John Calvin 



John Calvin, French School


I've never been good at predicting trends. When, in college, a friend mentioned she had taken a course in one of the computer languages they had back then, COBOL or whatever, I thought, how odd, why would anyone want to know about something so out-of-the-way as computers! I did not foresee the computer revolution. Neither would I have seen it if someone had predicted to me the renaissance in Calvinism currently underway. Why Calvin? Why now? Some thoughts:







Five Points

John Calvin was the great Genevan reformer who wrote the 'Institutes of the Christian Religion,' a masterful synthesis of the Christian faith. In many areas his teachings do not depart from prior understanding, but in one area he blazed a new trail. The five points of Calvinism date from after John Calvin's life-time, and there is some uncertainty whether he even believed in 'L,' Limited Atonement. Nevertheless they make a good summary of the system, because this is what those of the present day who call themselves Calvinists do believe. 'TULIP' spells out:

TULIP: is it Biblical?
TULIP: Is it Biblical?

Total Depravity

Not a Just Man Be Ye Holy
Guilty of All All have sinned
Nature of Sin The Mean
No Such Animal Internal Consistency

Unconditional Election

Things to Come John Calvin
Before the Foundation According to Foreknowledge
Not of Works If not Merit, then what?
Encyclopedia Salesman Bum on a Park Bench
Sitting in a Chair Things Which are Despised
Known and Unknown False Arminians
All Possible Worlds Flatland
Not a Marxist Denying the Bible
Spiritual Poverty Hen and Chicks
All Men

Limited Atonement

All and Some History
Fair Warning Unmerciful Servant
Died for All Thwarted Desire

Irresistible Grace

Stiff-Necked Drag and Drop
Internal Consistency Happy Atheists
Call and Response

Perseverance

Failure to Persevere Falsification
Sociology






The 'Five Points' display an admirable, though not perfect, mutual coherence and interdependence. This is probably much of the attraction this system exerts on systematic thinkers. But these points cannot be independently proved from the Bible, and one of them, 'L,' is flatly contradicted by the Bible. Self-consistency can be a delusive goal: "And the tendency to mistake mutual coherency for truth; to trust one's safety to a strong chain though it has no point of support; is at the bottom of much which, when reduced to the strict forms of argumentation, can exhibit itself no otherwise than as reasoning in a  circle." (J. S. Mill, A System of Logic: Ratiocinative and Inductive, Volume II, Kindle location 6346).

Wealth and Poverty

One principle that undergirds God's election of His people is frequently stated explicitly in the Bible, as well as shown by example. This is that God prefers the poor and humble over the rich and mighty:

"Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?" (James 2:5).

Weight David
Israel Mary's Magnificat
Friedrich Nietzsche Lowest Place
God-Likeness Imaginary Friends
Douglas Wilson He Humbled Himself



This is a consistent Bible theme:

"The LORD upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down." (Psalm 145:14).

One might expect the Calvinist to delight in having learned something meaningful about God's basis for choosing his jewels. Certainly this is not the sole factor, God does not choose all of the poor or only the poor, but it is stressed throughout scripture and gives us the basis for making a well-defined and testable prediction: that the class of the elect will be bottom-heavy, weighted disproportionately toward the lower end of the socio-economic scale. And what do you know, this is just what pollsters find: a 'yes' answer to questions like, 'Do you pray daily,' 'Do you read the Bible daily,' correlates inversely with income. Does the Calvinist treasure this discovery? No, he flatly denies it, declaring instead that we know nothing about the basis for God's election. Notice here how 'smallness,' elsewhere stated as a positive factor in God's choice, is here wished away:



  • "It is made equally plain that God found no merit or dignity in the Jews themselves which moved Him to choose them above others. 'Jehovah did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any other people; for ye were the fewest of all peoples: but because Jehovah loveth you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore unto your fathers, hath Jehovah brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.' Deuteronomy 7:7, 8. . .Here it is carefully explained, that Israel was honored with the divine choice in contrast with the treatment accorded all the other peoples of the earth, that the choice rested solely on the unmerited love of God, and that it had no foundation in Israel itself."
  • (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 161-
  • )





"[N]o foundation in Israel itself"? Fewness in number was a characteristic of Israel, and yet it gets lost in the wash cycle of this Reformed author's recasting of God's choice. God does choose the despised and the weak things over the mighty and strong. God brings down the high and exalts the lowly: "And all the trees of the field shall know that I the LORD have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish: I the LORD have spoken and have done it." (Ezekiel 17:24). Yet when it's right in front of them, they simply wish it away, and we are left, over and over again, with their recurring plaint, 'we know nothing:'

"It may be asked, Why does God save some and not others? But that belongs to His secret counsels. Precisely why this man receives, and that man does not receive, when neither deserves to receive, we are not told. That God was pleased to set upon us in this His electing grace must ever remain for us a matter of adoring wonder. Certainly there was nothing in us, whether of quality or deed, which could attract His favorable notice or make Him partial to us; for we were dead in trespasses and sins and children of wrath even as others. . ." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 170).

One can only conclude they would have preferred for God to choose the powerful and wealthy, and consider that covering over this embarrassing scheme with silence is the best they can accomplish. The Calvinist finds a preference for the poor over the rich 'unlikely,'— certainly he would not so choose,— and discards it, basically. They do not feel bound by Biblical explication of God's works, because,



  • "The fact that the Scriptures often speak of one purpose of God as dependent on the outcome of another or on the actions of men, is no objection against this doctrine. The Scriptures are written in the every-day language of men, and they often describe an act or a thing as it appears to be, rather than as it really is."
  • (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 54.)




The Calvinist explains that simple foreknowledge of contingent events is simply not possible, only foreordination: "Foreordination in general cannot rest on foreknowledge; for only that which is certain can be foreknown, and only that which is predetermined can be certain. . .God foreknows only because He has pre-determined. His foreknowledge is but a transcript of His will as to what shall come to pass in the future. . ." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 173). It is rather ironic that John Calvin himself states the traditional Christian understanding of non-coercive divine foreknowledge: that God knows all things past, present, and future, because to Him they are present:

"When we attribute prescience to God, we mean that all things always were, and ever continue, under his eye; that to his knowledge there is no past or future, but all things are present, and indeed so present, that it is not merely the idea of them that is before him, (as those objects are which we retain in our memory,) but that he truly sees and contemplates them as actually under his immediate inspection. This prescience extends to the whole circuit of the world, and to all creatures." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 21, Section 5).

The followers deny what the founder affirmed. Stop and think: time itself is a created thing, among the creatures joining in the universal chorus of praise are the "day" and the "night:" "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge." (Psalm 19:1-2). How could God become subject to His own creation, enchained like Prometheus in the toils of time? It never happened. John Calvin still knows better than to claim it did. God, who does not change, knows the end from the beginning, but not because He lacks true omniscience as these modern Calvinists claim. To these Calvinists, God's knowledge of 'the future' (which, they imagine, is future to God just as it is to us), is constrained by the same limitation as is ours: He is capable of inventorying the contents of His own mind, and ascertaining His own intentions. We can do the same. This is veering dangerously near to saying, anything we cannot do, such as foreknow contingent events, He cannot do either.

This claim that simple foreknowledge is impossible is often offered as an 'argument' in favor of Calvinism. It is altogether an extra-Biblical philosophical argument; there is not a shred of scripture clinging to it, and it's altogether a bad philosophical argument.



  • "Undoubtedly there is a contradiction in supposing the 'chance happenings,' or those events produced by free will agents, can be the objects of definite foreknowledge or the subjects of previous arrangements. In the very nature of the case they must be both radically and eventually uncertain, 'so that,' as Toplady says, 'any assertor of self-determination is in fact, whether he means it or no, a worshipper of the heathen lady named Fortune, and an ideal deposer of providence from its throne.' . . .
  • "If men actually had free will, then in attempting to govern or convert a person, God would have to approach him as a man approaches his fellowmen, with several plans in mind so that if the first proves unsuccessful he can try the second, and if that does not work, then the third, and so on. If the acts of free agents are uncertain, God is ignorant of the future except in a most general way. He is then surprised times without number and daily receives great accretions of knowledge."
  • (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, pp. 323-324.)




Notice the author assumes that God is subject to time, as are we, although God created time. Was He subject to it before He created? How did a creature subjugate his creator? Or can they wish to say, God did not create time, it was just here? Then who is God, Time or Jehovah?

To the Calvinist, God does not possess 'omniscience' as an independent divine attribute, rather, His apparent omniscience is a by-product of His omnipotence: "If God were not absolute sovereign then divine prophecy would be valueless, for in such case no guarantee would be left that what He had predicted would surely come to pass." (Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 218). His predictions come true, solely because He makes them come true:








Michael Servetus

Probably the most controversial thing John Calvin did in his life was prosecute Michael Servetus, a Unitarian heretic who was passing through Geneva. Was Calvin acting as a man of his times, or should he have known better?:


Freedom of Conscience John Calvin
Et Tu Three-Headed Cerberus
Eternal Son Ye Are Gods
Pantheism Grieving the Spirit
In the Stars The Unlettered Prophet
The Logos



Grace Fail

Jesus lamented over Jerusalem:

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34).

The Bible presents us with several cases of 'Grace Fail,' where God laments that things have not gone the way He would have liked. Will denying that such a thing is possible shut His mouth, or create more problems than it solves?:


Frustration
Hen and Chicks
He Marvelled
My Mind
Bad Calvinists



Faith, in the Bible, is the immediate cause of salvation, though in the Calvinist system both faith and salvation are fruits of regeneration, which precedes both, and is premised on nothing but God's will. This Calvinist doctrine demands a particular order of events:

"A man is not saved because he believes in Christ; he believes in Christ because he is saved." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 175).

Can the requirement be defended, consistently and in detail, in light of the Bible? Certainly no one can own Jesus as Savior without the Holy Spirit:

"Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:3).

Those who confess Jesus as Lord are no strangers to the Holy Spirit. It is equally certain, though, that the scripture writers prefer to enumerate these steps in a different order, so that from preaching comes faith, from faith, receiving the Spirit:

"In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory." (Ephesians 1:13-14).

While tracing what awakens first in a repentant heart is a genuine conundrum, it is always best to stick with the Bible order. There are scriptures which suggest a logical dependence such that faith is the cause of regeneration:

"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13).

The Holy Spirit is given to believers: "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." (John 7:39). Believers and those born again are the same population: "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him." (1 John 5:1). 'Instantaneous' might well work as a time frame. But insisting upon a sequence which inverts the Bible's logical sequence is a procedure with nothing to recommend it. Is it a bug or a feature? To Calvinists it is a selling point for their system.

Up



Post-Mortem

A thought experiment: imagine an Ivy League college gone to pot. While formerly admission was based strictly on merit, and hardly anyone got in (maybe no one did), now they open advertise in their literature that they give points to candidates from an under-privileged background, who are physically challenged, and other things not related to academic excellence, such as the habit of crying piteously. The old system was merit-based, the new system is based on an ethic of compensation. Imagine a crusty old alumnus who complained, seeing this inversion and up-ending of the old ways,

  1. Admission can be based only on merit;
  2. But metrics show that admission is not based on merit. Moreover, school literature asserts grounds for admission other than merit;
  3. Therefore, no one can possibly know what the basis for admission is nowadays.

Huh? Didn't he just admit, in Point 2, that school pamphlets discuss grounds for admission other than merit? Point 1 and Point 3 are unfounded and must be discarded. Repeat what the school literature says and you'll do fine. Perhaps you can even memorize it. We don't have exhaustive knowledge, but neither have we so little to go on as to say, 'We don't know:' "Why God selected these particular individuals rather than others, we do not know." (Arthur W. Pink, The Doctrine of Election, p. 5). Perhaps you do not like his new system, but it has been adequately explained.


Evaluation Equal Hatred
Over-Generalization Adam's Free Will
The Bridge is Out Neo-Platonism
Beggar's Cup Douglas Wilson
Regeneration God is Love


Evaluation

John Calvin's novel system from the beginning met with opposition from those who, reasoning from a philosophical or legal standpoint, are committed to the idea of free-will, which his system obliterates, not only for sinner but for saint as well. It's a shame that the dispute between these two litigants takes up so much of the oxygen in the room, inasmuch as the 'free-will' side, however justified their concerns, argue from abstract philosophical or legal considerations rather than directly from the Bible, which devotes precious little column-space to their concerns. Those observers who thoughtlessly adopt the protocol, 'Of these two systems, I will accept the more Biblical, reject the less Biblical,' are sometimes unthinkingly led into accepting Calvinism, because this system seems to be more firmly rooted in Bible concerns rather than moral abstractions.

This is the wrong way to evaluate the matter! Both of these man-made systems must pass Biblical muster. Presented with two differing systems, the Bible student must not resolve to adopt the less unbiblical of the two; what if both are unbiblical? As has been seen, two of the five points: 'U' and 'L,' directly contradict the Bible, which teaches that God's election is according to foreknowledge and that Christ died for all. The remaining points are Biblical only insofar as they are not defined so as to exceed the Bible parameters. Calvinism, whatever else it is, is not the pure, unadorned teaching of the Bible; some of its features are Biblical up to a point, others not at all. The believer ought to follow Calvin when he follows the Bible, and part company from him when he wanders off the path.

Equal Hatred

The crux of John Calvin's departure from the Bible is what one might call the 'Equal Hatred Principle' upon which his whole system rests. Speaking of infants, he says, "Indeed, their whole nature is a seed of sin; hence it can be only hateful and abhorrent to God." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter 1, Section 8). Since there is nothing lovely to God in the sinner, He can only hate him; God's only and entire sentiment toward the sinner is one of hatred. His hatred for Peter is just the same, just as intense, as His hatred for Paul, so there can be no grounds for differentiation. It follows from their doctrine of Total Depravity that there is nothing in the sinner, but sin. But remember, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16). Biblically, is the Calvinist understanding too extreme?



  • "It has been customary to say God loves the sinner though He hates his sin. But that is a
    meaningless distinction. What is there in a sinner but sin? . . .The fact is, the love of
    God is a truth for the saints only, and to present it to the enemies of God is to take
    the children's bread and cast it to the dogs."
  • (Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 187).




It is said,

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:44-45).

"But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful." (Luke 6:35-36).

If we are imitating God when we love our enemies, then it stands to reason that He loves the sinner. We all know people we love intensely whom we wish would get with the program. 'Hatred' is not, to us, the immediate and inevitable consequence of awareness of defect. Thus we hear, 'Hate the sin, love the sinner.' However sound that advice may be for finite sinners to follow, the Bible does in several places confirm John Calvin's perception that God holds the person of the sinner in detestation along with his sin: "For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man." (Psalm 5:4-6). God is perfectly holy, and cannot abide evil: "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?" (Habakkuk 1:13). Psalm 11 confirms the principle that God abhors the sinner: "The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’S throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men. The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth." (Psalm 11:4-5). We know that the Bible also says, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8); but what God loves in the sinner is not his sin, which disfigures him and renders him hideous and unlovely.

What the Bible does not confirm, however, is John Calvin's principle that God hates all sinners equally. This is the foundation-stone of his system; since all sinners are equally obnoxious in His sight, He can have no possible basis for preferring one above another and saving those He loves; He hates them all...equally. But does the Bible ever say that God hates all people, equally? Or does it explicitly trace out divine sympathies and exclusions? Is the Bible actually a very long book tracing out these themes, redundantly even?

Jesus "loved" the rich young ruler: "Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him. . ." (Mark 10:21). Yet this young man did not follow the Lord, at least not at that time. That there is a loved person, who is yet lost, disproves the system. The system requires that the Lord never be disappointed in love, and look, with tear-stained eyes, after a wayward one marching to Hell.

To summarize Calvin's argument, it runs like so:

  1. God cares about nothing in human beings but merit. Every human disposition, thought, or action may be classified as meritorious. . .or marked with a demerit. This is the legacy of a thousand years of medieval scholastic legalism.
  2. God perceives no merit in unregenerate sinners because they have none; recall, the exaggerated form of the Bible doctrine of human depravity leaves them all in equal condition; they are wicked in each particular, good in none. Thus each is in a perfectly equal circumstance, since 0=0.
  3. Like the donkey suspended forever between two equidistant bales of hay, God will not act unless given a motive. All available bales of hay, all the sinners for whom Jesus died, are equally distant, equally worthless, therefore God can have no basis in His foreknowledge of any quality belonging to these bales to move.
  4. Therefore, since He can have no possible basis for choosing one sinner above another, He will remain motionless forever, as (they said) the donkey would do. Yet we know that He acts. He acts, therefore, solely for reasons limited to within His own sphere, to vindicate His own free sovereignty, with no regard to any foreknown characteristic of the sinner, selected or overlooked, in picking out the jewels for His kingdom. There is no foreknown characteristic of the elect which can have any possible relevance to their election.

In response, there is no evidence that God cares about nothing in human beings but moral merit, of which admittedly we have none, except for what is on loan from Him. Nor is it entirely clear that all are in equal failure, as the system requires: "He has mercy upon one and not on another, according to his own good pleasure, because all are equally unworthy and guilty." (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Kindle location 17736). Certainly all have failed, nor does God grade on a curve. He is a physician who heals the sick, not the whole: "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." (1 Timothy 1:15). What is breath-taking about the Calvinist scheme, however, is its total impersonality. This scheme presents a God who is a heavenly Mr. Magoo, too near-sighted to tell any of his creatures apart. It cannot be ruled out that there are actual human characteristics of which He takes notice.

Moreover, we all know is our own experience grounds for preferring one person above another which are unrelated to merit. For example, why do we value our own friends? Perhaps because she has a lovely singing voice, and he has a rollicking sense of humor. But who could imagine that the gates of heaven are barred to the tone-deaf, or to people who need to have the punch-line explained to them? These are not meritorious qualities, only entertaining ones. Certainly God, unlike us, stands in no need of being entertained. Yet He has indicated, in His word, that there are human qualities which interest Him, beyond merit. When someone suffers a gross injustice, when a child is snatched off the sidewalk and brutally murdered, everyone feels for the victim family, even if under other circumstances there would be no special reason to champion or celebrate this family. God, it would seem, is not immune from this tug of sympathy on His heart; He is with the oppressed, and against the oppressors, though there is nothing meritorious in suffering oppression. He sides with some people, and against others, out of sympathy.

In response, I would note there is no evidence that God cares about nothing in human beings but moral merit, of which admittedly we have none, except for what is on loan from Him. We all know in our own experience grounds for preferring one person above another which are unrelated to merit. For example, why do we value our own friends? Perhaps because she has a lovely singing voice, and he has a rollicking sense of humor. But who could imagine that the gates of heaven are barred to the tone-deaf, or to people who need to have the punch-line explained to them? These are not meritorious qualities, only entertaining ones. Certainly God, unlike us, stands in no need of being entertained. Yet He has indicated, in His word, that there are human qualities which interest Him, beyond merit. When someone suffers a gross injustice, when a child is snatched off the sidewalk and brutally murdered, everyone feels for the victim family, even if under other circumstances there would be no special reason to champion or celebrate this particular family. God, it would seem, feels the very same way; He is with the oppressed, and against the oppressors, though there is nothing meritorious in suffering oppression. He sides with some people, and against others, because He feels the tug of sympathy. Though we cannot, with our finite minds, ever trace out the balance of motives in God's choice of a particular saint, surely there is no sense in discarding all that the Bible says, very plainly and succinctly, about God choosing the poor over the rich, the little over the mighty; He says this is what He is doing, why not believe Him? John Calvin's idea, that He only says this to show that there is no reason for what He is doing, is simply to put one's fingers in one's ears and to silence the voice of God.

Restricting God's world of concern to merit and nothing but merit is arbitrary and unbiblical. Admittedly, moral merit comes only from God. If God chose His elect on the basis of merit, He would be choosing His saints based on His own gifts to them, an entirely circular proceeding. However it goes much too far to say, if He does not choose on the basis of merit, He chooses on the basis of nothing. A thousand years of scholasticism redefined almost everything human as meritorious or non-meritorious, including several features which are plainly placed outside that realm by the Bible itself. 'Faith,' to take one example, is a meritorious work by scholastic standards, but not classed as such by the Bible. To be sure, non-meritorious as it is, it is a gift of God, but it should be plain to the observer that these categories have gotten skewed, with the 'merit/demerit' category growing especially bloated.

The Calvinist system is so impersonal that no one can be left with the impression that God loves him personally. He hates everything about us. He wills to love what He will make of us, once He has obliterated what we are, but perhaps even this will be a poor piece of work, because John Calvin was very weak on the positive side of Christian life, sanctification. There is nothing that anybody can say to God which will interest Him or make Him care. To be sure in Calvinism He saves His elect, yet He handles them with tongs. One cannot confirm this construct by Bible study. Though many of His friend have been scallawags and low-lifes, men like Jacob, Abraham, and David, there does seem to be something in these men that He cherishes, just as we love our friends. To take 'love' at something like its ordinary meaning is enough to demolish this system, because in Calvinism, God's only object of love is Himself: all God loves in His saints are their merits, which He supplies. This cannot be confirmed from the Bible, which leaves open the possibility that perhaps there is something else that He loves also.

This agenda of equalization is very much at the heart of the Calvinist system. Because every sinner totally depraved, every sinner is equal to every other sinner, all weighing in at a round zero. So God cannot act in accordance with the rubric that the sick need a physician, not the healthy, and gather the more sinful ones to himself, because John Calvin has made them all to be equally sinful. Because none is rich compared with God, we are all equally poor in His sight, so the oft-expressed Bible principle that He loves the poor applies equally to everyone, or no one. This tendency toward equalization ought to excite the reader's suspicion, because the Bible does not make distinctions for no reason. Why is John Calvin continually levelling these carefully wrought distinctions, so that in the end he can assure us that God chooses His elect for no reason at all? God comforts those who mourn, and as John Calvin reminds us we all ought to mourn over our sins, but some people mourn more than others, say if they have lost their family in a tsunami. Every one of these Bible disparities and distinctions John Calvin levels and equalizes, though in context they function as distinctions and disparities: it is a given that not everyone is in the same boat with regard to these qualifiers. There is something wrong here.

Two merchants met at a train station, so the old story says. One asks the other, 'Where are you going?' 'To Minsk,' he replies. His competitor shouts, 'Aha! You say you are going to Minsk because you want me to think you're going to Pinsk! But,— you crafty old liar,— I happen to know you really are going to Minsk!' Here a man told the truth, but in the distrustful environment in which he found himself, he was not believed. God speaks at great length in the Bible about which people He chooses for His own: the poor, the weak, the oppressed. But in John Calvin's eyes, that appears to be such a preposterous basis for a salvation plan that God cannot be taken seriously when He advances it; rather, He tells us that He chooses the small over the mighty to impress upon us that, in reality, He chooses people for no reason at all; after all, we are all small in proportion to God. So that, like the travelling salesman's itinerary, God's answer is simply not believed, but is taken as evidence for a completely different answer. But suppose He really is going to Minsk?

Over-Generalization

In leading the Hebrew slaves out of slavery in Egypt, God 'hardened Pharaoh's heart:'

"And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 7:3).

What does this mean? That God intends to put steel for Pharaoh's paste-board. Pharaoh is disposed to be vacillating and weak-kneed; God intends to make him bold and resolute enough to stand up to Moses. If there is no contest, there is no victory. Boldness and resolution are normally perceived as positive things, but a wicked man who is bold and resolute is more trouble to the world than a wicked man who is cowardly; however, God intends a public demonstration, which will not happen if Pharaoh wimps out. But the Calvinist interpretation is that God is making a good man wicked! He was already wicked.

The Calvinist explains, that if God turns the king's heart, as He certainly does: "The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes." (Proverbs 21:1). . .then so He must turn the commoner's heart; if He stiffened Pharaoh's wavering resolve, then so He does to every sinner without exception. But God's word speaks of how He abandons those who have become entrenched in their rebellion against Him: " For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature. . ." (Romans 1:26). There is no new-born child in this condition, bearing any such well-founded judgment against himself: "So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels." (Psalm 81:12). It is certain that this divine abandonment leaves these obdurate sinners in a state of free-fall, but this judgment cannot be extended to the entire human race, severed from reference to where these people took their stand. We are not all Pharaoh.

It is legitimate to search out principles, based on induction, from instances on record in the Bible. It is not legitimate to ignore counter-examples and pronounce general principles founded upon one instance, or several instances if these represent a sequestered part of the evidence, not the balanced whole. God hardened Pharaoh's heart, but He did nothing to suggest to the child-sacrificers the horror which they perpetrated: "And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin." (Jeremiah 32:35). This abomination did not come into God's mind. Why is the case of Pharaoh, if indeed even that case can be understood in their sense, to be taken as the general rule, rather than the case of the self-starting Molech-worshippers?

Another instance is Hosea 8:4:

"They set up kings, but not by Me; they made princes, but I did not acknowledge them. From their silver and gold They made idols for themselves— that they might be cut off." (Hosea 8:4).

God is saying, this wickedness does not come from Him, it is not His contribution to the world; and it is strange indeed that the Calvinists insist that it is:

"God's eternal purpose as to evil acts of free agents is more than barely permissive; His prescience of it is more than a scientia media of what is, to Him, contingent. It is a determinate purpose achieved in providence by means efficient, and to Him, certain in their influence on free agents." (Robert Lewis Dabney, Systematic Theology, Chapter 21, Kindle location 8241).

Their analysis leaves only one free agent in the cosmos: God; and so He must commit not only all good, but also all evil. Perish the thought! God is not tempted, and does not tempt: "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed." (James 1:13-14).

The Calvinist might object, it is not they who are importing God's just sentence against Pharaoh into alien contexts, but Paul, who raises this case in Romans 9. Paul, therefore, must think Pharaoh's case is exactly like our own. But this is not the way Paul's argument works. The rabbinic reasoning in which Paul was trained leaned heavily toward a fortieri argumentation, or what the Rabbis termed heavy and light. This is a form of argument by analogy, as if one would say, 'if stealing a woman's pocket-book is wrong, how much worse is robbing a bank.' For instance, there is no explicit mention in the Mosaic law of bank robbery, nor were there any bankers in attendance when the law came down at Sinai; still, robbing banks is not legal under Moses' law, as any practitioner of this form of reasoning could readily demonstrate. The cases do not need to be identical for the analogy to hold: robbing a bank is not exactly like rustling sheep, but it is close enough; in fact, it's worse. Paul is not, in fact, saying that the cases he brings up are exactly alike, nor that each of them forms part of our own experience.

Classical logic viewed argument by analogy with suspicion, as an inherently weak form of argumentation. Thus those trained in classical logic tend to assume that Paul would not have brought up any comparison cases unless the analogy were perfect, unless they were in all respects just like the index case. That is how you get Calvinism out of Romans 9. But rabbinic reasoning tends to trust argument by analogy, as being the precise instrument to accomplish its limited goal of determining whether novel behavior is legal or illegal under Moses' code. How else would you make that determination? In what respects are Paul's analogies like, and in what unlike? His diagnosis of the rebellious Jewish leaders who rejected Jesus as Messiah is as follows: ". . .but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law." (Romans 9:31-32). Now was this Esau's problem, that he sought righteousness by works? We have no reason so to believe. Was it Pharaoh's problem? Of course not! His problem was contempt for the living God, a problem not shared by the first century Jewish leadership at all. The cases are not identical. They are the same at the juncture of comparison, that none of these people has any grounds to complain against God. But Paul says the cases are identical. No, he does not.

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Adam's Free-Will

John Calvin knew it would be heretical to deny Adam's free-will, and so he did not: "We admit that man's condition while he still remained upright was such that he could incline to either side." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter III, Section 10). His successors, however, felt free to deny any possibility of human freedom, for anyone, at any time. If no human being has ever been free, then Adam was not free, contradicting John Calvin's teaching on this point. John Calvin was admittedly weak in seconding the Bible promise that the saints will regain their lost freedom, but he adequately repeats the Bible teaching on Adam. The Bible teaches that man was made upright: "Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions." (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Adam was not unfree before the fall, but only after.

Modern Calvinists' efforts to find some feature in the fabric of time, eternity, and foreknowledge that obliterates the possibility of human freedom must come to terms with John Calvin's own teaching that there was one man who was free, Adam: "They perversely search out God's handwork in their own pollution, when the ought rather to have sought it in that unimpaired and uncorrupted nature of Adam. Our destruction, therefore, comes from the guilt of our flesh, not from God, inasmuch as we have perished solely because we have degenerated from our original condition." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter I, Section 10). God created Adam good, and free; that is man's "original condition." How could He have done this, if creaturely freedom is a metaphysical impossibility?

That Adam's children retain some measure of freedom, or have it restored by the new birth, is apparent in such Biblical plaints as, "I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts;. . ." (Isaiah 65:2). It is not very convincing to recast this divine lament as, 'Actually I never spread out my hands at all to those rebels, but that's a secret.'

God calls to dialogue:

“'Come now, and let us reason together,' says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword;' for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 1:18-20).

Is it a dialogue or a monologue? Who, if anyone, is reasoning together?:


Desderius Erasmus
Scriptural Basis
Seek and Find
Adam and Eve
Can and Does
Glorious Liberty
Onlookers



The Bridge is Out

Every child understands the distinction between letting something happen and making it happen. If, driving along a rain-soaked road, you skid to a stop right before a washed-out bridge, the responsible thing to do is to post yourself in the middle of the road and wave your arms to stop oncoming traffic, even at the risk of getting run over. A passive motorist who sits and watches as cars drive by and splash into the water is unhelpful and unneighborly. He has violated the law in some European countries, but not in America. Even in those countries, however, he would not be prosecuted as a murderer; he did not blow up the bridge, he failed to notify people that it was gone, and that is not the same thing. If God allows a willful sinner to go his way, He does him no harm. The distinction between making it happen and letting it happen is easy enough for most people to understand, and all legal systems recognize it, yet John Calvin thought it frigid and artificial. The error continues:

"'God created the human being with the possibility of sinning, and He has the power to interfere at any time to prevent the evil act. Even though He has no purpose to work out in the permission of the act the very permission of the act when He has the power to interfere, places the ultimate responsibility for the act squarely upon God.'" (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 354).

This inability to make a very basic ethical distinction takes one step down the road to the distortions and exaggerations which constitute this man-made system. There is some good in this system; for example, in warning the sinner not to look for salvation to his own, ruined and depraved, will, John Calvin repeats the counsel of the Bible and of the early church writers. Only Jesus saves; the sinner needs rescue from himself, not self-reliance, and pulling on his own boot-straps will only mire him deeper in the pit. But there is so much in this system which is purely man-made, which its devotees justify as purportedly following by logical inference from those points which are legitimately scriptural, that it ought to be avoided.

Neo-Platonism

Two salvation programs came out of Augustine's teaching: Calvinism and Arminianism. "The Protestant Reformation should really be understood as Augustinian Christianity coming into its own, and Protestants would do well to get reacquainted with their spiritual father." (Douglas Wilson, The Case for Classical Christian Education, p. 215). Some of the odd features of both these systems make more sense in their original setting than excised from it. 'Common grace' is a devolution of Augustine's teaching that all good, wherever found, comes from God. In Augustine's neo-Platonism, this is quite literally true, as God is the only source of good; anyone who is good at all at any time is good with God's goodness, borrowed on loan. Plato's original metaphysical system posited the existence of many self-subsistent principles expressing themselves throughout the natural world, such as 'The Good.' In addition Plato advanced self-described 'myths' like reincarnation. Neither these 'myths' nor the plethora of self-subsistent, eternal entities were compatible with Biblical monotheism. The system was subsequently reconfigured in a monotheistic context with the Platonic ideas either repositioned as concepts in the mind of God, or else attributes of God, such as goodness.

In such a context, an extra-Biblical idea like 'common grace' makes sense, because God is the only source of goodness, and all goodness in the final analysis is only God's goodness, because He runs the only store in town which has that item in stock. Part of the problem here is that Augustine's teaching, which makes sense in the context of neo-Platonism, has been ported into a foreign context and is dissolving into contradiction once severed from its roots. Its two halves cannot stay together, but have split into Calvinism and Arminianism.

As the neoplatonist Philo Judaeus explains, it's all of grace: "The just man seeking to understand the nature of all existing things, makes this one most excellent discovery, that everything which exists, does so according to the grace of God, and that there is nothing ever given by, just as there is nothing possessed by, the things of creation. On which account also it is proper to acknowledge gratitude to the Creator alone. Accordingly, to those persons who seek to investigate what is the origin of creation, we may most correctly make answer, that it is the goodness and the grace of God, which he has bestowed on the human race; for all the things which are in the world, and the world itself, are the gift and benefaction and free grace of God." (Philo Judaeus, Allegorical Interpretation, Book III, Chapter XXIV). All good things, which are created, have not their own good; therefore they participate in 'the good' or they ain't got it. All goodness is an alien goodness imparted from without. But then so is the number four, felinity and justice. It goes with the system.

Neo-Platonism makes more sense than many people nowadays would credit. It makes the most sense in its own terms. When it disintegrates into and abstract legal and moral streams, which are not quite Biblical, it loses its wholeness and coherence. Look what happened to 'common grace,' a pointless, unbiblical and inexplicable element of Calvinism, which leaves 'total depravity,' the central pivot of the system, as an unrealized, never actually instantiated abstraction. Neither John Calvin nor James Arminius was a neo-Platonist, yet both viewed Augustine as an authority. This was bound to lead to trouble.

We might be tempted to say that everyone nowadays is a nominalist, yet it would be more accurate to say that no one now is. In fact it is difficult to recover what the medieval nominalists thought when they saw a tiger. Can they seriously have believed that it is only human convenience which lumps this tiger here with that one over there, that the two have nothing much to do with one another, but only come together as neighbors in our mental house-keeping? Who believes that today? Everyone thinks that the two tigers are manufactured after the same, or very nearly the same, blueprint. People cannot avoid using noetic terms to describe the blueprint: it is a plan, a program, a design. The relation between tiger and blueprint leaves 'creative control' to the blueprint; the blueprint is prior to the tiger, determines him, and is the creative and active element in the transaction. The blueprint dwells in the realm of language, of 'grammar': "Henry James spoke of 'the grammar of painting,' and the biochemist Erwin Chargaff says of his discoveries in DNA chemistry in 1949: 'I saw before me in dark contours the beginning of a grammar of biology.'" (W. Brian Arthur, 'The Nature of Technology,'' p. 77). What is this but neo-Platonism?

While it's high time for this flexible and robust system of metaphysics to make a come-back, as it is now doing under the disguise of 'information theory,' etc., the remnants of its former disintegration under the hands of those who don't actually believe in it are best swept away. We are left talking about God as the only source of good in human life, yet we no longer find ourselves speaking of God as the only source of unicity or of being. This is a distortion; things have gotten out of whack. It is no help at all to discard the metaphysics and keep the theology, as this author advises:

"There are two elements in Augustine’s doctrine of sin: the one metaphysical or philosophical, the other moral or religious. The one a speculation of the understanding, the other derived from his religious experience and the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The one has passed away, leaving little more trace on the history of doctrine than other speculations, whether Aristotelian or Platonic. The other remains, and has given form to Christian doctrine from that day to this."
(Hodge, Charles (2015-02-13). Systematic Theology: The Complete Three Volumes (Kindle Locations 14846-14849). GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition.)

. . .because the two are joined at the hip. The one does not make sense without the other. Only mischief comes from people who do not share Augustine's world-view quoting him as an authority; this is how we end up with Calvinism, Arminianism, etc.

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Beggar's Cup

Imagine we are sitting in a downtown cafe and notice, across the street, pedestrians passing before, first, a well-to-do businessman seated on a park bench shuffling through papers in his briefcase, and secondly, a double-amputee seated on the sidewalk with a hand-lettered sign in front of him reading, 'Homeless Vet.' We notice a trend: passersby frequently toss a coin into the beggar's cup, but no one ever gives the businessman anything. How unfair! As far as we can determine, none of the passersby owes either the businessman or the homeless man one red cent. Do we conclude from our observations that it's a mystery and confess we cannot comprehend why people keep giving money to the beggar and not to the businessman? Justice cannot explain this phenomenon. But let us stop and ask them. When they reply, 'I gave money to the homeless man because he didn't have any,' we angrily scoff, 'That can't be the reason. I don't believe you! Let's start over. It's an impenetrable mystery.'

They proceed to spiritualize, equalize, and meritorialize: 'material poverty is irrelevant, we are all equally poor by comparison with God's cattle on a thousand hills, the poverty that is meant is spiritual poverty, which is meritorious, and all must acknowledge men have no merit outside of God's grace.' This misses the point, however, because God's word does make invidious comparisons between unsaved individuals as to these very qualities which they proclaim as equal. We are beggars all. . .or are we really? Is not the literal beggar just slightly more so than others?

John Calvin started down his road by assuming that God can only act toward humankind from His attribute of justice, which must be blind. Years ago, if memory serves, while watching the Watergate hearings on TV, I recall hearing a senator remind the witness, one of the well-scrubbed but amoral men President Nixon brought into public life, that justice must be blind; the witness piously offered, 'I hope justice is not blind.' But she is supposed to be; that is why the sculptor carved a blind-fold on her face in the statute in front of the court-house! This principle is Biblical: justice must not 'respect persons:' "Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons. . ." (Acts 10:34). Moses states the principle, "Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous." (Deuteronomy 16:19). Literally 'respecting persons' means, you shall not look at the face; Lady Justice must not let the blindfold slip and peek to see who has come before her accused of wrong-doing; she must be impartial.

But no one has ever suggested that God's attribute of loving-kindness or mercy must also be blind. Mercy may strip off the sculptor's blindfold and fill her eyes. Does she see Lazarus' sores or Dives' comfort? If God prefers to show mercy to the poor not the rich, none deserving, who is there to chide Him or bring Him back to the straight and narrow Calvinist path?

Douglas Wilson

There are many popular authors today who write from a Calvinist perspective, like John Piper, who have valuable insights to offer. Others, not so much. Who is the worst of today's Calvinists? Hands down, the answer is self-described 'paleo-Confederate' Douglas Wilson, a man who thinks Christians in the antebellum South practiced a godly and Biblical form of slavery. In fairness to today's Calvinists, some of them think this man with his 'Federal Vision' scheme is not really one of their tribe; others, however, think he is just fine, 'League of the South' baggage and all:




Regeneration

The Calvinist order of salvation differs from that conventionally understood, in that regeneration comes first, then faith, then repentance: "But the Scriptures make faith the fruit of renewal. The other view is Arminian." (Robert Lewis Dabney, Systematic Theology, Chapter 22, Kindle location 8892). Whatever insight may seem to be lurking here, a mandatory listing of these elements in an order differing from the common Biblical one raises a red flag, and this is a consistent feature of the Calvinist system: "Faith is not the cause of the new birth, but the consequence of it." (Arthur W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, p. 69).

John speaks of belief leading to life: "But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." (John 20:31). Yet this is not the Calvinist order: "The order they give is this: First, regeneration, implanting Christ's spiritual life, by which the winner is enabled to believe: Second, faith, and then justification." (Robert Lewis Dabney, Systematic Theology, Chapter 29, Kindle location 12726). Historically, some have identified regeneration, or rebirth, with baptism. Christian baptism is certainly a legitimate symbol of the new birth, but some go further, making it the trigger that unleashes this divine work. This view has been revived in the present by N. T. Wright and those affiliated with him, who make faith to be only the 'badge' of kingdom membership, showing who is 'in' but not how to get 'in,' effectively leaving baptism as the way of salvation:




God is Love

The Calvinist is right to insist his system be evaluated on conformity to the Bible, not by comparison with abstract principles of God's nature, even if those non-conforming principles are themselves explicitly taught in the Bible, such as "God is love." (1 John 4:16). However, realizing that the system is not in fact altogether scriptural, requiring considerable bridging over the gaps, the fact that it contradicts known and revealed principles of God's character and activity is certainly no further recommendation. A common complaint made by those who leave Calvinism is that the system over-stresses God's wrath:

"Calvinism has this infatuation with the idea that God hates sinners and God is angry all the time. There is very little emphasis on the love of God for sinners because it truly seems the love of God is more philosophical in Calvinism and not as personal." (Why I Left Calvinism, by Billy Stevens, Kindle location 598).

Elder Rule

Calvinists espouse a form of church governance distinctive to themselves, called 'elder rule.' It is a compromise between the early church polity, which was democratic, and the diminished form of democracy which came in during later centuries, as a self-contained clerical guild was in process of formation, and the 'clergy' same to separate themselves out from the 'laity.' Later this process would continue until the church was not democratic at all, but rather a hierarchy. John Calvin was aware that the church of the apostles was a self-governing democracy, but preferred to institute the situation as it had developed several centuries later.

This is an instance of a peculiar phenomenon with the 'main-line' reformers, that in some cases they knew more than they let on. For example, Martin Luther knew that the proper form of baptism was immersion, but did nothing with that knowledge: ". . .just as I have said of baptism that it were more fitting to immerse than to pour the water, for the sake of the completeness and perfection of the sign." (Martin Luther, Works of Martin Luther, A Treatise Concerning the Blessed Sacrament, Volume II, Kindle location 68). Calvinists sing paeans to their freedom-loving heritage, which they credit with responsibility for the American Revolution among other things:

"We have said that Calvinistic theology develops a liberty loving people. Where it flourishes despotism cannot abide. As might have been expected, it early gave rise to a revolutionary form of Church government, in which the people of the Church were to be governed and ministered to, not by the appointees of any one man or set of men placed over them, but by pastors and officers elected by themselves." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 603).

This is at best half-truth, because John Calvin's reform in this area was not thorough-going, producing a hybrid system of church governance which falls short of the apostolic. It's certainly true, though, that his system is a big improvement over papal autocracy.




Ergun Caner

There is at present an ongoing controversy within the Southern Baptist Convention, remarkable for its vitriol, between Calvinists and non-Calvinists. As one symptom of how much bad faith has grown up between the parties, a common-place charlatan and scam artist, Ergun 'Mehmet' Caner, who travelled the country in the wake of 9/11 claiming to have been trained as a terrorist in foreign lands, has found it possible to shelter within the interstices of this conflict:




One could hope that, even if these people have no sense of personal integrity, they could team up with someone sufficiently versed in public relations to teach them that making common cause with sleaze-balls is not a good strategy for winning hearts and minds. It's frustrating that, even though, from my perspective, the non-Calvinists hold the winning side of the argument, they show very little ability to prevail.

Believers' Baptism

As noted, there is an ongoing rift in the Southern Baptist Convention between Calvinists and non-Calvinists, which is odd in that John Calvin himself was not torn by doubt on the issue of believers' baptism. He perceived the Christian church almost as a race or an ethnic group, thinking that believers' children were enrolled in the covenant whether they wanted to be or not. There are in the present day Presbyterians who believe every single thing John Calvin taught. No Baptist does, but still some Baptists insist upon a subset of Calvin's teachings: