Sunday, February 19, 2012

God of Calvinism



SW: I wrote: "Our God is not the god of Calvinism."(1)  To which John Lollard wrote:
JL: I think that's a strange thing to hear you say. How seriously do you believe that Calvinists worship a false god of their own construction?
SW: I am quite serious about this.  They have taken a few verses from the context of Scripture as a whole and portray God as an unloving, arbitrary and unjust god.  I know, they reject this portrayal, but truly they can't get around it.   A favorite cited in response to Catholics is Romans 9:18,  "Therefore he hath mercy on whom he will; and whom he will, he hardeneth."   This is not saying that God has already decided, in our view of time, whom He will have mercy upon or whom He will harden, only that in specific cases, such as Pharoah (v. 17) where He has singled out someone to demonstrate His power, "To this purpose have I raised thee, that I may shew my power in thee, and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth."  Consider why God would want to "show His power" - that His Name may be declared throughout the earth... not just "the Elect" - but the entire earth.   Why would God need to have His Name declared throughout the earth if He's already decided whom He will save and whom He will condemn?  Calvinist logic is severely lacking here!


The context continues on:  
19Thou wilt say therefore to me: Why doth he then find fault? for who resisteth his will? 20O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it: Why hast thou made me thus? 21Or hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?  22What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction, 23That he might shew the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he hath prepared unto glory?  
The Calvinist would compare the Catholic position to the clay complaining to the Potter, however, again, the context is NOT about everyone in general being created for mercy or hardening, but for specific cases, like Pharoah.  Again, it makes no sense that God would need or want to proclaim His power to the earth if He's already made up His mind.
JL: For instance, if Calvinists worship a different (and hence false) god, then are they Christians?
SW: That would depend on how hard you want to draw the line of defining "Christian."  If that line is drawn at "one who believes in Jesus Christ," then I would say they are Christian.  Likewise, I would say Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are Christian by that standard.  If the line is drawn at "one who believes Jesus Christ is True God and True Man, who gives Himself freely to ALL who will accept Him as their Lord and Savior," that pretty much eliminates the LDS, JWs AND Calvinists.  So, when I speak "seriously" about this matter of a "different gospel" and/or the "false god of Calvinism," it is this higher view of God, not the overly simplified "one who believes in Jesus Christ."
JL: If so, then in what sense?
SW: Well, I have pretty much answered that above.  To reiterate, if one is taking this higher view of God as One who "freely gives" Himself to ALL who will accept Him, then we (Catholics v. Calvinists) don't have the same deity.  
JL:  In worshipping their false Calvinist deity, are they guilty of idolatry?
SW:  Idolatry implies the worship of an actual object, like a statue or a mountain or a tree, so no, I would not call their worship "idolatry."

SW: The above answers the direct questions Mr. Lollard asked, but how about some more details?

What is the god of Calvinism?
Calvinism adheres to a strict concept of predestination where by they believe that God has already predestined everyone to Heaven or Hell.  Let us look at Calvin's own words:
In conformity, therefore, to the clear doctrine of the Scripture, we assert, that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom he would admit to salvation, and whom he would condemn to destruction. We affirm that this counsel, as far as concerns the elect, is founded on his gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit; but that to those whom he devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible, judgment. In the elect, we consider calling as an evidence of election, and justification as another token of its manifestation, till they arrive in glory, which constitutes its completion. As God seals his elect by vocation and justification, so by excluding the reprobate from the knowledge of his name and the sanctification of his Spirit, he affords an indication of the judgement that awaits them. (emphasis mine).(2)
Now, while I agree with Calvin that for those who are saved this is founded/based on His gratuitous mercy and is totally irrespective of human merit.  No one "earns" salvation, but that is not what Calvinists of today focus on here!  They focus on the bolded text above and have developed an ungodly (from the perspective of the True God) concept of predestination.  I have recently had a discussion on "foreknowledge" with Barry Hofstetter(3)  and I believe it is this concept of foreknowledge or "prescience" where Calvinism goes awry.  

A proper sense of this foreknowledge or "prescience" would be based in the fact that from God's perspective there is no past or future.  God is outside of our concept of time.  RC Sproul explains it this way, separating foreknowledge from what God foreordains:
If God foreordains anything, it is absolutely certain that what He foreordains will come to pass. The purpose of God can never be frustrated. Even God's foreknowledge or prescience makes future events certain with respect to time. That is to say, if God knows on Tuesday that I will drive to Pittsburgh on Friday, then there is no doubt that, come Friday, I will drive to Pittsburgh. Otherwise God's knowledge would have been in error. Yet, there is a significant difference between God's knowing that I would drive to Pittsburgh and God's ordaining that I would do so. Theoretically He could know of a future act without ordaining it, but He could not ordain it without knowing what it is that He is ordaining. But in either case, the future event would be certain with respect to time and the knowledge of God.(4)
This brings us back to the so-called "Golden Chain of Redemption" discussion:
29For whom he foreknew, he also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of his Son; that he might be the firstborn amongst many brethren.30And whom he predestinated, them he also called. And whom he called, them he also justified. And whom he justified, them he also glorified. Romans 8:29-30
God does not predestine those whom He has not first foreknown!  Therein lies the fatal flaw of Calvinism's view on predestination!  Sproul (whom I often disagree with) has it right when he said, "He could not ordain it without knowing what it is that He is ordaining."  So those whom He has foreknown to make the right decisions and to persevere until the end of the race, it is those whom God has foreordained and calls "the elect."  If it were not so then Scripture itself would not make sense where it tells us to "persevere" and "run to win the race" or to "buffet (our) body" as St. Paul Himself said:
27But I chastise (buffet) my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway. 1 Corinthians 9:27
If St. Paul himself worries about losing his own soul and becoming a "castaway" - how much more should the rest of us be concerned?  God does already know where we'll be at the "end of the race" - but from OUR PERSPECTIVE we cannot and do not KNOW this.  We can have confidence in the fact that by His Grace He has given us the strength to accomplish the desired end(5) and that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to resist the temptation(6).  These scriptural concepts make no sense if God foreordains WITHOUT foreknowledge of the outcomes of our temptations and/or perseverance.

Sometimes called the "classicus locus"(7) regarding Calvinism's predestination is Ephesians 1:3-11:
3Blessed by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ:
4As he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity.
5Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will:
6Unto the praise of the glory of his grace, in which he hath graced us in his beloved son.
7In whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins, according to the riches of his grace,
8Which hath superabounded in us in all wisdom and prudence,
9That he might make known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in him,
10In the dispensation of the fulness of times, to re-establish all things in Christ, that are in heaven and on earth, in him.
11In whom we also are called by lot, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things according to the counsel of his will.
Now, keep in mind, the person writing this also wrote what we read above in 1 Corinthians 9:27!  So, either we have a contradiction of thought in St. Paul of 1 Corinthians v. St. Paul of Ephesians or this concept of predestination is based in foreknowledge - that God has foreknown the acts of men and therefore based upon this knowledge He predestines some to Heaven and others to Hell.  Rather than assent to a scriptural contradiction here, logic would side with the latter rather than the former.  If we read Ephesians 1 from the perspective that God already knows then it is not difficult to accept that He has also predestined those who will, in our perspective of time, persevere to the end and receive the prize which awaits the winner of the race.

The god of Calvinism is a "sovereign god" who will not have his will dictated by the acts of men.    This god has created men for salvation and others for damnation - simply because he desires some to live eternally with him and at the same time wishes some to perish in everlasting fire.  When one points out the unlovingness or unfairness of such a god - the Calvinist will be quick to throw Romans 9:18ff into the argument.  As we have already seen, Romans 9 is not about mankind in general, but about specific individuals whom God has used to show His power and might.  


Catholicism does not deny the sovereignty of God - we accept that it is PART OF GOD'S FREE WILL(8) that God GAVE men FREE WILL.  God ALLOWS for men to freely choose or reject Him (except in specific cases, as pointed out in Romans 9, where God uses individuals for His Own purpose).  That ALLOWS for men to truly LOVE Him, for God IS Love(9). Love is not something forced upon another, no true love is something GIVEN and GIVEN FREELY by the lover(10).  Therefore it is illogical to think that God chose "the elect" without their consent and through some "Irresistible Grace" (the "I" in TULIP) God has forced "the elect" into obedience and a warped concept of "love."  It is God's Will that we love Him, TRULY love Him - and those outside of His Will will suffer the ultimate - an eternity without God.

I hope this discussion has helped you, and if it has - I invite your comments.  As always, I also invite those critical of what I have said to comment.  

In JMJ,
Scott<<<




Footnotes:
(1) Windsor, Scott earlier on the CathApol Blog.
(2) Calvin, John,  Institutes, Book III, Chapter 21.7 - qtd. from here: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/calvin-predestin2.asp full source and context available here: http://www.reformed.org/books/institutes/books/book3/bk3ch21.html
(3) Catholic Debate Forum discussion started here and continues here then the concept is further challenged here.
(4) Sproul, R.C. qtd. from here: http://www.the-highway.com/DoublePredestination_Sproul.html
(5) Philippians 4:13 - "I can do all these things in him who strengtheneth me."
(6) 1 Corinthians 10:13 - "Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is human. And God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able: but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it."
(7) White, James R. from debate: Does the Bible Teach Predestination? 
(8) CCC 295 We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom. It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance. We believe that it proceeds from God's free will; he wanted to make his creatures share in his being, wisdom and goodness: "For you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created." Therefore the Psalmist exclaims: "O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all"; and "The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made."
(9) CCC 257 "O blessed light, O Trinity and first Unity!" God is eternal blessedness, undying life, unfading light. God is love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God freely wills to communicate the glory of his blessed life. Such is the "plan of his loving kindness", conceived by the Father before the foundation of the world, in his beloved Son: "He destined us in love to be his sons" and "to be conformed to the image of his Son", through "the spirit of sonship". This plan is a "grace [which] was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began", stemming immediately from Trinitarian love. It unfolds in the work of creation, the whole history of salvation after the fall, and the missions of the Son and the Spirit, which are continued in the mission of the Church.
(10) CCC 2002 God's free initiative demands man's free response, for God has created man in his image by conferring on him, along with freedom, the power to know him and love him. The soul only enters freely into the communion of love. God immediately touches and directly moves the heart of man. He has placed in man a longing for truth and goodness that only he can satisfy. The promises of "eternal life" respond, beyond all hope, to this desire:
If at the end of your very good works . . ., you rested on the seventh day, it was to foretell by the voice of your book that at the end of our works, which are indeed "very good" since you have given them to us, we shall also rest in you on the sabbath of eternal life.

13 comments:

  1. Scot, the C-Boys may not worship a physical object, however, they make Ol' John C and his weird ideas an idol by calling his teachings the true gospel.

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  2. In response both to Scott and to Steve, it is fairly obvious that neither of you have read Calvin or even Augustine on the issue of predestination, but are depending on straw man assessments that have little to do with their actual teaching. On the overall question of whether the God of Calvinism is the true and living God of the Scriptures, I recommend Book 1 of the Institutes, and that you interact with Calvin's actual arguments and claims, rather than what you think he or Calvinists in general are saying.

    To respond to your specific points:

    1) No, Calvinists do not take a few verses out of context and then come to their conclusions. Like anyone who holds to any theological position ostensibly based on biblical teaching, Calvinists do have favorite texts which clearly speak to the issues in question. Calvinists come to their conclusion based on the entire Scriptural teaching concerning the nature of God and salvation, with each part considered carefully from the perspective of the analogia fidei. Furthermore, Your "exegesis," if I may dignify it with that description, is sorely lacking on the passages you have cited.

    2)I strongly encourage a look at Rom 9:18 in context. I deal with these issues to some extent here:

    http://mysite.verizon.net/nebarry/election.pdf

    Here, let me note that Paul, in arguing that God has preserved true Israel as a remnant and not failed in his promises to the elect (an argument which culminates in chapter 11 of Romans), gives specific examples of the general principle that:

    Rom 9:15 For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."
    Rom 9:16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

    And no, Calvinism is not severely lacking in logic here. That God's glory and knowledge of him are to fill the earth is the ultimate eschatological goal of redemption, and the proclamation of God's truth glorifies God regardless of the response that human beings may make. This cosmic aspect of the Gospel is a clear theme in the Scriptures (especially Ephesians and Colossians), and in no way contradicts Calvinism.

    3) Once again, Paul is arguing from the general to the specific. The general principle is that redemption and judgment result from God's specific will. Specific examples, given here from the history of redemption with which Paul's readers would be familiar (especially those of a Jewish background), include Sarah, Jacob and Esau, and Pharaoh.

    As for your second section, I have several times on your mail list responded to your claims concerning the "golden chain of redemption," Roman 8:28-30. Again, you fail to realize that no Calvinist would deny that God predestines those whom he foreknew. Where you miss it is the quality of that foreknowledge, which is specific and discriminating, something no only provable from Scripture (cf. Ps 139), but able to be extrapolated from everything we know about the nature of God from the Scriptures. On that type of foreknowledge, predestination certainly is based, so that your arguments here are simply a straw man. 1 Cor 9:27 is not talking about redemption, but Paul's ministry (speaking of taking out of context).

    I will also post these comments to the list.

    N.E. Barry Hofstetter

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  3. Hi Barry! Thanks for the response. Since my reply is essentially point by point of your response, and not really conducive to the combox, I have responded on the CDF list here:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/catholicdebateforum/message/68969

    Points you miss in your response:

    1) It makes no sense that God would need or want to proclaim His power to the earth if He's already made up His mind.

    2) Where the "line is drawn" in defining "Christian."

    3) You skipped the part where I AGREED with Calvin and contrasted that with MODERN Calvinists focus on just PARTS of what Calvin said.

    4) Again, I agreed with Calvin's view that God is outside of time and again contrasted that with modern CalvinISM and the views of predestination which seem to ignore foreknowledge.

    5) I posted RC Sproul's explanation of the separation of foreknowledge and foreordaining. I AGREED with RC Sproul, and I typically stand in disagreement with him!

    6) You did not deal with OUR PERSPECTIVE on "the race" nor that I presented how God provides us with what is necessary to finish that race AND will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to persevere through the temptation.

    7) You didn't touch upon my discussion of God's sovereignty and how our FREE WILL is PART OF that which God has GIVEN US through His Sovereign Will.

    Again, such concepts deflate Calvinism, so perhaps that is why you have avoided them?

    AMDG,
    Scott<<<

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  4. >Hi Barry! Thanks for the response. Since my reply is essentially point by point of your response, and not really conducive to the combox, I have responded on the CDF list here:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/catholicdebateforum/message/68969<<

    And people also will be able to read my response to your response as well.

    >Points you miss in your response:

    >1) It makes no sense that God would need or want to proclaim His power to the earth if He's already made up His mind.<<

    As someone once said to me, Scott, don't let your lack of understanding be the measure of the truth. It makes sense because Scripture makes clear that God has foreordained all that comes to pass, and that he does so for his own glory.

    >2) Where the "line is drawn" in defining "Christian."

    >3) You skipped the part where I AGREED with Calvin and contrasted that with MODERN Calvinists focus on just PARTS of what Calvin said.<<

    Practically every Calvinist I know would agree with Calvin's comments. What Calvinists do you know who only emphasize parts of what he said?

    >>4) Again, I agreed with Calvin's view that God is outside of time and again contrasted that with modern CalvinISM and the views of predestination which seem to ignore foreknowledge.<<

    Why don't you find 5 published Calvinist theologians who ignore foreknowledge? This is why it's a straw man. You seem to be arguing against something no one has ever actually said.

    >>5) I posted RC Sproul's explanation of the separation of foreknowledge and foreordaining. I AGREED with RC Sproul, and I typically stand in disagreement with him!<<

    Sproul simply explicates what every Calvinist knows. Nobody is saying that foreknowledge and predestination are identical, although there are philosophical and theological ramifications of absolute foreknowledge that are quite interesting (and for a later discussion, perhaps).

    >>6) You did not deal with OUR PERSPECTIVE on "the race" nor that I presented how God provides us with what is necessary to finish that race AND will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to persevere through the temptation.<<

    People so persevere because they are predestined. The are not predestined because they persevere. You have precisely reversed the relationship.

    >>7) You didn't touch upon my discussion of God's sovereignty and how our FREE WILL is PART OF that which God has GIVEN US through His Sovereign Will.<<

    Where is free will mentioned in any of the biblical passages under consideration? And if God has given us free will, knowing precisely how we will use that will, how is that different from predestination (one of those thorny philosophical/theological problems mentioned above)?

    >>Again, such concepts deflate Calvinism, so perhaps that is why you have avoided them?<<

    Now you are just being silly. I focused in my initial response to what I felt where your most important points. Now I have addressed these.

    N.E. Barry Hofstetter

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  5. As someone once said to me, Scott, don't let your lack of understanding be the measure of the truth.

    I am not the one lacking in understanding or comprehension here, but let's not deteriorate even more into apologetics of personal destruction.

    It makes sense because Scripture makes clear that God has foreordained all that comes to pass, and that he does so for his own glory.

    Ah yes, the statement testifying to the Great Puppetmaster. This is one of the reasons Calvinism is so lacking - it makes God a Puppetmaster. Consider that God in His Sovereignty created man in His Image - and that Image includes Freedom of the Will - and seeks that men LOVE Him. Puppets don't "love."

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  6. Scott, observing that you really don't understand this is not an insult, but an observation which hopefully you will take to heart. God only becomes the great puppetmaster if in fact you abstract predestination from its Biblical context and impute your own definition to it. Augustine understood this much better than you. BTW, may I ask you precisely where you feel you fall theologically? You can't be an Arminian, because that is a Protestant heterodoxy. Perhaps you are a Molinist? How do you feel about the scientia media?

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  7. Scott, observing that you really don't understand this is not an insult, but an observation which hopefully you will take to heart.

    Allow me to explain my point to you. I did not call it "insulting" I requested that we do not continue down the path of apologetics of personal destruction. The more we make this about each other's persons the less valid the arguments become.

    God only becomes the great puppetmaster if in fact you abstract predestination from its Biblical context and impute your own definition to it.

    Which is precisely what I accuse Calvinism of doing! With the FEW verses which even mention predestination being taken out of the context of God's Mercy and Love being FREELY GIVEN to the WHOLE WORLD - well, THAT is why Calvinism's god is merely a puppet master.

    Augustine understood this much better than you.

    You see, you're STILL trying to attack my PERSON and not my arguments - AND you make such an accusation without a SHRED of substance being quoted/cited to support yourself!

    St. Augustine was a Catholic bishop and priest, loyal to the Catholic Church and the pope in Rome. While he had some disagreement with one of the popes of his lifetime (Pope Zosimus) he still respected the office and when Rome had spoken, it was "causa finita est." (St. Augustine, Sermon 131.10). It still amazes me how many Protestants flee to St. Augustine in out of context statements without realizing just HOW CATHOLIC he really was! One does not get named a "Saint" and "Doctor" of the Catholic Church by professing heterodoxy!

    BTW, may I ask you precisely where you feel you fall theologically? You can't be an Arminian, because that is a Protestant heterodoxy. Perhaps you are a Molinist? How do you feel about the scientia media?

    You may ask, but again, you're turning THIS discussion into something about ME. I understand though, it seems many Calvinists need to stick labels on others (so they can dismiss them under the label instead of by direct argumentation). However, I will answer you. Theologically I am a Catholic. First and foremost THAT is where I stand. Now, philosophically speaking I am more of a Thomist - which as you likely know, opposes Molinism. That being said, I do not fit precisely in the cookie cutter of Thomism and have some sympathetic leanings toward the scientia media of Molinism. It may be more convenient to pigeon hole me into one camp or the other - but the reality of the matter is you cannot. While I do not outright reject Molinism, when push comes to shove - you'll find me more aligned with Thomism.

    In JMJ,
    Scott<<<

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  8. Scot, the way you are handling this dispute with Barry, is why I keep coming back to this blog. I have no use for 'apologetics' that are actually thinly disguised attacks on another person. I quit reading one so-called 'Catholic' blog on a regular basis because the blogmaster was lashing out at people who disageed with him or offended him in some way. I notice your approach either forces them to deal with the issues or go away. If they are not going to be rational, they should vamoose.

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  9. Well, if you have actually read Calvin and his comments in context, you find that he treats predestination as one aspect of God's magnificent grace and ineffable mercy. If you've never noticed, let me point out it out to you -- Calvin's Institutes are quite lengthy, and only a relatively small portion is devoted to predestination. Far from being the determining point of Calvin's theology, it is in fact an aspect of the nature of God in the application of God's grace. You are the one abstracting his comments, and imputing your own private interpretation to them.

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  10. New commenting feature added - old comments should import within 24 hours!

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  11. So Scott, what Calvinists are you talking about?  I'd like to see some actual citations, in context, that abstract predestination from the entire ordo salutis and make that the central aspect.  Certainly I know of no mainstream reformed theologian who does this.  

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  12. That's a straw man, Barry, as you're putting words into my mouth and then asking me to prove something I didn't say.  I never said they "abstract predestination from the entire ordo salutis and make that the central aspect."  What I DID SAY was that many Calvinists, YOU INCLUDED (just look at THIS discussion!) SEEM to put a lot of emphasis upon this "relatively small portion."   I AGREED with you that it IS a "relatively small portion."  
     
    Virtually EVERY Calvinist I have debated and/or had discussion with has argued their version of predestination - often without my prompting (e.g. the "Live" debate/discussion I had with James White on John 6, which I thought would be a discussion on the Eucharist ended up being a discussion of predestination, I'll post the link(s) to that discussion if you wish.
     
    A more practical challenge would be for YOU to present some popular/notable Calvinists who DO NOT spend a good deal of energy on the matter of predestination.   
     
    In JMJ,
    Scott<<<

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