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Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option

One of the dozens of reasons I am a Calvinist has to do with the tension that is allowed within the Calvinistic system that is not allowed in other options. You see, the issues of Calvinism primarily center on one issue: predestination. While the sovereignty of God has its place, it does not ultimately determine where one lands. An Arminian can believe that God is sovereign to a similar degree as a Calvinist. But an Arminian cannot believe in predestination the same way as Calvinists.

Both Calvinists and Arminians believe in predestination. In other words, whether or not God predestines people is not the issue. All Bible believing Christians believe this doctrine. The issue has to do with the basis of this predestining.

The Calvinist says that God’s predestination has no founding in the predestined in any sense. God did not choose people based on any merit, intrinsic or foreseen. This is called unconditional predestination because there are no conditions in man that need to be met. It does not mean that God did not have any reason for choosing some and not others, but that the reason is not found in us.

The Arminian says that God’s predestination has a founding in the faith of the predestined. In other words, God looks ahead in time and discovers who will believe and who will not and chooses people based on their prior free-will choice of him.

The Arminian chooses this position because, for them, it is the only way to reconcile human freedom and God’s choice. Both are clearly taught in Scripture. Therefore, in order to have a reasonable and consistant theology, one or the other must be altered. If God unconditionally choose people, then people don’t have responsibility in their choice, good or ill. Therefore, it is not human choice that is nuanced, but God’s choice. To make sense out of this, the Arminian says that God’s choice is based on man’s choice. Therefore, we have consistency. The tension is solved. There is no tension.

However, the Calvinist is not satisfied with a redefining of God’s predestination. To the Calvinists, man is fully responsible for his choice, yet God’s election is unconditional. Therefore, there is a tension that is created between human responsibility and God’s election. This tension is left in tact since, according to the Calvinist, it is best understood this way in Scripture. To redefine predestination to suit one’s need to alleviate tension seems to be a very rationalistic approach to doctrine. While there is nothing wrong with using one’s reason to understand truth, there are problems when reason takes priority over revelation.

This is one of the mistakes that I believe the Arminian system of conditional election/predestination makes. There is no need to solve all tensions, especially when the solution comes at the expense of one’s interpretive integrity. There are many tensions in Scripture. There are many things that, while not irrational, just don’t make sense. The doctrine of the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union, creation out of nothing all fit this category. So does human responsibility and unconditional election. God’s sovereign unconditional election can stand side-by-side with man’s responsibility without creating a formal contradiction. We may not know how to reconcile these two issues, but that does not mean God does not know how. Their co-existence does not take away from their collective truthfulness.

I believe that the Arminian system sacrifices biblical integrity for the sake of intelligibility and doctrinal harmony. The Calvinistic system allows tension and mysteries to remain for the sake of Biblical fidelity.

I have had people say to me (often) that they are not Calvinists because the system attempts to be too systematic with all its points for the sake of the system itself. I think that it is just the opposite. The Calvinistic system creates more tensions than it solves, but seeks to remain faithful to God’s word rather than human intelligibility.

Now, I must admit. I am confused as to why most emergers that I know of are more attracted to the rationalistic approach of the Arminians than the tension filled approach of the Calvinists.

Fire away…

211 Responses to “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option”

  1. Michael,

    This tension is left intact since, according to the Calvinist, it is best understood this way in Scripture. To redefine predestination to suit one’s need to alleviate tension seems to be a very rationalistic approach to doctrine.

    I see no principled difference between the “rationalistic approach to doctrine” and the philosophy of private judgment. If one accepts the latter, then one has no grounds for rejecting the former.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  2. In all fairness, YOU think Calvinism is more faithful to God’s word, otherwise you wouldn’t be a Calvinist, but Arminians also think they are being more faithful to God’s word. It isn’t like Arminians are saying ‘well we only believe in part of the Bible’ (but Calvinists SAY that is what Arminians are doing, just as Arminians say that is what Calvinists are doing).

    This is what frustrates me about many (not all) Calvinists. They just take a reductionist approach of ‘Well I just believe what the Bible says’ as though other people are throwing the Bible into the waste bin.

    Same with Catholics
    Same with Anglicans
    Same with Infant Baptism
    Same with Transubstantiation
    Same with Young Earth Creationists

    The list goes on. Everyone thinks they are ‘doing what the Bible says’ and they are the only ones.

    I am no different.

    I don’t really buy into Calvinism, but if it is true, I was just predestined to be wrong, which is fine. At least I am a Christian and am not predestined to burn as torches so people in heaven can see.

    …ok that was a cheap shot….

  3. Truth Unites... and Divides November 20, 2008 at 2:31 am

    CMP: “I believe that the Arminian system sacrifices biblical integrity for the sake of intelligibility and doctrinal harmony.”

    Very generous statement. I don’t even think their sacrifice of biblical integrity even nets them intelligibility and doctrinal harmony.

    You lose biblical integrity, you just about lose everything else.

    God’s Glory. Monergism. Augustine. Calvin. Sola Gratia.

  4. Both Arminianism and Calvinism tend to think of God as embedded in time with us. They argue over the sequence of events. What if God doesn’t see sequentially like we do, He just sees? We have no problem believe God exists outside of our physical space; why do we find it harder to believe he is outside our experience of time?

  5. “I believe that the Arminian system sacrifices biblical integrity for the sake of intelligibility and doctrinal harmony. The Calvinistic system allows tension and mysteries to remain for the sake of Biblical fidelity.”

    I have to agree with Michael W (#2) on this one, except for the cheap shot :)

  6. John: I agree that God exists outside of time, and I’m a Calvinist. In fact, when I discuss predestination to other believers who are free-willers (or who have never considered the topic), I pretty much always talk about God’s existence outside of time (this is usually linked to tangent discussions on God “changing His mind” which. I believe, is impossible for a perfect, immutable, omniscient God who exists outside of time). It is also His eternality (though not a perfect synonym for existing outside of time, I use it because I am lazy) and our temporality, that causes some of the tension Michael mentions.

    It has never occurred to me that Calvinism tends to restrict God to time. Maybe I’m not as Calvinist as I thought. :-)

  7. Part of the difference is that Arminians actually think that the principle of non-contradiction in logic actually means something. To say that one’s decision to follow Christ is both free and not-free is not a tension, its a illogical, a violation of the principle of non-contradiction. Consequently, most Calvinists end up using the principle of “middle-knowledge” which does involve G foreseeing choices, or they define free-will differently, usually dropping “origination” from the concept and keeping only “voluntariness”. Arminians and Calvinists do not, generally, have the same definition of “free will”, and so in many ways they are not directly comparable. From what I’ve read, Arminians give the Biblical text more credit and interpret it more literally, while Calvinists dismiss passages that talk about G changing his mind as not being literally true. God ends up more transcendent and unlike us, it becomes difficult to understand what (if anything) is meant by being made in his image, and portions of the Bible that talk about God changing ihis mind or entreating us to chnage ours become essentially obscure (what is really meant if God didn’t actually change his mind) and meaningless.

    On this issue of time, the work of William Lane Craig has not been effectively countered to date, at least not by evangelicals. His conclusion is that G was timeless before creation, but within time after creation. Craig has also been a strong proponent of the use of middle knowledge to resolve issues of foreknowledge and predestination.

  8. “(this is usually linked to tangent discussions on God “changing His mind” which. I believe, is impossible for a perfect, immutable, omniscient God who exists outside of time)”

    Does this make God subject to predestination?

  9. John (response #4) pretty much nailed it. The phrase, “God looks ahead in time…” seems to be meaningless since God shows us in scripture that he doesn’t “look down the tube of time” in any sense. C.S. Lewis used the words “outside and above time,” I think that is useful.

    I have had to wrestle with this for a long time (hah), but it seems to me that the God who created time cannot be limited by it any more than God can be limited by space or distance. The frustrating part for me to understand is how God can created time, remain “outside and above” it and yet interact within time.

    If you deny predestination, it seems to me that you’re stuck with a severe problem when you look at prophecy. Wether God is making promises which he later has to force the pieces to fit (thereby denying free will), or God is looking at history “from outside of time” and revealing to us a future that He has already worked out (not like a plan, but like a reality).

    I would like to cut off the attempts to view time as an illusion created by man, which people often try to use as an escape. If time is an illusion, there is no cause and effect, there is no tomorrow and yesterday, there is no hope because there is no future. When you deny time, you lapse into Indian philosophy that the whole world is an illusion.

    To say that God’s foreknowledge denies free will is a Category Error. Dr. Ronald Nash treated this issue very succinctly in several of his books.

  10. Truth Unites... and Divides November 20, 2008 at 10:22 am

    “On this issue of time, the work of William Lane Craig has not been effectively countered to date, at least not by evangelicals. His conclusion is that G was timeless before creation, but within time after creation. Craig has also been a strong proponent of the use of middle knowledge to resolve issues of foreknowledge and predestination.”

    Thanks for the morning laugh. You need to read a little more widely.

    BTW, outside of WLC’s arminianism, I’m a big fan of his.

  11. J,

    I understand what you are saying, but this is exactly what I wanted people to think through and avoid. “Part of the difference is that Arminians actually think that the principle of non-contradiction in logic actually means something.”

    Holding human responsibility and unconditional election in tension is not holding two opposing forces in contradiction and saying it is OK. I very much oppose any system of doctrine which allows contradiction and calls it mystery. If it is a contradiction, it is not true.

    But there is no way to say that human responsibility and unconditional election is a contradiction. I am not even comfortable with the lesser word “paradox.” It is a mystery, but there are no logical fallacies being committed.

    Craig’s argument seeks to harmonize libertarian freedom with election. That is in another ballpark that seeks to alleviate the tension by introducing middle knowledge. Again, it is a mystery resolver.

    What I am talking about is human responsibility (not libertarian freedom) with unconditional election. All people are 100% responsible for their rejection of God, God unconditionally elects, in the end, God will remain just without pulling a moral 180. No contradiction, just mystery and tension.

    Michael

  12. Friends, simply belittling or laughing at someone’s argument does not promote good edifying discussion. Please take each other seriously or reserve comments. If someone overstates something in your opinion, just respectfully say how.

  13. Oh, that explains it then…Calvinists are just being “biblical” and Arminians aren’t! Arminians just believe what they “feel” is right and Calvinists just believe the Bible! Wow, I’ve never heard that from a Calvinist before (sarcasm).

    Amen to Michael W. in #2 and J in #7. The Calvinistic system is about the most illogical and contradictory system of all. When they’re confronted about this, they just kind of give a prideful smile and throw it off as mystery. I’m sorry, but I kind of think that God wants us to understand some things and not have systems of beliefs that completely contradict themselves. He gave us brains and rationale for a reason. Just the thought that he “chose” all those ahead of time who would be saved (not based upon their merit, of course, we have to get Luther’s frame of thought in there somewhere), and he passed over others is just monstrous to me. There is nothing remotely or inherently good about that…I don’t care who you are. This is hardly an attribute of a God who is consistently described as abounding in loyal love, slow to anger, and changing his mind when others repent. This also doesn’t really line up with a God who desires all to come to know him and wants all to come to repentance. Nor does it line up with a God who loves the entire “world” and sent his only son to die for everyone in it.

    Sorry CMP, but tension is the wrong word. Complete contradiction would be better. Of course your system would be the one to remain true and faithful to “biblical” integrity…who wouldn’t claim this about their system? Actually, I have found your claims to be the exact opposite, IMO. Calvinists sacrifice biblical integrity for the sake of their system. They start with their presuppositions about God and make the text conform to those presuppositions (God changing his mind is a perfect example of this, as are impeccability and impassibility). Calvinism is the least “biblical” of all the systems I have encountered, totally submitting itself to platonism and Greek thinking in regards to God ontologically. They have to completely deny some of his essential attributes in order to protect their monstrous and barbaric system. Their misunderstanding of “election” is so wrong that it has become comical as well. So basically, CMP, maybe postmoderns like systems that aren’t contradictory, that don’t make God out to be a monster who just chooses people out of a hat, that don’t fester a terrible sense of pride and arrogance in its adherents, and that is honest to the whole biblical text as opposed to 10-15 verses in Paul’s epistles….maybe you can start there and not with rationalism and intelligibility. Boasting about how irrational your system is communicates this to me, “Hey, I know my system is fully of contradictions. But I’m gonna believe it anyways. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s just the Bible and I just want to be honest with it.” Sorry, but “just the Bible” is used by everybody, and Calvinists are the last ones that are exempt from their presuppositions and eisegetical conclusions. The fact that the majority who believe this way are white, middle-class males should communicate about everything you need to know about the system. Go preach this to the Dalites in India and see what they tell you. People like them were attracted to Jesus, would they be attracted to Calvinism? Not a chance…..sorry. That should tell you everything you need to know about it, for the Gospel is for the poor and outcast in society.

    Just a suggestion.

  14. Sorry CMP, I was too harsh. I need to think a few minutes before I submit something. It won’t happen again, I promise. The blame is all on me.

  15. Luke, thanks for the comments. But it seemed a little overstated for me to really be able hear.

  16. LOL… thanks Luke. Just saw your comments here.

  17. OK, mostly lurking, occasionally commenting Mormon here.

    The problem on the predestination thing is the unspoken assumptions that people bring to the table. Both Arminians and Calvinists are bringing some assumptions into the question of predestination that neither usually acknowledge.

    The assumptions for our purposes can be encapsulated in one specific doctrine:

    Creation ex Nihilo

    It is from this one doctrine that most of Christianity goes wrong in everything else. Calvinist and Arminian arguments on Predestination only make sense if you are assuming the “God of the philosophers” – the Unmoved Mover that is the only uncreated thing in the universe, from which proceeds all other things in the universe – ex nihilo – out of nothing.

    If you believe in that foundational idea, it’s not hard to draw the conclusion that our lives and fates are predestined. Everything else is just a matter of performing the correct theological gymnastics. Which is what the Calvinist vs Arminian debate is really all about – who does a better job of reconciling human free will to the doctrine of creation ex nihilo?

    But what if the premise is wrong?

    What if creation ex nihilo is little more than a philosophical fable that is not required by scripture, is not logically necessary, and in short, is not true?

    If you start out wrong, it’s very easy to go wrong everywhere else.

  18. By the way J (#2),

    William Lane Craig has also been challenged by Mormon theologian Blake Ostler over his work on the book “New Mormon Challenge.” Ostler basically attacks Craig’s logical and scriptural arguments over issues like “Kalam Infinity,” infinite regress of causes, the definition of omnipotence… stuff like that. You might check it out sometime (easy enough to Google).

  19. Of course, as Christians who are not “of this world” and who scorn all human logic and the ability make rational sense of God and His teaching, we should always choose that approach which allows for the most contradictions, um, I mean, “tensions”! :0)

    We would not, of course, wish to “reclaim the mind” or anything. :0)

    But you beg the question when you say the Arminian approach is a “redefinition” of God’s predestination, don’t you? It seems to me that both definitions of predestination are equally possible and one simply works better with *less* tension.

  20. How I became a Calvinist:

    “14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

    Romans10:14-17

    This passage from Romans covinced me that some sort of individual election is happening in real time and space because the gospel has not and is not heard by everyone in the world. Why ? Because there is no preaching without a preacher and there is no pracher (messenger) from God unless he is sent and God has been selective in the history of the church as to where and when the message is heard.

  21. My comment regarding Craig was meant to pertain only to his analysis of time. Few evangelicals have provided significant analsyses of time. If God were still timeless, or outside of time, after the creation of the world, then it is difficult or impossible to propose a way in which he could interact with the world.

    The statements “To the Calvinists, man is fully responsible for his choice, yet God’s election is unconditional” are contradictory, not merely in tension. They resolve to A = not A. that is, Man is fully responsible for his choice (A) = Man is not responsible for his choice (not A), for that is what it means to say that God’s choice of man is unconditional. Molinism, or the concept of middle knowledge, is one way to ascribe both choice to humans and election by God without the contradiction that those bare statemetns creates.

    I thought Mormons also believed in creation; I guess I was wrong on that. However, there is no evidence whatsoever that our universe has always existed. It had a beginning. What is disputed is how that beginning came about. It is also no disputed that if anything existed before this universe, it was not material (i.e., not quarks / electrons / protons, etc.). So there does not seem to be any basis for calling creation ex nihilo a fable. At least not any scientific basis, and no basis from the Hebrew scrpitures.

  22. Hmm, seems like Luke must have gone to Mark Driscolls church for a little while…

    Kidding, I only make fun of Driscoll because I went to his church when I lived in Seattle, and I love him and love that Church a lot, even though I am not a Calvinist.

    I think this went around the Blogosphere a little bit (from Ben Witherington) but it is a good listen…

    It is John Piper talking about why Calvinists can seem so negative and elitist.

    Very funny for me, because last year I lived in Seattle, went to Driscolls church, this year I live in Minneapolis, and have gone to Pipers church a few times (haven’t settled anywhere yet though). I am by no means a Calvinists, but all my Calvinist friends are jealous of me for getting to go to these guys Church’s…:)

  23. The one doctrine the natural mind will never accept is the doctrine of a personal God’s unconditional predestination.

  24. Truth Unites... and Divides November 20, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    “If anyone should ask me what I mean by a Calvinist, I should reply, “He is one who says, Salvation is of the Lord.” I cannot find in Scripture any other doctrine than this. It is the essence of the Bible. “He only is my rock and my salvation.”

    Tell me anything contrary to this truth, and it will be a heresy; tell me a heresy, and I shall find its essence here, that it has departed from this great, this fundamental, this rock-truth, “God is my rock and my salvation.” What is the heresy of Rome, but the addition of something to the perfect merits of Jesus Christ—the bringing in of the works of the flesh, to assist in our justification? And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here.

    I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.”

    from Charles Spurgeon in a Defense of Calvinism.

  25. C Michael Patton November 20, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Vance,

    “Of course, as Christians who are not “of this world” and who scorn all human logic and the ability make rational sense of God and His teaching, we should always choose that approach which allows for the most contradictions, um, I mean, “tensions”! :0)

    We would not, of course, wish to “reclaim the mind” or anything. :0)

    But you beg the question when you say the Arminian approach is a “redefinition” of God’s predestination, don’t you? It seems to me that both definitions of predestination are equally possible and one simply works better with *less* tension.”

    Vance, I am certainly not advocating an approach which neglects logic and reason for the sake of fideism. But when we say that the Bible, rightly interpreted, is the final arbiter of truth, then we are saying that whether we understand something does not make it true. No one understands creation ex-nihilo or the Trinity, but if the Bible teaching them (or they are philosophical necessities like ex-nihilo), then we are obligated to go in the direction of the clearest support, not a “systematic” theology (this is coming from a systematic theologian!).

    In the end, my argument is that the Arminian tradition attempts to reconcile tensions that are best left in tact for the sake of a rational understanding. This is not always the best move to make. But, more importantly, what I am saying is that Arminianism is more influenced by the enlightenment than Calvinism at this point. At least this is my argument here that I would like people to consider. And the reason why I push this is because Calvinists are often accused of making their theology fit a neat paradigm where everything fits. This is not always the case as I have demonstrated here. The Calvinistic understanding of human responsibility and unconditional election is the least rational (NOT irrational) of the options, but it, in my opinion, follows the most probably interpretation of the text opting for a both/and rather than an either/or.

    Arminians need to consider whether they will allow tension or attempt to solve it. When they attempt to solve it, are they creating a exegetical dissonance for a philosophical luxury that the Bible does not provide.

  26. Michael W – what are you doing in MSP? I live 1.5 hours from there and used to go to Piper’s church every Sunday since I was going to NCU.

    Anyway, I’m a Calvinist. I personally find it to be both biblical and logical. I know others disagree. I like Arminians. I like Calvinists. I also like coffee. I wish people could have more conversations like this over a cup of joe and not want to kill each other.

    Interestingly, I’m a pastor who is both Reformed and Charismatic and I am surrounded by Arminians… and it is fun.

    I liked reading this, Michael. There’s a lot of stuff to talk about… which I do not have time to do now. Good stuff though.

    Blessings,
    luke g.

  27. Yes, Michael, I think it is a very good point to make. But, rather that accepting the necessity of a tension when it is, indeed, necessary, you occasionally seem to make a *virtue* of the tension, as if the tension, or seeming contradiction, is an indication of truth in itself. Sort of an extension of the “foolish things to confound the wise”. Mr. Bennet, above, seems to hint at this approach.

    So, when Calvinism provides a rational solution to a problem, then it is a good thing, when it fails to provide a rational solution, it is simply embracing the tension. A hard-core Calvinist can justify every variation of this in a “win-win” manner.

    I think you point to the best approach: that we seek out the rational, logical “Occam’s Razor” solution whenever possible within the bounds of Christian theology, but when one simply can not be had, then we realize that “there is more in heaven and earth, Horatio, than is dreamt of on our philosophy” and leave it at that.

    The Arminian says this is an area in which we DO have a rational approach to seemingly contradictory Scripture that works within a Christian theological framework. Calvinists, I would assert, have become so wedded to *one* side of that seeming contradiction that, rather than follow the rational argument to it’s logical conclusion, they stick to their “seeming contradiction” and claim “tension”.

    You know that I tend to be MUCH less systematic (by philosophy, not lack of exposure) in my theological approach, simply because I think SO many of these issues are the “things of God” and we mere humans argue at much more “fine” a level than our information or cognitive abilities justify. In the end, I think that both sides of the entire predestination argument will end up being seen as mere shadows of what is REALLY going on, and we will all feel a bit silly.

  28. Luke G. (ThinkTheology),

    Honestly, I have no idea what I am doing in MSP. I lived in Seattle last year, went to Capernwray Bible School in England the year before that, graduated high school the year before that. I am just sorta moving around while I am young and am able too. I went a private Christian school in Seattle, but that was way too much money, and now I am paying off the debt, without a degree (and regret it) but I figured I would try moving to another city. I didn’t really have many connections or friends in Portland (where I am originally from) or Seattle. I have a great friend here in MSP that I met in England.

    Right now I am looking for a community to join. I have gone to Bethlehem a few times (only been in MSP for a month now, and its really cold). I went to a house church, which was, in all honesty, a bit too liberal for my comfort. I think I might go to Hope CC next week, hopefully I will find somewhat of a fit.

    Piper’s church seems like a really great place, it just isn’t really my thing. I know that sounds terrible, I just don’t really fit in/feel comfortable there. I have honestly never been to a church where so many people wear suits (I have growing up in Portland and going to Imago Dei to thank for that).

    Really, it is nothing against Piper, or the people, it just isn’t really my thing.

  29. J, I don’t want to threadjack or anything, but just to answer you…

    Mormon scripture rejects creation ex nihilo (in addition to statements from Joseph Smith). Mormon scripture clearly states that matter is eternal (even if its state or form is not). It also states that the most fundamental state of human identity – “intelligence” as it is called” – is also “not created, neither can be.”

    Makes the theodicy a much different proposition for a Mormon.

    As for proof of a “beginning.” I find none. If you are referring to the Big Bang, that is not even remotely proof, since the mathematics seems to be pointing to a CONSTANTLY expanding and collapsing universe (a cyclical process). To say nothing of the possibilities opened up by String Theory…

    But if you want to insist on an absolute beginning, I’m not going to argue the point further in the interest of staying on topic here.

    I will say it does indeed, as Rev. Patton has stated, make your theology much more uncomfortable.

    But I would question whether that is always a sign of strength.

  30. C Michael Patton November 20, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    Vance, I am not sure how much you have really been exposed to Calvinism, but your comments give make me think that you are somewhat intentionally disengaged in the subject. Most people don’t become Calvinists because it sits well or because they have a natural inclination toward this way of thinking, but because they, like myself, just don’t know what else to do with the texts. As an Arminian, I wanted to the Arminian position to be correct. I would have done anything to go in that direction, but I just could not.

    It is not if Calvinists would not accept the Arminian interpretation if it made exegetical sense to them. But that is exactly the point, for the Calvinist, the Arminian option does not present a viable exegetical option. Most Calvinists are reluctant Calvinists at first.

  31. C Michael Patton November 20, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    Actually, the alternative to ex-nihilo is not merely a tension, but a contradition. Eternal matter requires an infinite succession which is formally absured when we have a present. Theoretically fine, but actually impossible.

    Enough of this though as this is not this tread.

  32. hmm, Michael, I believe what you say from an individual point of view, but most Calvinists would agree that the Scripture does seem contradictory on this point, and that good, sensible and supportable arguments can be made both ways. So, I don’t think it is a matter of exegetical *necessity* as much as exegetical preference, UNLESS you cling steadfastly to certain definitional presuppositions. I think if you find yourself only seeing one POSSIBLE exegetical option, then it may be that there is something too rigid somewhere in the exegesis.

    Rather than delve into the particulars of the Calvinist/Arminian debate, I will just say that so very often I see such divisions arise because one side (or both) has a “misplaced dogmatism” in their theological construction process. There is a “well, since this MUST be true, then . . .” that should not be there.

    And your first sentence is both true and untrue. I have definitely been exposed to Calvinism (and the full range of Calvinism), but it is entirely true that I have disengaged myself from the subject. And that is because I think it falls into the “angels on the head of a pin” category.

    I think that solid, sensible, Godly and, most importantly, Biblically sound, people view all of the evidence and find an exegetical path to either conclusion. That is enough to tell me that this is one of those areas in which dogmatism is not the best approach. I end up thinking that the Arminian approach seems to make the most sense (maybe even more in the direction toward the horrible “P” word!), but I can see both sides making solid arguments. And, in the end, I expect to get to heaven and find out it is a “slap the head and yell D’oh!” situation, where we all just missed the point entirely.

  33. Luke, quick question for you. Since it is God’s will that all come to repentance and all don’t, has man then frustrated the will of God?

    CMP, personally I think the Calvinist construct is more logical than you give it credit. Yeah sure, I agree that in consideration of key passages it is a bit to digest at first and may even seem irrational and contradictory to our finite and tainted minds. But when I consider the Biblical revelation of God in His dealing with His people, what may seem arbitrary and capricious to us is perfectly fitting in with his sovereign attributes as He has demonstrated in the course of His progressive revelation. Romans 9 in context of ch 9-11 are then consistent with His character though it may not seem very fair from a human perspective.

    Vance, it’s good to see you again! I absolutely love the balance you bring. You have a way of just soaring about the issue and keeping the main thing the main thing. I’ve heard it said that S. Lewis Johnson has commented on this subject by saying that whether you ascribe to conditional election or unconditional election, it would not change the number of people who come into the kingdom.

  34. C Michael Patton November 20, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Vance, I don’t think that admitting that there are good sensible people who disagree with a position that you hold necessitates saying that you believe that their option is viable. If that becomes the case, true argumentation is aborted due to some misunderstanding of what gentleness and respect mean. I am not saying that you are going in this direction, but when you say “I think if you find yourself only seeing one POSSIBLE exegetical option, then it may be that there is something too rigid somewhere in the exegesis.” Just by admiting possibilities does not admit such probability. In other words, there are lost of possibilities, but, in my opinion, one must uphold unconditional predestination along with human responsibility and out of necessity hold them in tension.

    If I cannot make such a statement, then the true value of such search for truth is not present. In other words, when one says I have examined the evidence and I find such and such position wanting and without exegetical integrity, we are not saying that those who disagree with me are ignorant or less able to understand than me, but that my conclusions have left me no other alternative.

    Not to throw and argument ad populum into this mix, but if you are around NT exegetical scholars enough, you would see there is not such balance of representation. Outside of a couple that I know (maybe only 1), there is a very strong consensus concerning passages such as Rom 8 and 9 that say the same thing. In fact, it would be hard to get an exegetical commentary published (outside of I.H. Marshall) that goes anywhere toward an Arminian interpretation. It would be left to the field of philosophy and theology to go there. So when I say that good unbiased exegesis normally heads in the Calvinistic camp, I think I speak with some informed judgement from a place that can make such a claim. What you do with it is up to you for the consesus is not always correct.

  35. Ben Witherington just posted a rather controversial article from his side of the fence too. Wow is this a coincidence or what?

    I think most of the Calvinists who fall prey to the “over-coherence” disease are usually closer to hyper-Calvinists. Two examples would be Gordon Clark and Vincent Cheung, as well as anyone who is an occasionalist.

  36. Michael, I would agree that most scholarly exegesis leans toward a Calvinist understanding of those passages (although Roger Olsen would go the other way), and that (almost alone) prevent me from dismissing the argument altogether. And, yes, I know that you are not claiming that those who do not reach the same conclusion are ignorant.

    What I am saying is that I think this is not an area where we can even remotely be certain enough about to hold a conclusion very tightly. And, I think that the fact that there IS, to our humans minds, a seeming contradiction between unconditional predestination and human responsibility/free will within Scripture should be a huge red flag that we are beyond our depth and are in the realm “God Things”. While we can lean toward one or the other being the predominate force, I think the “tension”, like ALL such tensions or contradictions, are the result of a human inability to truly interpret Scripture correctly because of our limited human experience and understanding.

    In short, if this is true, and our human limitations prevent us from seeing through to a clear, uncontradictory answer, then I would see any exegesis as necessarily tentative and, thus, any conclusions to be drawn from such an exegesis as even more tentative.

    And, Lisa, it is great to have the time to engage with such discussions again! I am involved in a “theodicy” discussion over at Cliff’s site as well:

    http://cliff-martin.blogspot.com/2008/11/epicurus-and-problem-of-evil.html

  37. C Michael Patton November 20, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    David, very interesting is BW3 illustrates what I talked about concerning the misconception that many people have. Granted, I think that BW3 is referring to all five points of Calvinism, which can sometimes be forced, and with him I agree on this. But I also agree with you that the “over-coherence” should be seen as more of the hyper variety, not exegetical Calvinists.

    I think we all need to look and see if we are being to modernistic in our theologies, attempting to have all “i”s dotted and all our “t”s crossed. God reveals himself truly, but not fully. That which he does reveal, we accept even if it does not fit into a nice neat package.

    But, again, I stress, that this is not saying the same thing as “we should allow God to contradict himself.” If we go there, throw out all truth and belief all-together. Tension is not the same as contradition.

  38. Wow, I just read Ben Witherington’s article and I see he is making some of the points I have been trying to make, but does a better job! :0)

    As far as what God does reveal and it fitting into a neat package, I guess my point is that the lack of “fitting” is just as likely to be failure of exegesis as much as anything else. Rather than it being “well, God clearly says this and He clearly says this other thing, so we must accept both as true”, it might be that we have one or the other of those interpretations wrong. God may not be saying what we think he is saying at all.

    Our human limitations are not just in overall understanding of “God Things” but in understanding Scriptural revelations in the first place.

  39. C Michael Patton November 20, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    Thanks Vance. Well said. BUT Olson is not an exegete. Witherington and I. H. Marshall are the two best examples of Arminian NT exegetes. However, I am hesitant to put Witherington in this camp as he is more of a NT historian.

    My good friend Paul Copan from this blog is an Arminian and he is ten times the scholar and Christian I am so who am I to say to much :)

  40. I agree with Witherington being an historian first and foremost, and I love Copan as well!

    BTW, a new book which I am almost finished with and consider almost a “must read” for understanding the Old Testament is “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible” by Walton. An evangelical scholar who gets it right.

  41. C Michael Patton November 20, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    You would be jealous to know that I am here with Pete Enns at ETS. He has been discussing this a lot. Don’t agree with his conclusions, but I think his direction is good and challenging.

  42. Oh, my, jealous indeed!! And you SHOULD agree with him! :0)

    While I find his “incarnational” concepts interesting and very possible, I am still trying to work out whether I agree with it entirely. However, I find his approach to the text and his understanding of the ANE issues top notch.

  43. Why is it assumed that the Arminian is the one re-defining predestination? Could it not be the Calvinist re-defining it?

    dm

  44. Yes, it could be David. The argument I am making here is not so much with which one is legitimate, but that Calvinism is not a system (at least at the most foundational levels) that is built upon rational intelligibility. It is a rather modest claim for this post, but it helpful to clear some misconceptions about motives in Calvinism.

  45. I once wrote a paper for seminary describing how both Calvinism and Arminianism deals with tension. The difference is what we are comfortable keeping in tension. For the Arminian, the biggest issue is maintaining that God is love. Love is the thing that is compromised by the tension is Calvinism, “How is God love and just if He desires to skip over a certain number of persons for the display of His righteousness?”

    However, the Calvinist is not willing to having tension which leaves God’s soveriegnty in the middles Thi is the tension that the Calvinist tries to solve.

    In the end, there is always some level of mystery. The question isn’t which theology il smore consistant or logical, but which ils more biblical. Personally, I believe that to be Arminianism. ou are free to disagree though.

  46. Vance, I read through some of the comments on the theodicy thread and can’t help but see the parallels to this thread, which I would sum up as our finite minds trying to understand an infinite God and how He works. We really do hate the tension, don’t we? Great responses in your interaction, btw.

  47. Some great interaction here.

    I think one of the difficulties that is being played out here is that most people are all defining or understanding Calvinism differently. This is somewhat justified, but some of these are very much charactures based upon people’s naturally assumptions. For example, most Calvinists believe that God loves everyone. It is a great mystery why he chooses some and not others. It is a great mystery that there is this decidedly different type of predestining love affecting the elect. But, once again, this is the mystery. Calvinists don’t solve it by saying that it is the fault of the person for being loved in a electing sort of way. All the elect deserve condemnation just as much as the non-elect.

    Again, there is a great sense in which Calvinists are able to leave the mystery in tact while Arminians solve this mystery through theological adjustments.

  48. Thanks for the clarification. My next question would be: Is it necessary for there to be tension for the theological position to be true?

    If not, what’s the point?

    If a theological answer exists that is biblically sound and logically consistent, I don’t see the need for tension.

    (I am not arguing here that Arminianism is either biblically sound or logically consistent. But arm.’s would submit it is both, so then…my question.)

  49. Again, there is a great sense in which Calvinists are able to leave the mystery in tact while Arminians solve this mystery through theological adjustments.

    Sorry, but this is driving me nuts. Maybe they are not adjustments. Maybe they are just recognizing what is. Maybe the Calvinists are making adjustments. (I know you already answered this. No need to readdress it. I just wanted to point out that you did it again.)

    For example, most Calvinists believe that God loves everyone.

    I may be mistaken but I think it was a booklet by Arthur Pink I read where he laid out a fairly convincing case that God does NOT love everyone but only the elect. Of course, Pink alone certainly does not constitute “most Calvinists” so your point stands.

    :)
    dm

  50. “I think one of the difficulties that is being played out here is that most people are all defining or understanding Calvinism differently. This is somewhat justified, but some of these are very much charactures based upon people’s naturally assumptions. For example, most Calvinists believe that God loves everyone. It is a great mystery why he chooses some and not others. It is a great mystery that there is this decidedly different type of predestining love affecting the elect. But, once again, this is the mystery. Calvinists don’t solve it by saying that it is the fault of the person for being loved in a electing sort of way. All the elect deserve condemnation just as much as the non-elect. ”

    I think you miss my point. Yes, Calvinists believe in God’s love, but Arminians also believe in God’s soveriegnty. I’m just pointing out that both sides possess tension. The differ on what subjeects they allow this tension to exist.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] is a tension between the idea of determined acts and the person being responsible for their choice. C Michael Patton over at the Parchment and Pen wrote: To the Calvinists, man is fully responsible for his choice, yet God’s election is unconditional. […]

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  3. An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 3: False Assumptions and Question Begging « Arminian Perspectives - January 23, 2013

    […] issue in dispute! I pointed this out to Patton in a comment in a similar post he wrote called “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option.”  (I corrected some typos to make it more […]

  4. An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 4: Returning the Favor (Reversing the Argument) « Arminian Perspectives - January 28, 2013

    […] Let’s take another angle. You say the Bible teaches unconditional election (and you appeal to certain Scriptures) and I say the Bible teaches conditional election (and I appeal to certain Scriptures- and surprisingly some of the same Scriptures you think teach the opposite). Now, can’t I just as easily say that you reject conditional election due to the tension it creates for your view and your unwillingness to embrace those tensions? Maybe you reject conditional election because it creates too much tension for the Calvinist. (link) […]

  5. An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 5: Taking The Mystery Out of Mr. Patton’s Strange Arguments « Arminian Perspectives - February 4, 2013

    […] This is the same claim Mr. Patton made in his first post called “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option.” […]

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