Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Mr. Calvin


Today was John Calvin's 500th birthday. (I had originally entitled this post "Belated Birthday" as I thought I had missed the day - hopefully this will teach me to do one last wikipedia check before posting stuff in the future)... So back to my post: Calvin is a man I've come to respect more and more in the past three or four years since taking a class on his theology at Asbury Seminary. One aspect of Calvin's theology that I especially appreciate is the purity of his focus on the grace of God and the work of Christ in salvation and the complete rejection of the idea that any good work from ourselves could justify us before God. Here is a quote from the Institutes which touches on this issue:
I admit that the ancient writers of the church commonly used it [the word merit], and would that they had not given posterity occasion for error by their misuse of one little word! Nevertheless, in some passages they also testify that they did not intend to prejudice the truth. For in one such place Augustine speaks thus: "Let human merits, which perished through Adam, here keep silence, and let God's grace reign through Jesus Christ." Again: "The saints attribute nothing to their merits; they will attribute all to thy mercy alone, O God." Again: "And when man sees that all the good he has, he has not from himself but from his God, he sees that all that is praiseworthy in himself arises not from his own merits but from God's mercy." You see that Augustine, when he has denied to man the power of well-doing, also overthrows any worth of merit. Moreover, Chrysostom says: "Our works, if there are any that follow the freely given call of God, are repayment and debt, but God's gifts are grace and beneficence and great generosity."

-John Calvin, Institutes 3.15.2

6 comments:

Ed said...

I'm sorry Matt, I'm just not a fan of the man. I think, following Chesterton, that Calvinism is the second great heresy of the Christian era, following only Arianism in scope and threat. You would no doubt protest me if I were to celebrate "Origen day," and so I feel it is my duty to protest you celebrating "Calvin day."

Let us look at some of the issues at stake.

1) Who God Is. If Calvin is correct, then God created the world at least in part so that he could damn people and thus gain "glory." How can a God who the Scriptures claim "desires all to be saved" create people with the sole purpose of damning them? Also, how is getting "glory" a significant motive for creation? Obviously in Calvinism creation must hinge on glory and not love, because if it were love God were after, one would think he would make human beings meaningfully free so that they could love him in the manner the Trinity loves internally. Why does God need more glory than he possesses intrinsically from before the foundation of the world? Why does his manner for achieving this glory seem so arbitrary and internally-guided? If God desires glory and can gain glory through the ceaseless torture of the helpless, then it is not impossible that he has or might create whole universes in which creatures cry in agony for all eternity so that he might own more "glory." Is this the God you believe in, Matthew? because in my mind he is closer in nature to the God of the Muslims than the God of the Christians.

2) What Human Beings Are. If Calvin is correct, human beings are essentially puppets who "make" the biggest choice of their existence based on what God has fated them to do. There is no Wesleyan "prevenient grace" here. If Calvin is right, then human beings' salvation hangs only on the capricious whim of the Divine. And it is capricious, because it is based merely on the arbitrary choice of election to life for glory or election to death for glory. If Calvinism is true, then humanity, far from being the object and pinnacle of the creation, is rather merely another "glory channel" among many. Further, if meaningful freedom and self-determination are part of what it means to be a Divine Person, does it not stand to reason that in order to be a human person "in the image of God," one must possess some manner of meaningful freedom?

My question is: if you are indeed an Arminian, how can you see Calvin's "contributions" to Christian theology as anything but the blackest of heresy. If Calvinism is wrong, then not only does it misrepresent him, it horribly blasphemes him. If it is correct then we should give it allegiance. If it is incorrect, we should run from it like we run from the devil himself.

I lived for almost 10 years in what I would call a pluralistic funk regarding Calvinism (though this was only Methodist of me, we were some of the best pluralists, especially in our right wing). I thank God for C. K. Chesterton, who opened my eyes so that I could see Calvinism for what it is: black and evil heresy.

It is a madman's vision: logical, internally consistent, insane. It is no small wonder that modern atheism found its most fertile fields of growth in those places which only a few centuries prior had been the bastions of Calvinism. A God who is smaller than the true and ever-living God is much easier to attack, much easier to hate, and much easier to reject.

Calvinism is from the devil. Even his doctrine of the Church is a heresy worthy of volumes of refutation. In a few words, he twists the Bible into rejecting both its own testimony and that of 1500 years of Apostolic Consensus (east and west). What a horror! No "reunion" will ever be found under the banner of Calvinism, only interminable separations. And who is the Father of unity, and who the father of division, I ask? Calvin did and still does the work of his father.

Anathema!

Matt Perkins said...

So Ed, why don't you tell me what you REALLY think of John Calvin... I know that this is no joking matter for you though and the passion in your reply has given me some pause as I do respect you a lot as a Christian brother.

You say that if I'm Arminian, which I am, how can I see Calvin's contributions as anything but heresy? Well, I guess I'll quote Wesley here and say I agree with him:

"Let no man bawl against Arminians, till he knows what the term means; and then he will know that Arminians and Calvinists are just upon a level. And Arminians have as much right to be angry at Calvinists, as Calvinists have to be angry at Arminians. John Calvin was a pious, learned, sensible man; and so was James Harmens. Many Calvinists are pious, learned, sensible men; and so are many Arminians. Only the former hold absolute predestination; the latter, conditional."

So the great Arminian Wesley did not see Calvin as a perpetrator of "blackest heresy," and I don't think I need to either.

But let me ask you this question: As an Arminian this question still bothers me and may drive me into what you call "blackest of heresy." ...

Ed, what made it so you came to know the truth of your religion, that is what makes you different from the non-believer who has examined Orthodoxy or the Orthodox priest who loses his faith? Were you better or holier or more intelligent? What's the difference between the one who hears the gospel and who comes to Christ and receives salvation and the one who hears the message and is condemned by his unbelief? If it was some quality in the hearer then I think it overthrows the whole gospel. It was not Christ who saved you but some natural advantage within yourself over the reprobate. I guess that's why I like Calvin so much - even though I don't yet agree with his conclusions, Calvinism looks like the best answer to the question I asked above. I certainly don't believe that any good thing in me is what brought me to salvation in Christ but simply God's grace and for that grace I am not thankful enough. What caused you to be saved Ed? And if it was simply the grace of God and all receive this same grace then where's the difference - I don't see how it can be anything different than some superior quality in yourself. And if that is true then your system contains the same predestination as Calvinism - God predestined you by giving you that superior quality.

Ed said...

Well first of all, Matt, let's be clear. My race is not run yet, so whether or not I will attain salvation in the final sense is yet to be seen. Nor, presumably, are the races finished of the Orthodox examiner or the apostate priest. While the outcomes of these things is no doubt known to God, I do not share his perspective, so I suppose it behooves me to keep silent.

Do you believe there is such a thing as a bad question, Matt? That is, a question which is framed in such a way that it can only be answered by a distortion? I believe your question about the natures of men is just that. If men are not really, truly, and meaningfully free, God becomes of necessity the author of evil. If God creates some men with an essential "goodness" in whatever way he might do that and some men with an essential "badness" such that given the same amount of grace one with respond with good and the other with evil, then it all falls back on God in the end, anyway, and he is indeed culpable for the evil actions. How can God call people to "hate evil" and "love good," if he himself does not hate evil so much as to not create it? Calvin's God is wicked and schizophrenic.

Further, regarding Wesley's foolish commentary, after having Daniel Jones read to me the arrogance-dripping letter Calvin sent to a RC Cardinal who tried to reason with him, I have a hard time believing that he was either pious or sensible. He certainly was well-read, but being "well read" does not mean that he "read well." Certainly we could have called Rudolph Bultmann or Paul Tillich "learned."

Finally, do you know what this whole discussion has started to remind me of? Gnosticism. To the gnostics (or at least some of them), there were two or three types of people - those who had a real soul from heaven and were fated for obvious restoration, those who were simply made of the evil elements and were fated for damnation because they had no real soul, and (in most systems) those who had souls but were trapped in evil matter and either could return to heaven or could not. I don't know, that question of fixed personhoods really does seem to remind me of Calvinism.

Matt Perkins said...

I think Adam and Eve were free in the sense that you speak of above but since the fall men have desired rebellion and only rebellion apart from the grace of God and God gives them the freedom to do what they want - to rebel. Of course God does restrain men or else the world would be a far darker place than it otherwise might. Perhaps you underestimate the consequences of the Fall, or you underestimate what it means to be spiritually dead. God did not create evil but since the fall evil is all that men have desired.

Gnosticism? Well, I've heard Protestants and especially Calvinists accused many times at Asbury of Gnosticism. To be honest, I have no idea if there is any truth to these accusations. But in your accusation above I saw nothing of Calvinism as Calvinism speaks only of the glory and merit of Christ and nothing of some men being given a worthy soul and not others. Christ alone is worthy and how he bestows his grace and mercy to the undeserving wretch like me is up to Him. I'll trust Him with making the correct decision.

I think you completely side-stepped my question. I also would like you to make it more clear why it was such a bad question.

I'll leave you with a little poem I saw on an Anglican blog the other day...

Arminian “grace!” How strange the sound,

Salvation hinged on me.

I once was lost then turned around,

Was blind then chose to see.

What “grace” is it that calls for choice,

Made from some good within?

That part that wills to heed God’s voice,

Proved stronger than my sin.

Thru many ardent gospel pleas,

I sat with heart of stone.

But then some hidden good in me,

Propelled me toward my home.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Because of what we’ve done,

We’ve no less days to sing our praise,

Than when we first begun.

Anonymous said...

Matt,
Ed gave you logic, truth, and some excellent points. You are the one who side-stepped.

The character of Calvinism's god is not the character which God has revealed to us in His Word, nor is random selection of some to be saved (while others are randomly selected to be eternally tortured) the Biblical way of salvation. God has given ALL humans the gifts of conscience and free will, as well as having extended to "the whole world" salvation through repentance and belief in Christ's atoning sacrifice. Calvinists preach a different way of salvation because they preach a different god.

I suggest that anyone bending an ear to Calvinism think on this: Calvinists cannot deny that Calvinism's logic teaches that GOD Himself (and no other) pulls the puppet string to have one puppet wickedly kill, rape, or torture another puppet. Therefore, the consideration must be taken that it is highly probable that Calvinists are worshiping a demon-god who "masquerades as an angel of light." (2 Cor. 11:14)

Rachel

Anonymous said...

Tell me Rachel, if Calvins God is to save some and not others is NOT biblical, then how can he be GOD? Calvins reveiled truth is that God has predestined his people to eternal life. Romans 8:28-30. Now if God has given ALL humans the gifts of conscience and free will to choose him, then God doesn't know who he is saving. Hence he cannot be GOD. Calvins Gods people are written in the Book of Life. Ephesians 1:3-14. Therefore your philosophy of God can also be taken that of (2 Cor. 11:14)I would suggest to you Rachel NO finger pointing lest you be calling that which is HOLY unholy. Have you read the book by Dave Hunt "What Love Is This"

Justin