Is Calvinism Biblical? Two Christians in Conversation (Part Two)
Thank you once again for the thought out answers. I am appreciating the discussion as well and am looking forward to more!
Based on the answers below, I have one area that needs clarification.
-Since, it appears you fully accept the Doctrines of Grace, what is the difference of being a Compatibilist vs. a Hyper-Calvinist?
-How does it help make scripture not contradict?
Ha! Fun question! While I don’t suppose that anyone wants to be labeled “hyper”, here is how I understand and differ from a Hyper-Calvinist:
1. Hyper-Calvinists do not believe in proclaiming the gospel to all people (i.e. the gospel is not for everyone);
2. Hyper-Calvinists tend to overly minimize human responsibility;
3. Hyper-Calvinists tend to minimize the love of God (i.e. by restricting God’s love only to the elect);
4. Hyper-Calvinists tend to maximize the logic of their system over Scripture.
The term “compatibilsm” is term that is shared by both theology and philosophy. Sometimes it is called “soft-determinism.” Like many doctrines, there is something of a spectrum within Calvinism. For instance, I don’t tend to lean in the direction of double-predestination (the idea that God elects some to reprobation), but some do. As a Compatibilist I would say that God actively chooses some vessels as “objects of mercy”, but that the “objects of wrath” prepare themselves for it (Romans 9:22-24). There is a debate within Calvinism about this, and so far as I know, most Compatibilists would see it my way. That’s just one example of the spectrum.
I’m not sure if I used the term “contradict” (though I might have), but both Arminians and Calvinists have passages that are difficult for their position. Arminians tend to have trouble explaining Acts 13:48 within their system and Calvinists tend to have trouble with explaining 1 Tim. 2:4 in theirs. I just find it easier to square the Bible’s teachings about God’s total sovereignty and human-responsibility with my view. I hope this helps.
Thank you again for doing this with me! Here are some more questions!
-If the unchosen cannot respond to the good news, of what value does the gospel hold from their perspective?
-What is an unelect person’s moral responsibility? Can they ever achieve it? If they cannot achieve it, how can God expect or require them to achieve it? Does God have a plan for them to achieve it?
-If we love God because He first loved us, and nothing can separate us from that love, where are the unchosen in relation to God’s love?
-Do you feel Hyper-Calvinism is logical? Where does it violate Scripture?
-How do you interpret the order of salvation/faith in Acts 16:31, so that it does not contradict your interpretation of the order in Acts 13:48?
-Does it really matter how we view God or understand His character if we just believe in Him and Jesus? If you assert that He is mysterious or unknowable, how can we be like Him or reflect His character?
Hi, Ken! Once again, great questions! Give me a few days to turn this around. I’ve got to wrap up a project. Thanks!
Sent from my iPhone
Take your time! I am always excited to see the replies, even when they are just telling me to wait a little longer!
Thanks for your patience and your interest in the conversation. I’ll embed my responses…
If the unchosen cannot respond to the good news, of what value does the gospel hold from their perspective?
For me the key words in your question are “cannot” and “value” (i.e. determine a thing’s worth). The unchosen (I would use the word reprobate) “cannot” because they “will not.” The unregenerate heart loves darkness, so it will not “value” the gospel for the treasure that it is. Paul says that the “man without the Spirit cannot accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14). The message of Christ crucified is valued as “foolishness” or it’s a scandalous thing. Without the Spirit, a man cannot make a right appraisal (i.e value) of the things of the Spirit. At best, the reprobate will value the gospel as a moral code to live by and Jesus will be an example of good person to imitate. At worst, the idea of a crucified King will offend them. In Hebrews we read about people that “taste the goodness of God”, but then fall away. I take it that people and families and communities can be blessed by the Gospel, though they remain unregenerate. For example, a person and a culture can benefit by applying Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness without truly receiving the forgiveness of Christ.
What is an unelect person’s moral responsibility? Can they ever achieve it? If they cannot achieve it, how can God expect or require them to achieve it? Does God have a plan for them to achieve it?
Calvinists will answer this question differently. Some, like J.I. Packer, will say that God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are an “antinomy” (i.e. something that looks like a contradiction from our vantage point, but really isn’t). Others, like John Piper, following Jonathan Edwards, would want to argue that, while it might be difficult, it can be explained. Edwards was steeped in Scripture but also had a deep philosophical mind. Here’s how he made sense of the so-called “antinomy”:
- The thing that determines what the will chooses is not the will itself, but the strongest motive (i.e. whatever the greatest good looks like)
- We are enslaved to do what we want most (Edwards calls this “moral necessity”);
“Moral necessity” is contrasted with “natural necessity” (things which we are forced to do); “Moral inability” means that we are unable to act contrary to what we most want to do, but this is not the same thing as “natural inability”.
So, for example, I cannot imagine God holding a person morally responsible to stand up if they are physically tied to a chair. Since they were tied down, they would not be morally responsible if He commanded them to “stand up” (I don’t believe God is like that anyway). This is the difference between natural necessity and moral necessity. But suppose that a person sat down in a chair with no ropes or handcuffs and God commanded them to “stand up”, but they refused. This demonstrates both moral necessity (a person does what they most want to do) and moral inability (they are unable to act act contrary to what they most want to do). They have made a real choice in accordance with their strongest motive (not wanting to obey God) and God will hold them morally responsible for their decision to disobey. Remember, no one is forced to sin or prevented from obeying God because they lack opportunity, etc.
So, back to my illustration about liver. Suppose that God commanded us to eat liver because He knows what’s best for us. There is no “natural necessity” thet prevents me from obeying God’s good command: I have the opportunity to eat it, teeth and a digestive system, but because I loathe the taste (my strongest motive), I will never choose it. This is moral inability and God will judge me for rebelling against His good command. I know, its a silly illustration, but hopefully it makes the point. We are free to choose what we most desire, but apart from God, we love darkness. In this silly illustration, I would be morally responsible to eat the liver.
Can they ever achieve it? Does God have a plan? Apart from God, no human will ever choose Him. As Paul says in Romans, “…the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7). All of us deserve hell. No one is righteous. No one seeks for God. All have turned away (more from Romans). God’s plan, then, is that some will overcome their “moral inability” through regeneration. God will give them a new motive by way of the new birth that will lead them to choose Jesus and the Gospel. In this way, He will display Himself as merciful, but He will pass others over, in sorrow deciding not to save them, but handing them over to their own sinful desires, so to display His justice (I’m borrowing some of this language from Wayne Grudem).
I can see why a lot of us Calvinists lean in the direction of Packer, because terms like “moral necessity” and “natural necessity” make our brains hurt and our eyes glaze over. I explained it to the best of my understanding and ability. Interestingly, the one passage where God could have explained the so-called “antinomy” is in Romans 9:19-20, but He does not answer the question in a way that we might like.
If we love God because He first loved us, and nothing can separate us from that love, where are the unchosen in relation to God’s love?
D. A Carson wrote a helpful, little book called The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. Carson talks about the many ways that the Bible speaks about God’s love: 1) God’s intra-Trinitarian love, 2) God’s love displayed through His providential care, 3) God’s yearning warning and invitation to all human beings…4) God’s special love toward the elect; etc. The extent of God’s love is wide, but He loves with different intents. God displays His love towards all through providence and His yearning for people to repent, but His love for His elect is of a different kind. As a parent, I can kind of come to close to understanding this. Given that the Bible speaks about the love of God in so many different ways, I would want to avoid playing one love of God against another (i.e. absolutizing it over and against the others), but I would also want to avoid collapsing the different loves into each other so that they lose their distinctives.
BTW, I think this is an important question, because if we say that God does not love the reprobate, then how can God call us to love people that He does not? We must maintain that God loves all people (even though there are passages that talk about Him hating the wicked).
Do you feel Hyper-Calvinism is logical? Where does it violate Scripture?
I think that Hyper-Calvinism is more committed to the logic of its system than the full counsel of God’s Word. For instance, a Hyper-Calvinist, over-focusing on passages that say that God hates the wicked, would teach that God only loves the elect. This is clearly a mishandling of Scripture (they have to ignore whole passages that teach us that God loves the world). Or, they might refuse to preach that God loves people in their presentations of the gospel or be slow to do the work of an evangelist. Calvinism at its best is never slow in evangelism (Ex’s: George Whitefield, Spurgeon, and many more). I would urge Hyper-Calvinists to humble themselves before the full counsel of God’s Word and reform their hyper-distinctives.
How do you interpret the order of salvation/faith in Acts 16:31, so that it does not contradict your interpretation of the order in Acts 13:48?
I don’t see any contradiction. In Acts 16:31 the issue is how a Gentile is saved (i.e. by the response of faith). In Acts 13:48 Luke reveals why so many Gentiles believed the message (i.e. they were appointed). There is no contradiction to the Reformed/Calvinist order of salvation in Luke’s summaries about the progress of the Gospel.
I’m going to include a brief overview of the different orders of salvation. You will find both in the Free Church tradition. The unity is in things like “justification by faith alone” and the discussion without division is over things like “calling” and “regeneration” as monergistic instead of synergistic, etc. As for me, I am not convinced that Scripture teaches things like “prevenient grace” and “free-will.” In my opinion, these ideas are philosophical additions smuggled into the Bible to make a theological system work. For instance, my Arminian brothers have to smuggle in a doctrine of prevenient grace to deal with the issue of human inability and deadness towards God in order for their system to work (or deny the depravity of man, but the Biblical evidence is so strong that they don’t want to do that).
Orders of Salvation (I adapted this Sam Storm):
Reformed/Calvinist view: Calling (general and efficacious) Regeneration/New birth (monergistic) Conversion (faith & repentance are a gifted- response) Justification Adoption Sanctification (Jesus keeps us) Glorification.
Arminian/Wesleyan view: Prevenient Grace (general) Calling (general) Conversion (faith & repentance…freedom of the will) Regeneration (synergistic) Justification Adoption Sanctification (Can forfeit salvation) Glorification.
Does it really matter how we view God or understand His character if we just believe in Him and Jesus? If you assert that He is mysterious or unknowable, how can we be like Him or reflect His character?
The Bible and what it teaches us about God is like a shore and an ocean. Children can play by the shore in the shallows, but at some point there is a steep drop off for deep diving. God has made Himself known to us and we should go as deep as possible, but we will never fully “reach the bottom.” As Paul says, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!” (Rom. 11:33). We have a number of days to get to know Him here on earth and then, because of His great mercy, all eternity to get to know Him even better. As a maturing Christian, I hope that I know Him better now than when I first believed. In knowing Him better, I am being made more and more into the image of His Son. That said, there are still some mysteries and the older I get, the more comfortable I am with mystery. In my thinking, God is too big to be fully fathomed, but just because we cannot know Him exhaustively does not mean that we cannot know Him truly. I’m taking the long-view on getting to know my God and Savior.
[To be continued…]