Friday, July 10, 2009

Calvin's 500th birthday

Well I wasn't ready for a big post on Calvinism today. I probably should have been. Calvin is going to have a very good 500th birthday. 20 years ago Arminianism was still the rage and Calvinism quite out of fashion, the fashion has completely shifted. As we have approached the 500th Calvin and TULIP have made a come back. Individually I've never been able to get over the basic problem that I can't believe myself to be morally responsible for anything I have no control over. So:

If I am born in a state of Total depravity my rejection of God is not an immoral act. If election is Unconditional then God is the one doing the choosing not man. The morality of choosing or not choosing sits entirely with him not the creation. If atonement is Limited then by preselection then the actual sacrifice is of no meaning to those outside the circle of the eternally elected. It has nothing to do with me anymore than Polish law. If grace is Irresistible then even those saved have no merit. Finally with Perseverance of the saints we remove any merit to the saved for even keeping with the program.

The whole system turns salvation into a lottery. Whether you are saved or not becomes as moral an issue as whether you have brown or blue eyes: something you had no control over, predetermined at birth that you can't change or alter. I don't and shouldn't consider brown or blue eyes a moral issue. While there is fairly good biblical support for these doctrines the net effect of going to this extreme is to rob God's redemption of any sort of morality at all. From a human perspective you are either damned or saved completely at random, like winning at craps. The answer to faith vs. lordship in this system turns out to be neither.

Calvin himself built a nightmare police state (see Calvin the totalitarian) that collapsed because of his petty jealousy, intolerance and inability to address the human condition as it really exists and not as he theorized it should exist (see Anne Le Fert (Questionable Excommunication part 2)).

His current followers have created the most dishonest translation of the bible in a generation to back their views. I've celebrating 21 years on the internet, and when I compare the religious dialogue today to what existed on places like, or talk.misc.christian 21 years ago there is no question that a culture of intolerance exists today that did not exist then. Virtually every bible blogger has been banned from one board or another, there is a casual culture of "I don't like that view so I won't allow it to be expressed" that the moderators 2 decades ago (equivalent of blog owners) would have seen as outright anti-American. In society at large the new Calvinism hasn't had a chance to have much impact. But the traditional arminian baptists were firmly in the camp of Roger Williams (founder of Rhode Island) and believed that religion in America (at the time the colonies) should be always consensual. Today ideas like Christian reconstructionism, which argue that the state should enforce religious codes get their legitimacy among Protestants from Calvinism (though the Catholic Church suffers from a similar confusion). The fact that I'm having to write posts like Why not to keep going on with discipline after a member leaves is a direct reflection of a general rejection of Williams core idea that religion is something freely entered into between a person and their god. The very defense that Machen presented at his trial involved Christian liberty from Church taxes (see Excommunication of Gresham Machen for details) and would be rejected by the very churches he has founded today.

The mechanism by which this casual intolerance has spread is the the idea and ideology of presuppositional apologetics, and this has led to this breakdown in communication that existed 2 decades ago. While presuppositional apologetics are fully consistent with TULIP, they create a situation in which one of the parties believes the other is simply not worth discoursing with. The "unelected" are in an permanent irreparable state of delusion. Refutations of Reformed popular ideas don't need to be considered because they are true by presupposition. Counter arguments are satanic, because they contradict these presuppositions. Counter evidence is dismissed because it challenges the sufficiency of scripture. And on and on and on. Under this model dialogue becomes impossible.

It is from the reformed camp that the Patriarchy and complementarian movements are arising, creating a biblical mandate for the causal sexism of the 19th century (see defense against patriarchy part 6).

So on his 500th birthday I'd like to congratulate Calvin on making fashionable once again the absolutely worst aspects of European religion. There is no question that Calvin is one of the great theologians and biblical thinkers of all time. It is unfortunate that his short comings and not his strengths are what we are today confronted with.


    J. L. Watts said...

    Finally, some common sense on this mess of hero worship.

    No mention of Calvins' murder of conscious, though, with the death of Michael Servatus.

    Excellent post, CD.

    CD-Host said...

    Hi Polycarp. Thanks. Just added a link, I thought I had that a while back. There were actually 3 big name heresy execution attempts under Calvin:

    Michael Servetus (whom you mentioned, burned)
    Jacques Gruet (beheaded)
    Sebastian Castellio (attempted but failed)

    There were 28 executions (at least some put the number at 57) for witchcraft involving Calvin.

    Suzanne McCarthy said...

    Servetus is of particular interest to me since I want to look more into the Pagnini 1528 Bible. Servetus edited and added notes to a Pagnini Bible in the 1540's.

    J. L. Watts said...

    Suzanne, I have a particular interest in Servetus, and I would interested in hearing more about his notes.

    Suzanne McCarthy said...

    I think this book is the best I have found on the internet. I regret that I don't know if there is a copy of his Latin Bible with Servetus' notes in North America. I find little enough interest in the Pagnini Bible, but I have seen one in Toronto and I know there are others around.

    Lindon said...

    This worship of Calvin has reached epic proportions and is cause for alarm. It is another aspect of the adoration of mere men instead of Christ as many attempt to be authorities over others in the Body.

    Kevin Sam said...

    I wonder if this trend will level off after the 500th anniversary is over?

    CD-Host said...

    Hi Kevin --

    I'm not sure. My guess is no it burns out when the non lordship version shows up. The same way that The current form of Calvinism is still fairly elitist. The elite are now building institutional support in the last decade: ESV, calvanist denominations, ongoing take over of the SBC....

    Normally the problem for Reformed Christianity is the theology for grandchildren. In other words if membership is difficult then the children of believers become attenders but not part of the session (i.e. they aren't into lordship). But that means the grandchildren can't be baptized. So they go off and join sects that actively baptize adults or the parents join sects which accept their baptism as being membership.

    But this is a surge in Reformed Baptists, not Presbyterians. Their problem has always been an inability to cooperate and work together and thus grow. Perhaps where it goes is essentially replaces IFBC for fundamentalism and levels out at around 4% of the population?

    Lindon said...

    "Normally the problem for Reformed Christianity is the theology for grandchildren. In other words if membership is difficult then the children of believers become attenders but not part of the session (i.e. they aren't into lordship). But that means the grandchildren can't be baptized. So they go off and join sects that actively baptize adults or the parents join sects which accept their baptism as being membership."

    I have a friend who did his doctoral thesis on the Puritans and said this is oneof the reasons they died out.

    Bill K said...

    I don't quite agree on your point by point description of the unbiblicalness of TULIP; but I do think Calvinism is unbiblical.

    I've heard that the majority of seminary professors and writing theologians are Calvinists - I don't have a citation for this or know for sure if it is true - but if it is; I don't understand how or why! Once I was having a disagreement with a friend about atonement and he sent me to a paper by John Piper about it. It made no sense to me; the starting presupposition was limited atonement so the conclusion was the same. I hope others don't find the same flaws when I argue for unlimited atonement!

    On the other hand, I've heard Bruxy Cavy quoted as saying "We'll all die believing a thousand heresies." If you asked for Jesus to forgive you in faith, we should be able to politely disagree about the rest. I think the Apostle Paul demonstrates this really well in Philippians 1 when he says that he rejoices when Christ is preached - even if from those with false motives.

    CD-Host, you alluded to the positive contributions of Calvin as a theologian in your original post. What do you see in that category?

    CD-Host said...

    Bill --

    I doubt a majority are Calvanist. Probably the most common are liberal Christian. But it is popular and the reason is that Calvan presented an incredibly systematic and well defined system. The pieces come together wonderfully. Most of your systematic theologies are Calvanist in their orientation.

    Where Calvanism fails is on the practical front. Lindon's point regarding the Puritans is a great example. The system started to collapse in serious ways one generation after they came and by two was showing huge signs of stress. You ended up with something like church membership, half-way covenant where you basically had a large number of regular attendees who liked the church for social reasons but didn't consider themselves saved. This led to the American evangelical movement which rejected reformed doctrines. Baptists and Methodists exploded.

    Professors aren't as practical, so it makes sense that a better system in theory that's worse in practice would appeal to them at least IMHO.

    Icy Mt. said...

    Who says us Christians have to be Calvinist or Armenian only?

    I felt compelled to add the Armenian view of TCURP (not quite as pretty as TULIP). Total Depravity: People cannot respond to the gospel without God’s help. But God has enabled all people to respond to his convicting influence. Conditional Election: God's election of people to salvation is conditioned upon their faith response to the gospel. Unlimited Atonement: Christ died for the whole human race. Resistible Grace: It is God’s will that all people be saved, but some may say no. Present Assurance of Salvation: We can have present assurance of salvation, but can also lose our salvation for various reasons.

    I think that many of the emergent church, evangelical movement and even the Baptists are Armenian up to that final P and then switch to what appears to be Calvinism (i.e. you cannot lose your salvation). However, they tend to believe in immutable salvation for a different reason based on passages like John 10:28-29: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand." God’s grace may be resistible but once you have accepted it, it covers all sins, past, present and future.

    CD-Host said...

    Hi Icy --

    Good post.

    I like Ashby's:

    Prior to being drawn and enabled, one is unable to believe… able only to resist.
    Having been drawn and enabled, but prior to regeneration, one is able to believe… able also to resist.
    After one believes, God then regenerates; one is able to continue believing… able also to resist.
    Upon resisting to the point of unbelief, one is unable again to believe… able only to resist.

    Also what never gets mention is
    Penal substitution (reformed) vs. governmental atonement.

    I.E. did Christ receive exactly what all the saved deserve or was the suffering real but mainly a demonstration of God's displeasure.

    I agree with you on the final P thing, that's what MacArthur calls "free grace". Essentially the belief the you are eternal saved if you asked for it and were thought you were sincere at the time you asked. That notion was popular 20 years ago, never with theologians but it was a popular belief.


    Icy Mt. said...

    I.E. did Christ receive exactly what all the saved deserve or was the suffering real but mainly a demonstration of God's displeasure.
    Well, why not both? If the smallest sin separates us from God by making us unfit to be in His presence, then doesn’t it follow that all of us deserve to die rather than be in God’s presence forever? So Christ really suffers and really dies as a demonstration of what we deserve. I have an Engineering degree not a Seminary degree so maybe I’m missing something when I can’t see why penal substitution and government atonement by the federal head are mutually exclusive.

    Theologians don’t like free grace (great term by the way) because it creates a lot of hard questions for them. My favorite answers are pretty simple. Of course, grace is free. If you have to earn it, then Christ died for nothing. To say that you can force the indwelling Holy Spirit out of your existence by your choices or actions says that you are somehow stronger than God.

    Of course saved people commit all kinds of heinous acts, many of them in the name of God. It is an even bigger win for Satan to so deceive a Christian. Being saved doesn’t increase your intelligence or suddenly give you a perfected decision making process (although many find their apparent intelligence and decision making processes improved by listening to and following God’s Word).