Myths About Calvinism: There Are No Real Choices
By Stephen Altrogge
Click here to see the original post at Stephen's site.
Many Amyraldians or "4-point Calvinists," while espousing a particular election (by the Father) and a particular application (by the Spirit), hold to a universal atonement (by the Son). What's problematic about emphasizing particularity at the stage of application but not at the stage of atonement?The Amyraldian view of the atonement leads to disharmony or dissonance in the triune God: the Father elects some, the Son dies for all, but the Spirit only draws some (those whom the Father elected). The same problem attends semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism. Hypothetical universalists seek to get around the problem by positing "two levels" in the atonement: a universal intent and a particular intent (see, for example, Curt Daniel and Norman Douty). According to this scheme, the Trinity is united at each level of intent. However, this position lacks scriptural support despite attempts based on a certain (and, we believe, superficial) reading of 1 Timothy 4:10.
Hypothetical universalism also leads to a confusion within the will of the Son. How can Christ on the cross, in his one act of propitiation, will both to die for the non-elect and not to die for them? This distorts orthodox Christology. Christ is presented in the Bible as King, Shepherd, Bridegroom, Head, Master, Firstborn, Cosmic Savior, and Last Adam. This is who the incarnate Son is, and therefore when he dies for sinners he cannot fail to be for them who he is. The person and work of Christ cannot be separated. In short, both trinitarianism and union with Christ point toward a definite intent in the atonement, as both ensure its efficacy. (Source: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/12/05/did-jesus-die-to-save-everyone/)I am not an Amyraldian or "4-Pointer," and probably not a "hypothetical universalist," as those terms are usually defined among today's Calvinists. I do not deny that the intent of the atonement was to save a particular people. I do, however, deny that this was the sole intent, and I also deny that the atonement's extent has to be measured by its intent. My theology is Classic/Moderate Calvinism, as opposed to "High Calvinism." Classic/Moderate Calvinism is a prestigious tradition that is often castigated and misrepresented (or perhaps simply misunderstood) by High Calvinists.
The Amyraldian view of the atonement leads to disharmony or dissonance in the triune God: the Father elects some, the Son dies for all, but the Spirit only draws some (those whom the Father elected).This problem is not relevant to Classic/Moderate Calvinists, as I will now demonstrate. In fact, our position exposes a significant inconsistency in the High Calvinist view. This is how they often frame the discussion:
Hypothetical universalists seek to get around the problem by positing "two levels" in the atonement: a universal intent and a particular intent (see, for example, Curt Daniel and Norman Douty).A bigger problem is faced by the High Calvinist, as I have shown above. Additionally, I would suggest that few people understand Calvinism as well as Curt Daniel. My High Calvinist friends would be well advised to listen to him.
According to this scheme, the Trinity is united at each level of intent. However, this position lacks scriptural support despite attempts based on a certain (and, we believe, superficial) reading of 1 Timothy 4:10.Despite this dismissive comment, 1 Timothy 4:10 presents a strong exegetical case for the atonement's unlimited extent and limited intent, if not a dual intent. Furthermore, in the Classic/Moderate approach the Three Persons of the Trinity are certainly united in expressing a general love, a general atonement and a general call toward all humanity, while also working to achieve a specific end for a particular people in each of those activities. Why don't High Calvinists level the same criticism against General Love, Common Grace and the Free Offer of the Gospel (as Hyper Calvinists do)? Again, it is clear that the High Calvinist scheme is inconsistent by overlooking the fact that General Love stands alongside Unconditional Election, and the Free Offer stands alongside the Effectual Call. The next statement demonstrates this oversight well:
Hypothetical universalism also leads to a confusion within the will of the Son. How can Christ on the cross, in his one act of propitiation, will both to die for the non-elect and not to die for them? This distorts orthodox Christology.This is quite a stretch, and, I might add, a little bit uncharitable. The phrase, "died for," is far too ambiguous to become the basis for judging a person's Christology as "distorted" or less than orthodox. Why can't Christ "die for" all of humanity in one sense, and "die for" a particular people in another sense? Furthermore, is the Father's will confused when He elects some but extends love and grace to all? Is the Holy Spirit's will confused when He tells us to proclaim Good News to everyone but inwardly draws only His chosen ones?
What we can know for certain and by faith is this: God has a purpose for both of them. Both are created in God's image and are loved by Him. Both are enemies of God. Both, in their current state, would gladly choose an eternity in hell over intimate fellowship with their Creator. Both are sinners who need saving grace. God would be pleased greatly by the salvation of both, and He will also be pleased to display His justice if they remain His enemies and perish. If they repent, they will be saved. From the standpoint of generalities--from our human standpoint--both unbelievers are identical. In our eyes, both are potentially elect. But from God's standpoint--in His own omniscient knowledge of the particulars--they are very different. One is elect and will be brought to faith, and the other is destined for damnation. Even if we knew for certain that one of them was elect, we wouldn't have any way of knowing with any certitude which one it is. So unconditional election is a solid and certain truth, but it is equally a mystery.
So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills. (Romans 9:18)
|High Tension Wires:|
|What happens when you remove|
the tension from one side?
1. Amend the Constitution to create five new political parties and require a minimum of five fully viable parties at all times. (The most liberal of these parties should be the "Blue Dogs").
2. Require all political candidates to have proven leadership experience in a role that brings direct benefit to society, having demonstrated a firm commitment to the Constitution, moral responsibility and accountability, and fiscal responsibility and accountability. Require a minimum percentage of politicians to be normal, non-wealthy Americans. Allow only a small percentage of politicians to be lawyers and attorneys.
3. Immediately hold referendum elections under the five party system for all major political offices.
4. Term limits. Ten years in politics and then you're done.
5. Remove all Democrats and Republicans from office, disband the two parties and make it illegal for them to ever form again. Make the terms "Democrat" and "Republican" more odious than the worst profanity.
6. Make it illegal for anyone who has ever held an official role in either of these parties to ever be involved in politics in any sense. (We might consider generously allowing them to remain in America on the condition that they donate all of their wealth to charity, get regular jobs, and act like normal citizens going forward).
"No one should be surprised if a theologian falls into contradiction with himself at times—especially if he (or she) writes much over a very long period of time. I’m a historical theologian and have studied the theologies of virtually every major Christian theologian from Irenaeus to Pannenberg (and beyond). In every case I find some tension, some element of conflict within the theologian’s own system."
--Roger E. Olson, source
Focus on these things. Consider each one in detail. The questions appear simple, but the answers are gloriously complex (and totally encouraging). Explore them. Chew on them. Revel in them. Each will lead you to the Gospel as the power of God for all who believe!
“We affirm that God loves everyone and desires everyone to be saved and that God elects some to salvation and that people do not have free will to decide whether or not to be saved and that God knows the future exhaustively and infallibly.”
I am glad you are discussing the SBC statement.
I doubt ANYONE would sign your proposed statement (of course, you already knew that). I, as a Calvinist, would object to the denial of freedom, but not to the affirmation of God's general love and desire for the salvation of the lost.
With regard the actual SBC statement, I agree that more could (and probably should) be said about God's love for everyone and His desire for everyone to be saved.
If I had my way, Calvinists would have to explain further by stating: "We affirm that God loves all people in the sense that He freely gives them life and breath, reveals Himself to them, provides every good thing they experience, withholds patiently for a time their just and well-deserved punishment for sin, extends His open hand of salvation to them, and calls them to Gospel repentance; and that He desires the salvation of all people in the sense that He would delight in saving all, and will never turn away anyone who turns to Him; and that this sincere love and desire on God's part do not result in the salvation of all people because many freely choose to reject Him in spite of such kindness."
And Arminians would have to state,
This could be followed up with, "Both Calvinists and Arminians agree on these points."
Thank you for taking time to reply and for all of the work you have undertaken in reorganizing our comments into individual posts.
I will make a few final comments here, and then leave off. This has been a most interesting exchange, and I am grateful for the time and thoughtful attention you have given to it.
You can imagine my disappointment in finding your last two posts fraught with the same mischaracterizations of Calvinism that prompted me to write to you in the first place. Here on posts numbers 24 and 25, you demonstrate a total misunderstanding of key Calvinist convictions, proving to me that I have utterly failed to dislodge these misapprehensions from your mind. Throughout our discussion, and especially in these latest posts, you present Calvinism in an utterly inaccurate way, and as a theological position which would actually be blasphemous, heretical, destructive, and entirely inconsistent with Scripture, if the position was actually held by anyone. I cannot think of any mainstream Calvinist who has ever held to the kind of belief you define as Calvinism. Even many hyper Calvinists would cringe at some of the propositions you tell us Calvinists must affirm.
As such, I find your sudden shift to a demand for “argumentation,” rather than “assertion,” to be curious. Your persistently repeated misstatements about the beliefs of Calvinists have prompted me to attempt to clarify what Calvinists actually believe versus what you claim they believe. This is, of course, not a matter of mere logical proof, but of historical analysis. I chose not to inundate you with endless quotations proving that real Calvinists don’t actually believe what you say they believe. A visit to calvinandcalvinism.com will provide veritable mountains of proof. Therefore, beyond the following quotation, I will simply suggest you study the actual beliefs of dozens of historic Calvinist leaders, from the Reformation onward, which have been carefully documented at that site. Best of all, everything there is surrounded by extensive context in order to lessen the possibility of misinterpretation.
Here is what the Westminster Confession explicitly states concerning God’s sovereign foreordination and the origin of evil:
“The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.” (WCF 5.4)
This is what Calvinists actually believe. The Calvin and Calvinism site referenced above will show you various ways Reformed thinkers have logically reasoned through the implications. You may say that this is self-contradictory and impossible. To you, perhaps it is. To them, and to me, it is not.
Note that the WCF does not deny permission of sin, but affirms it, insisting that the permission is not without God’s bounding, ordering and governing of the sins that are permitted. You have stated that the language of permission is an Arminian approach. Perhaps I am mistaken, but I don’t think the WCF is an Arminian creed. Can you now see, from the WCF, that the language of permission is actually, historically speaking, a stock Calvinist answer to the question, and that this is exactly opposite to the beliefs you presented as “Calvinism”? Frankly, if Calvinism was what you claim it is, I would join you in staunchly opposing it. I would actually go further and condemn its adherents as anti-Christian heretics. Fortunately, Calvinism takes a position exactly opposite to the one you say it affirms regarding the goodness of God and the origin of evil.
Throughout our discussion, I have argued from numerous Biblical texts that the Calvinist’s position is both reasonable and logical. You do not accept my arguments, and that is okay with me. But it would be dishonest for you to claim I haven’t presented arguments for my position.
You have asserted that Scripture itself is not sufficient to decide the question under consideration, and have demanded logical proof and argumentation, insisting that these are sufficient to determine the question. In my view, you have elevated human reason above Scripture by discounting the possibility that direct Biblical propositions can settle the question, and implying instead that the reasonings of your own mind can settle it. My position on this is reciprocal to yours. I hold that clear Biblical propositions DO undeniably settle the matter, whether or not the reasonings of my mind (or yours) can attain to the divine logic undergirding the divinely revealed answer. In other words, my core epistemological presupposition is that Scripture itself is more reliable and trustworthy than fallible human logic. I am honestly surprised that you disagree on this point (although it is possible that I have misunderstood your position on this).
Matt, it is unfortunate that you misrepresent my views on logic and paradox in a way strikingly similar to the way you misrepresent Calvinism. The reason may be that I have not explained well enough, or that you have honestly misunderstood, and hope it boils down to one these (or a combination of both). Here again, I can only seek to clarify my position and argue from Scripture.
I can certainly appreciate the logic of your arguments and illustrations regarding things like “married bachelors,” etc. My answer to all of this is simple: matters of divine ordination and human freedom cannot be oversimplified in this way. Sure, there are plenty of either/or dichotomies in our world. Married or not married. Pregnant or not pregnant. Speeding or not speeding. Everyone understand this. However, the existence of either/or dichotomies does not invalidate the possibility of both/and synergies (which are sometimes presented as false dichotomies). What about this one: square or circle? In two dimensions, this really is an either/or dichotomy. But in three dimensions, we have the cylinder, a “square circle.” We also have square triangles (pyramids) and circular triangles (cones). So . . . what if we human beings could only conceive of two dimensions, and an all-knowing God who sees three dimensions told us something is both square and circle? Would we argue with Him, and say that His claim is illogical? Or would we trust that on His level of understanding it is possible for a cylinder to exist? Stated simply, I view divine ordination and human freedom not as a married vs. bachelor issue, but as a square vs. circle issue. We see squares and circles where God sees cylinders. And again I ask, what prevents God from being able to do things like this? Is He not on a higher level than we are? Is He not wiser? Smarter? More knowledgeable? More capable?
You may think all of this is illogical. You are free to think so. However, I just laid out a sound logical reason for you to affirm and trust God’s harmonious use of both foreordination and genuine human freedom. This is not all as simple as 2+2=4. We are dealing with infinities here. In human experience, we don’t have anything exactly like eternal, divine “ordination” to compare with or argue from. To fully understand exactly how all of this works, we would have to be eternal, divine, all-wise, all-good and all-powerful. I’m just guessing that those shoes don’t fit either one of us, Matt.
Finally, I want to thank you once again for a challenging and enjoyable conversation. I pray you will be mightily used by God in the work He has given you to do, that you will continue to grow in your love for Christ and your knowledge of Him, and that your entire life will be blessed and prospered in Him. I also hope that a large cylinder shape is ordained to be set up somewhere in the New Creation, and that we may freely decide to meet under its shadow for a continuation of this discussion, with a fresh insight and understanding that magnificently humbles us both through a recognition of how little we actually apprehended when we engaged in this discussion. And there we shall worship the Lamb together!
Until then, many blessings, brother.
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