despite what Calvinists do to the rest of the book), if all do not have the opportunity to be saved as it says in scripture? I don't know how many others here have, but I have looked people in the eyes who knew nothing about God and told them that Jesus died for all of us, (again, like it says in scripture), and seen the meaning of that glimmer in their eyes. And what would the fastest way to make sure they never wanted to hear another thing about Christianity? To tell them that there's a chance that they were made to go to hell.

And for some reason, every time I have a discussion about Reformed theology or Calvinism, it always comes down to me just 'not fully understanding it.' It doesn't matter how much I study, how much I read, how much I talk, how much I learn, how many degrees I get, somehow it boils down to me just not being smart enough to appreciate it. And that's garbage.

In the end, it is not abundantly obvious what the definitive meaning of election is in scripture. Why then design a worldview around the position that has God acting out of what we generally understand his character to be? Because no matter how it is spun, I cannot be convinced that sending people to hell is an act of love. The God whose created community was told to include the foreigner and eunuch is marked by a slightly different brand of love.

But I know that to the Calvinists, I just don't get it. Sorry, I'll try harder.

5/15/2006  
Blogger Matthew Smith said...

Cach...I'm afraid there is a bigger problem here than Calvinism. You don't like that God made hell, and made people he knew would reject him and end up there. I don't like it either. But it's a problem that's there whether you believe in "Calvinism" or not. Your post is seething with anger and a sharp bitterness, and deep down, like my own anger, it's probably not towards Calvinists or any other human.

5/16/2006  
Anonymous Stephen said...

If you want an illustration from pop culture on why Calvinists do not think election negates the Great Commision, did anyone see Lost last week?

5/16/2006  
Blogger Chaotic Hammer said...

Matthew - I apologize sincerely for what I think is a big misunderstanding of my stated position on what Calvinists believe. Separated from the rest of my comments and statements, hanging out there all by itself as quoted by you, it sure does sound bad. I think you are right, that this is the danger of taking something as involved as this discussion, and trying to discuss it on the internet. And on top of that, I was trying to keep my comments brief but relevant for the space provided in blog comments.

I was addressing a specific person with a specific concern relating to what happens to the hearts of many believers when they hear a discussion like this, and only hear a few key concepts related, without understanding all the theological arguments that are involved. I was deliberately using an exaggeration to make a point. Hearts can be wounded, and genuine believers can be discouraged in their walk with the Lord. We must decide that we will follow Him regardless of whether we understand everything about Him, and even if we disagree with how He chooses to do things. That was the point of my comments taken in their entirety, even though a review of my own words makes me wish I had chosen different words, because they failed to accurately express my thoughts. Again, for that I apologize.

Shaun addressed this a few weeks ago, when one of his entries was so misunderstood that he actually removed it from the web site. Words are so easily misunderstood in this environment -- intention, tone and context can be difficult to discern. And then there's just plain using the wrong words to express something altogether, but not being able to take them back.

For the record, my original comments on this thread present a more accurate overview of how I view Calvinism than that quote you used. Yes, it is a very complicated issue -- good, God-fearing men on both sides have found themselves at odds over this for several centuries. I've been fortunate enough (assuming that it is fortunate) to listen to extensive debates of the issue, by highly respected scholars from both sides -- or more accurately from different sides, as I see it as much more than a two-sided issue. None of them were able to fully convince me, or to persuade me to their position. I've read all the the scriptures that are often used in this debate, in their proper context (that's an important point), and I believe I am genuinely open-hearted to hearing the Lord's heart in it.

In my life personally, I'm not aware of any practical ramifications to my relationship with the Lord, regardless of whether Calvinism is accurate or not. I still intend to try and convince unbelievers of the truth about Jesus (and trust Him to work on their hearts by the Holy Spirit). I still intend to devote myself to edifying the Body, and engaging in whatever activities the Holy Spirit directs me to as far as service to others, and living out the love He has put in my heart. I deeply desire greater intimacy with the Lord, and am actively seeking that.

Ultimately though, I hope you'll accept my honest and heartfelt declaration (as I alluded to in my original comments) that you are my brother in the Lord, sincerely loved, and not seen in any way, shape, or form as "being on the other team" because we differ slightly in our views on certain doctrines. I think that's important. There are way more reasons to work together and find unity, than there are reasons to magnify divisions.

And FWIW, I like those lyrics you shared, and see no problem with them "doctrinally". :-)

5/16/2006  
Blogger The Cachinnator said...

Matthew, please don't interpret my comments here as being directed towards you or any person in particular. I believe heaven is big enough for a lot of doctrinal difference, and try though I may to get things right, I know I'll get to heaven and find out how wrong I was about so many things. I think we're all in for that.

But yes, I absolutely am angry over this. But my anger is not over the existence of hell; which is self-inflicted separation from God. I don't believe in the big fire cave with dancing devils and constant whipping. I believe we make the decisions that either lead us to grace or hell. Grace is extended to all; hell is possible for all. I'm clearly not a universalist either - I wish I could be one, but I can't. So my anger is not over hell's existence.

My anger is over so many people who are completely closed to Christ in their life because they have been preached at by people who told them they were going to hell and there was nothing to be done about it. So many young people who learn half of Reformed theolgy's claims and go about tossing off words like 'elect' and 'damnation' as if they have a clue what they're talking about. And they leave in their wake an army of scarred people who God loves and with whom he desires a relationship, but who will never again even desire to connect with the God of these 'Christians.' And so they create this self-fulfilling prophesy.

It may be just a doctrinal disagreement to some, but I am angry because I see it as taking active steps to lead people away from Christ. And that's serious enough to anger me.

5/16/2006  
Blogger Matthew Smith said...

Cach, I'm sorry you've seen that kind of abuse-- sounds terrible. I have never witnessed that myself. I definitely believe hell is self-inflicted separation from God.

5/17/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

This discussion seems to have devolved from what I had hoped it would be. Which is fine. The control freak in me wants to steer the conversations here but I also know I'm usually wrong about what we should be thinking and doing here.

My hope throughout this series was that smart kind Calvinists like Matthew would pitch in on every post and help me understand this brand of theology that I agree with in part. I have so many questions I can't answer concerning how God works and I haven't found a theology that answers them all. I chose to blog about Calvinism and not Arminianism or Open Theology or some other brand just because I have so many questions from college students about Calvinism and not the others. Seems to me that most Christians I know well don't think about the issues raised in these theologies at all and if they decide to the one they run into first is Calvinism. The others exist in music and books and sermons but don't go by their labels and so aren't noticed when they're encountered. Calvinism wears its label proudly.

I hoped to understand it better - and I do - but not as well as I'd like to. So I'm off to read - a much less interesting way to learn for me. I'd rather discuss.

The thing I admire about Calvinists in general is their willingness to love God, to accept God, to champion God, no matter how sane He seems to them. They realize that God's justice is different from out own. True justice would be every person going to hell or, even more just, no humans being made after Adam and Eve. That any of us have life at all, even for seventy years, in a world full of beauty and kisses and ice cream and warm car seats, is grace. That God would save any of us from hell and make us His bride forever is insane. But that's what HHe does. And I think God's justice - justice like this - is bizarre but awe inspiring and humbling. It's not the God I want Him to be, but Calvinists remind me that I have to worship the God that is even if He's like they say He is.

And let's suppose He isn't. Let's suppose Calvinists are wrong. The question still remains: If they WERE RIGHT could I worship their God?

I think they're right about God's justice. I think He can be just and choose some to go to hell. Not just like me but just none the less. Isn't it God who gets to define words like "just"? Does it have a definition apart from Him?

I like this challenge from Calvinists. They have faith.

Now whether that faith is only available to some or all I don't know. The basic question I have when thinking through Calvinism - and I've gone deep than these posts allowed me to show - is this: If God draws all men to Himself how can it be said that He only chooses some? Not to be flippant, but that conjures up images of God being a tease doesn't it?

If He is a tease, a flirt that never intends to marry some of those He draws, can I still worship Him? Absolutely. I just hope He's not.

And no one has been able to explain to me, in books or the web or here, how to answer this question.

5/18/2006  
Blogger The Cachinnator said...

And the answers I've heard to that questions have led to such cold and abusive statements from people who only had half of an idea what beliefs they were espousing that friends of mine for whom I have spent years trying to live as a witness still want nothing to do with Christ. That I've come to my own theological differences is actually secondary to the visceral reaction I have on behalf of my friends when I hear it suggested that God creates people for damnation, teases them to himself as Shaun said, and then slams the door on them.

5/19/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

But Cach, to play devil's advocate for a minute, surely you believe in certain truths than a non-Christian would find offensive and certainly some things that are true - these or others - have been communicated "abusively" to you or those you know. Yet you don't ALWAYS decide something is untrue because it's been communicated poorly or hurt someone's sensibilities.

The way you're wording things here leaves me with the perception - and I know this isn't true - that you've decided Calvinism is not true simply because it has been communicated abusively in your circles and/or it offends you and yours - it feels "cold." You don't strike me as someone though who would accept or reject ideas based on such whiny criteria. Why have you REALLY rejected Calvinism as true?

I've said it before but maybe not this bluntly: God is who He is, and true is true, whether you like it/Him or not. We don't get to decide what true or God is based on our feelings. Certainly our feelings are helpful in discovering who God is but it's likely that God isn't always someone who sits well with our feelings. And the truth isn't something that is always communicated well either.

Cach, sorry if I've misunderstood your points here. Wanna try to explain again...this time useing small words even I can grasp.

5/20/2006  
Blogger The Cachinnator said...

Sure thing, Shaun, and thank you for having enough patience to give me that opportunity. In my determination not to set records for 'longest blog comment posting' I probably try to pack too much into too small of a statement.

In my last comment, I snuck a little statement in that I should have said in more detail a looooong time ago. I came to my own theological differences with Calvinism through study, prayer, interaction, and life among other things. This is not to confess Arminianism, merely to say that I think 5-point Calvinism is theologically flawed. I'm not a free will nut, in the classical Lutheran understanding of the term. I don't believe salvation is ours to choose because we can; rather I believe scripture says that it is ours to choose because God extends it to us. So I'm not a novice at the subject, nor am I given to hyperbole on either end of the supposed Calvin-Arminius spectrum. For the record, I think the argument is quite like American politics: it's a forced spectrum that need not be followed. I don't reject it because of the abuse I've seen nor because of how it makes me feel. Feelings change and thus make bad theological barometers.

I think 'sola gracia; sola scriptura' is a bit narrow and has become a slogan, which means that deeper understandings of its content long ago ceased. Sola scriptura has become a platform for mavericks to disconnect them from the body of Christ and tradition. Sola gracia led to the belief that we have no role in our salvation. I believe we do. This is not to say that we are responsible for our salvation or that we cause it, but we do play a part. If we could neither accept nor reject salvation why the need for the sermon on the mount? Why offend our sensibilities? Why ask us to change our lives if we have no ability to do so? Why Matthew 11:28-30? Are only the elect weary? Why Isaiah 56? Why include the excluded? Why John 7:37-39? Why require us to come and then tell us we don't have any part in it?

This leads in to the question you were asking. My answer to your question is that God would not draw all men to himself only to allow some to accept him. This is not only a scriptural question, it's a human question. There's no doubt that God draws all men to himself in scripture. John 7:37-39, Isaiah 55, 2 Peter 3:9, etc. There is also no doubt that humans of all nations, creeds, races, and times have felt a pull towards God. They've written about it everywhere: the Greeks, the Egyptians, the Romans, the Chinese, the Indians, etc., etc... We have all felt that tug. We have not all responded the same way, but the variety of responses only affirms my belief that it is our responsibility to react to that tug.

And you're absolutely right about God being who he is. It makes no difference whether or not I like him. If I need to prove the point, I hate the nationalistic jingoism of Ezra-Nehemiah that caused the decree to put away all foreign wives and children, I don't get the hardening of Pharaoh's heart, I am horribly uncomfortable with Jesus' interaction with the Syro-Phonecian woman, and I wish he had come up with a better system than 'give them the law that I know they'll break only to fix it with Jesus later.' There is much that I don't like. And that's not what this is about, obviously.

So while my initial reaction against Calvinism is truly theological, that doesn't explain the level of my reaction in this post. Very fair observation. The anger in my reaction stems from your impetus to write the post: many young people are asking questions about Calvinism. But it goes on from there and that's what I don't like. Young people are getting half the information about Calvinism from people who don't fully understand it themselves. Then they go off preaching it in the form of, "Some people were made for heaven and some for hell. If you're not one of the elect, then there's nothing that can be done." When this falls on the ears of someone who is not a Christian, it only sounds like one thing: "They say I'm going to hell."

If someone can study Calvinism and come to an honest theological conclusion that it is God's way of ordering the world, then good for them. I don't need to agree with them. I know in the end I will have been wrong about a great many things, so having a real theological difference with another believer really doesn't trouble me. (Of course, I looooooove to be right and hope that I am more often than I am not...) But for someone searching for what they believe, Calvinism in my life has proven to be a dangerous fad. It's not like getting on a fad diet where you'll become a fanatic, fizzle out, and get back to normal later. I have seen young people in the fanatic phase do real harm to people in my life.

It is hard enough to be the only Christian, virgin, straight male in a Broadway show. That problem is compounded when the people to whom I am trying to be a living witness have been told they are going to hell by a young zealot with half of an education.

I suppose I commented the way I did above because I didn't feel enough reaction against Calvinism in the series of comments. It was either defense of Calvinism or wishy-washy discomfort with no real backing. Perhaps that's not the best motivation, but if one way or the other a strong criticism makes a person examine their beliefs very closely, I think we're all served in the end; either it will be better educated Calvinists or those who reject it outright. I'm okay with both. I never meant to make anyone mad or hurt anyone's feelings with what I said, but that's part of the problem with being young and dumb, isn't it? We hit that 'login and publish' button a lot faster than the older and wiser.

5/21/2006  

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