by C Michael PattonNovember 20th, 2008 210 Comments
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.
- Tension in Calvinism – tension in the Christian faith
- Calvinists Sometimes Make the Worst Calvinists
- Twelve Myths About Calvinism
- Calvinists often make the worst Calvinists
- What Do You Mean When You Say God is Sovereign?