Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Problem with Calvinism

As I've talked with others about the Calvinist understanding of salvation and considered my own thoughts on the subject I've come to a conclusion about one thing that I think is not a problem with Calvinism which has clarified for me where the real problem lies.

The thing that is not the problem is, I think, the place where many people believe there is one. And this problem is the problem of fairness. I think it is ingrained in our American, Western way of thinking that everyone should have the same chance at success, life, etc., etc. The problem comes when this is applied to salvation. If this notion of fairness is applied to salvation and salvation is by God's grace alone and not any inherent quality within ourselves then that would mean that it is God's duty to "give everyone the same chance." But if this is true, grace is no longer grace because God is simply doing his duty in giving everyone the same chance. Grace is no longer grace because people deserve it. Grace by nature is undeserved so those who do not receive grace leading to salvation have not been wronged by God because nothing has been withheld from them which they did deserve. In fact the only thing a sinner deserves is an eternity in hell so any grace from God which would result in any other outcome, that is eternal salvation, should be seen as the abnormal and undeserved outcome. So I think the idea that sinners are in any way deserving of God's grace or the idea that one person receiving grace leading to salvation causes other people to be deserving of the same degree of grace is completely wrong and actually destroys grace.

But even without those philosophical problems I still cannot make the jump to Calvinism. I can't make this jump because of a few, but I think very important, areas of Scripture. Now I'm sure my Calvinist friends have some ingenious explanations for these areas but I can't help but believe that the clear meaning of these verses refutes Calvinism. One of these Scriptures for me is Ezekiel 18:21-32. This is actually one of my favorite parts of Scripture and to paraphrase it says that God is pleased when sinners turn from their evil ways and live and that He does not take any pleasure in the death of the wicked but desires that they would repent. I think this throws a wrench in most Calvinist thought which seems to say that the reason for hell and damnation is for God's justice to be displayed and that God gets more glory because of this. But if God is receiving more glory because of the "death of wicked" then should this not bring him pleasure? Perhaps my reading is overly simplistic but it seems problematic to me. 1st Timothy 2:3-4 which states, "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth," also seems problematic to me. I know that many theologians whom I greatly respect, like Augustine, have interpreted this verse in a way that would fit with Calvinism but I see no reason to stray from the plain meaning of the text - that God does actually desire the salvation of all. We know that not all will be saved though and that is why I remain an Arminian.


Ed said...

Well Matt, I'll not lie and say that your conclusion is not pleasing to me. In accord with my own belief, I am glad that you have received this light shed forth in your heart.

The only comment I'd like to make, really, is to commend you for your observation: God is not duty-bound to provide "the same chance" to all. Because of who He is, it would seem pretty odd to me if He did not provide at least some chance to all, but you're right that this isn't about duty, equity, equality, or fairness. With presumably the same level of revelation, God accepts Abel's sacrifice but rejects Cain's. It is not God who is in the wrong for not accepting that which is unacceptable, but Cain who is in the wrong for offering it. Moreover, it is not God who is at fault for Cain's unacceptability, but rather it is his own. Regardless of how much grace God has given Cain, it is Cain's duty to respond to that grace with righteousness. If he responds in the right way, with good fruits, then more grace awaits him. If he responds in the wrong way, he shuts himself off from grace and effectively becomes his own accuser and condemnation before a just and holy God.

Joel said...

How do you square Amrminianism with the 39 Articles?

Steve Wood said...

Joel, you can't. The 39 Articles were shaped by Reformed, not Arminian, thought.