Am I Still a Calvinist?
James White had a thoughtful post on the 12th about the theological issues faced in deciding whether or not one is Roman Catholic. Reading that post, and listening to his extended edition of the Dividing Line here has made me re-re-evalutate my stance on the Reformed position.
Although I’ve been coming away from the Reformed position, it has been nagging at me somewhat. What about the problem of evil? How is it to be answered in light of Arminianism? The only answer that Arminians have is that evil exists becauase of free will. That means three things.
First, evil is senseless. If evil exists because we define it and carry it out, then this is simply senseless.
Second, evil is out of God’s hands. Because evil is there due to the free will of man, and God either can’t or won’t stop it, it means that God has, in some sense or another, washed his hands of evil completely.
Third, evil is pointless. As the happenstance of existentialism, if we are caught in something evil it is because of that reason and not for any other.
Now consider Chapter 3, paragraph 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith:
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
From this, evil is not senseless or pointless, and it is not out of God’s hands. It exists alongside good for the purpose of glorifying God by God’s eternal decree. But notice the final thoughts of this paragraph: “neiter is God the author of sin . . . nor is the liberty or contigency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” Evil still exists by our free will, but our free will is subject to God and therefore he is still in control without being the author of sin. But sin is still included in his plan. And, guess what? We are still responsible for choosing that evil over good.
By Arminianism, sin cannot be included in God’s plan and is therefore out of God’s control. Well, not the God that I worship. Like the shirt says: CALVINISM: When a finite God won’t do.
I’m convinced that the truth of the matter lies somewhere in-between Calvinism and Arminianism. But for now, I’m afraid that I must remain on the side where God is in control of what happens on earth. I choose Calvinism.
This is likely to disappoint a great number of people who frequent this blog, like the commenter who goes by “rey” but is in reality “Beowulf2k8” from other Calvinist blogs and has his own rarely updated blog. My friend Caleb, who thought that I put the Westminster Confession above Scripture (and who might be mad at me for linking to him). I know this will disappoint the pastor of my church, since he, too, has a certain distaste for Calvinism (he spent an entire series in Sunday school–three weeks–preaching against predestination).
On the other hand, this will probably make other readers happy. Craig French, TurretinFan, and James White (if he reads this blog). Most readers probably won’t care too much. Hopefully this will solidify my apologetics, which have been faltering as of recently. Owing in no small part to my brief departure from sound theology, most likely.
To those I disappoint, sorry, but I’ve made up my mind. James White is right: Theology Matters. So, in answer to the question posed by the title, YES, I am still a Calvinist.
Posted on April 17, 2009, in Theology and tagged Calvinism. Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.
I don’t find the reformed answer to the problem of evil meaningful. To the contrary, one major flaw of calvinism is found in its theodicy. Calvinism embraces what they refer to as the greater good defense. That means, sin is used by the sovereign God in order to realize a good purpose, to reach a greater goal in the end. Yet this is clearly in contradiction to God’s omnipotence. Wouldn’t an almighty God realize His desired purpose in a direct, straight way rather than be dependent on the means of evil to accomplish this goal? The greater good defense presents God as an investor who makes and investment, going into debt first, planning that after a time of amortization he earns a much greater profit, a return on investment he wouldn’t have been able to realize without going into debt in the beginning. Thus, according to reformed theodicy the almighty Lord would need to borrow from evil to fulfil his desires. He would need sins as a means to accomplish his purpose. But is the only true God comparable to an investor that needs unsavory means to achieve a higher return on investment in the future? This is clearly a denial of His omnipotence.
But what about the notion, that not only the end but also the way itself is desired by God? In other words, the very way through sin and evil itself might be a part of the entire good, that is served. What if the means (sin) is in itself part and parcel of the entire greater good? Well, in this case, God would be evil himself and the author thereof. If evil is actually good, then we’ve turned God’s holiness and hatred of evil on the head. Thus, the idea that the “way through evil” is good and desired by God, means nothing else than that God is evil.
So the greater good argument must either deny God’s omnipotence or his goodness. Both options are untenable. Therefore, the reformed theodicy is fallacious and even falls short of a mere defense of the God of the bible.
A.H. asked: “Wouldn’t an almighty God realize His desired purpose in a direct, straight way rather than be dependent on the means of evil to accomplish this goal?”
And without this link, the whole chain of attempted response to Calvinism fails.
The greater good defense holds that evil serves an unknown but good purpose. This actually fails to answer the question and simply shifts it into the realm of mystery. Thus, the reformed theodicy provides no answer at all. To the contrary, God’s attributes are blatantly disregarded. There are of course testimonies of God bringing about good out of situations caused by wicked men. Yet He does so in spite of evil, not because He needs to utilize it. The reformed theodicy must hold that either God’s usage of evil is intrinsically good, or that God is dependent on man’s wicked assistance. The third option would be to acknowledge that reformed theodicy shifts the answer to the unknowable and hence, provides no defense at all.
By the way, there is biblical evidence that a bad tree is never going to bring any good fruit. Nor does a bad tree support the good fruit production of other trees.
“There are of course testimonies of God bringing about good out of situations caused by wicked men. Yet He does so in spite of evil, not because He needs to utilize it.”
Ah – your mistake is in thinking that Calvinism teaches that God “needs” to utilize evil. No wonder your criticism is so far off the mark!
Wow, this was a swift response 🙂
I’m well aware that Calvinism doesn’t hold that God needs to use evil. Here is actually the problem about the calvinistic response to the problem of evil: there is really no response given at all.
However, there are two valid options. In order to reach a desired goal, God either needs to use evil, or the usage of evil is in itself part of the good and intended purpose. The first option thwarts God’s power, the second His goodness. It’s that simple.
Now you claim: “I’m well aware that Calvinism doesn’t hold that God needs to use evil.”
Previously you claimed: “There are of course testimonies of God bringing about good out of situations caused by wicked men. Yet He does so in spite of evil, not because He needs to utilize it.”
Sounds a bit like a shifting position. But let’s leave that aside.
You now also claim: “Here is actually the problem about the calvinistic response to the problem of evil: there is really no response given at all.”
But, actually, your whole series of comments here are responsive to an answer: “evil has a purpose in God’s plan.” Which we could expand to say that God is glorified both by showing mercy on whom He will show mercy and hardening whom He will. That is to say, evil is not a problem: it’s part of the plan.
“evil has a purpose in God’s plan.”
Well, the “greater good view” demands this notion. Not all theodicies hold that there’s a divine purpose in evil. For instance, Plantinga’s free will defense (which I don’t advovate!) doesn’t have this ramification.
But the idea that evil has a divine purpose is biblically untenable.
Of course, the logical problem of evil only exists if one assumes the co-existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good God on the one hand and evil an the other hand. Dismissing one of these points, the problem of evil doesn’t exist.
If you say
evil is not a problem: it’s part of the plan
you are actually dismissing the existence of evil – it is defined away. Yet denying evil’s being a real problem is biblically absolutely untenable as well.
Finally, the “greater good defense” must dismiss either God’s power, His goodnes or -also an option- the reality of evil. None of these ramifications is compatible with the christian worldview.
“Yet denying evil’s being a real problem is biblically absolutely untenable as well.”
That’s interesting. You think the Bible actually suggests that evil is a problem in the sense of being an obstacle to belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good God?
No. Evil is not a problem against faith in the biblical God and the bible doesn’t suggest this, but the subject of this post is the co-existence of God and sin and the greater good defense fails to explain this relationship, for the reasons I have presented. Hence the reformed theodicy is untenable.
Surely the bible teaches the reality of sin and evil and its seriousness. Evil is neither an illusion nor an exercise but clearly a real problem. Dismissing the real sinfulness of sin and the evilness of evil, is dismissing sin and evil. And the reforemed greater good defense just doesn’t explain the problem of evil: The co-existence of the biblical God and evil. Not the bible is problematic, the greater good defense is!
Nah I’m not mad. Your choices are between you and God. I love you regardless. Remember we must work out our own salvation… and while I do agree (thanks to you actually) that theology is fairly important, too much of it becomes vanity in my opinion. Sadly a lot of these theological discussions try to determine things that the bible doesn’t directly state, and therefore we may be in danger of blasphemy – that is attributing characteristics to God that we aren’t always sure of.
You and I have had many discussions about theology over the phone… from when I was hardcore fundamental to my more recent liberal musings about the nature of God. Every time I try to take a stance and solidify a certain theological foundation, I find that I cannot. So I’m back to square one again. The bible is just about all we have that reveals the nature of God… aside from a handful of other writings that aren’t included in its canonized form… which may or may not be authentic. Is the bible infallible? Well… I’d be lying if I didn’t have my questions. But honestly I’ve found that when I just take it at face value and treat it as infallible and apply it to my life accordingly, it brings instant blessings. To me, much of theology tries to clarify the parts that are not clear. And if the bible is infallible, which I think Calvinists say it is, then theology is “adding” or “taking away” from God’s word… is this not playing with fire?
And as far as evil is concerned, it seems pretty simple to me. The potential for evil is always there. Is not evil and sin the same thing? Evil is anything against the goodness of God really. Just as sin is rebellion against God. Sin and evil would not exist if we hadn’t chosen our independence from God. Did God outright “create” it? I don’t think so. Perhaps indirectly by giving us free will. When humans choose to sin, we manifest evil. Remember when God created everything He saw that it was GOOD. However, since we do sin and cause evil things to happen, and since GOD IS IN CONTROL, He uses our evil doings to ultimately glorify Himself. You know the old phrase… when life gives you lemons make lemonade? I liken it to that.
Haven’t y’all noticed that during times of tribulation and evil, that man seeks God harder?
Love you bro. 🙂
Good to see you’re back inside the camp 😉
There isn’t an “in between” stance when it comes to God’s sovereignty. Either one believes God is God, or one believes man is god.
I’ll stick with God…anything in between falls short of Him.
Christ has not brought us any of these denominational “labels” we are so eager to adopt and crown ourselves with. We are merely of and in Him for…There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:28.
Its time for the “Church” to leave the external labels and identifying factions behind and move into the unity of the brethren. This is the only way the world is gonna know…when we are one in the spirit.
There is always another level, a deeper place in Christ, let us leave all to truly follow Him and Him alone.
Amen brother. Exactly what I was thinking really. But you managed to condense it nicely 🙂
You said “The bible is just about all we have that reveals the nature of God”. Listen my dear brother.
After a quarter century of intense God chasing (I am nothing, He is all) I discovered the following, unorthodox truth: It’s not so much about the external print (bible), but rather the internal blue…print, His nature within us.
This is not to belittle or demean the importance of scripture, its just that we, His spiritual offspring are to be the very expression of the nature of God in the earth today. Or as Paul says in Gal 4:19…until Christ be formed in you.
Consider the following verses (from a non-religious perspective), Christ IN you is the mystery of the ages (Col 1:27), The Kingdom of Heaven is WITHIN you (luke 17:21) and As he is in the world so are we (1 Jn 4:17).
There is only one life in the entire universe, Jesus being the way, the truth and THE Life and now our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3).
He desires to express His (uncreated, zoe) kind of life through us, His spirit being joined to our’s (1 Cor 6:17).
The bible, the text itself is external, but He is within, He dwells within those that are indwelt, regenerated and takes us residence in us, even as us (Gal 2:20). Because of this we bring the kingdom with us wherever we go.
There is the nature of God seen, in His spiritual children.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.
God is a God of distinctions. That’s how we have light and not darkness.
BTW, no one here has even mentioned a denomination.
Consider this article on doctrinal divisions.
To assume somehow God is glorified by our disunity, our diversity (doctrinally speaking) is in direct contrast to Christ’s words in John 17. Division is found only in the flesh, not the spirit. A house (that’s us) divided against itself can not stand. In the spirit there is no duality, no division only…One and Oneness with God in Christ. We will not walk in unity until we are walking (fully) in the spirit thus…”as many as are led by the spirit these are the (true) sons of God” Romans 8:14. In the spirit there is no squabbling about doctrine for the Light outshines (overtakes) all darkness and division. John 1:5.
His love, His light.
What is the Christian life at its core? It’s a walk in the spirit, in fellowship with the Father and the Son (this is eternal life that you KNOW the Father and the Son).
Let us go on to…perfection. How you say? The perfect One lives in us (Col 1:27) and when there is no more of us, when we have become so small and He is all that is left….
We never really become like Jesus, but rather as we empty ourselves, of ourselves, He becomes Himself in us. Until Christ be formed IN you.
I’ve been trying to sort this Arminianism/Calvinism thing out for a while myself. While it’s true that Arminianism does not give answers to all of the questions, here are some of my problems with Calvinism.
1. If Calvinism is true, what is there for anyone to do besides wait around to die? There doesn’t seem to be much point to evangelism or apologetics. If someone believes, its because they are elect. If someone does not believe, then they are not elect.
2. How do we preach the good news when it may not apply to the people that we are preaching to? And what is the point? We may not know who is elect, even some of the elect may not know that they are elect, but God knows – and if He elected to save them before the dawn of time, what difference does knowing the gospel make? As for the non-elect, well, there isn’t much good in the good news, is there? And since all of the elect were chosen according to God’s unknowable will, and not because of faith, it seems that preaching the good news to the non-elect borders on the sadistic; in essence taunting them with fact that they are not elect and can do nothing about it.
3. What of the struggling believer? The person who desires to follow Christ but has a weak faith. Are they not true believers? Are they not elect? If they are not, why should they bother?
1) You’re confusing Calvinism with fatalism. Calvinism is not fatalistic. God doesn’t act in spite of what we do, but because of what we do. God told King David that he gave the enemies over into their hands (1 Sam 26:8). David didn’t just sit on his rear end and say, “Okay, God did all the work for me. Pass me another beer!” No! He got out there and fought the enemy same as if he didn’t know the outcome of the battle.
2) Craig will probably differ with me on this point, but here it goes: Though we are chosen, we still must come to God of our own free will. To coin a phrase, we are “chosen but free.” Your objection ignores that point. Your objection also ignores the responsibility of all humans to repent before God of their sins, regardless of their status (elect or non-elect). You are skating dangerously close to hyper-Calvinism on this point.
3) We must trust God’s plan and know that he will work it out in the end. This ministry exists in part to help struggling believers maintain their faith in the face of objections, so God has a purpose for the struggling believers or he wouldn’t have raised a ministry like this up in the first place.
Satan is well pleased by your free-will decision to blame your sins on God and go about bashing REAL Christians and trying to turn them into atheists by twisting their brains into believing that free-will doesn’t exist and that God controls their sins and the good, that God is a freak who only saves people who won a lottery and all that. To Satan be all the glory is your true position, and may God never relent in burning you hotter and hotter for all eternity. Amen.
I didn’t think that the real Christians were supposed to take pleasure in God burning sinners for eternity. If that post is an example of “real Christianity,” then give me Calvinism any day!
Of course not, real Christians would never be happy that God would punish those who are putridly evil and encite men to more evil. No, real Christians would obviously be opposed to that. Instead, real Christians would love for God to condemn innocent babies for another man’s sin and send people to hell just for losing a lottery they didn’t even know someone else had bought them a ticket for! Obviously punishing those who don’t deserve punishment is what real Christians exult in while punishing those who deserve more pain than what hell can even provide is clearly dispicable to real Christians. (SACRASM ALERT)
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