Thursday, February 16, 2012

FURTHER THOUGHTS ON CALVINISM’S 5 POINTS

            I received, from a friend, a link to John Piper’s comprehension and explanation of the 5 points of Calvinism. (I have to admit that I have already written more on Calvinism, on this blog, then I ever planned to write.) One of the things that Piper says near the beginning should always be kept in mind. “We share the sentiments of Jonathan Edwards who said in the Preface to his great book on THE FREEDOM OF THE WILL, 'I should not take it at all amiss, to be called a Calvinist, for distinction's sake: though I utterly disclaim a dependence on Calvin, or believing the doctrines which I hold, because he believed and taught them; and cannot justly be charged with believing in everything just as he taught.'”[1] No one thinker agrees on all points with another, that is a fact of reality, therefore, when we give a name to a system of beliefs (i.e. Calvinism), we are simply pointing out a general system, and anyone who holds the main claims of that system fits under it, whether they like it or not.

We must, however, be careful to not make the same error as the church at Corinth. That is, to claim that one particular way of understanding things is true Christianity. Paul rebukes the church at Corinth in the following way, “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’”[2] At Corinth there were groups of zealous Christians who were lining up under the various teachers and doctors of the early church. The early Calvinists and Arminians. There was even a holier-than-thou group who claimed that they were following Christ. Now, as the great preacher, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, once said, “Of necessity, we all hold a particular point of view and adhere to some system of doctrine. We cannot avoid doing so. People who say that they do not hold to any particular system, and that they are ‘just biblical’, are simply confessing that they have never really understood the teaching of the Bible. But though we may find ourselves, in general, following a certain line of exposition, a particular school of thought and of teaching, a particular view of dogmatic theology, we must never allow that to turn into a party spirit...Therefore, though we are governed in general by certain views, that does not mean that we must slavishly follow in every detail what has generally been taught by that particular school of thought.”[3]

That being said, I want to note Piper’s views on some of the points that I mentioned in my previous article. In my previous article I quoted a well-known Calvinist author, James White, as the representative of Calvinism, in order to make sure that I did not improperly state what contemporary Calvinists believe. Before we can critique an argument, or position, we must make sure that it is properly stated, and who better to state it then someone who adheres to it. In this brief return to the 5 points of Calvinism I wish simply to point out some of the agreements between Piper and White, and note some of the implications of their thoughts.

In order to make it easy to follow, I will keep a similar format to my preceding article:

1.      Total Depravity: Piper delineates four ways in which man is depraved. We find the first way summed up in this quote, “Yes there are those who come to the light—namely those whose deeds are the work of God. ‘Wrought in God’ means worked by God. Apart from this gracious work of God all men hate the light of God and will not come to him lest their evil be exposed—this is total rebellion.”[4] So, man can in no way seek God unless God draws him, man does not desire God in any way. The second way is explained as follows, “Therefore, if all men are in total rebellion, everything they do is the product of rebellion and cannot be an honor to God, but only part of their sinful rebellion. If a king teaches his subjects how to fight well and then those subjects rebel against their king and use the very skill he taught them to resist him, then even those skills become evil.”[5] The third way is as follows, “The ‘mind of the flesh’ is the mind of man apart from the indwelling Spirit of God (‘You are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you,’ Romans 8:9). So natural man has a mindset that does not and cannot submit to God. Man cannot reform himself.”[6] The final way is summed up as follows, “Our rebellion is totally deserving of eternal punishment.”[7]

a.       Critique – See this article for an interesting critique of Total Depravity, by C. S. Lewis, that I took the time to elaborate. I would simply like to note a couple of interesting things. According to Piper, man is so corrupt that there is no good in him, not even the human faculties can produce anything good. We see this in the second way that he describes total depravity.

One of the problems of the Calvinistic view of Total Depravity is that they do not distinguish between various types of goodness. Absolute Goodness is found in God alone. Speaking metaphysically, goodness is a transcendental that is another way of understanding being. Everything is good insomuch as it exists. Man did not lose ALL goodness at the fall, otherwise, metaphysically speaking, he would have ceased to exist altogether. Speaking morally, a thing is good when, possessing the faculties of reason and will, it freely chooses to perform a virtuous act. (In this way we can talk about unbelievers who perform good acts. For more on moral virtue and the foundations of morality see herehere, here, and here. These links are in french.)

The Bible distinguishes between the good acts of an unbeliever (done without faith) and the good acts of a believer (those that are done by faith). So, for example, to love is to desire the good of the beloved, and to desire to be united with the beloved. An unbelieving man can love an unbelieving woman in the true sense of the word; however, that love which is pleasing towards God is that love which is accomplished for the purpose of glorifying God.

So, it is true that man is totally depraved, however, not in the Calvinistic sense of the doctrine. They do not make the appropriate distinctions between the different types of goodness; therefore, their claim that man is not good is only partially true.

2.      Unconditional Election: Piper treats Irresistable Grace and Limited Atonement prior to Unconditional Election (which is interesting), because he wishes to treat them in the order, so he says, that people experience them.[8] We, however, in order to maintain the traditional order will treat of Unconditional Election now. I mentioned, in my previous article, that the five points of Calvinism are all interdependent. Piper seems to agree inasmuch as he says, “If all of us are so depraved that we cannot come to God without being born again by the irresistible grace of God, and if this particular grace is purchased by Christ on the cross, then it is clear that the salvation of any of us is owing to God's election.”[9] His view of Unconditional Election can be found in the following quote, “Election is a condition for faith. It is because God chose us before the foundation of the world that he purchases our redemption at the cross and quickens us with irresistible grace and brings us to faith.”[10] In this quote we see again see the interdependence of the five points of Calvinism. Man is so depraved that he cannot do anything good, desire God, realise he/she is a sinner or even recognize his need for a saviour. Therefore, only those that God chooses will be regenerated so that they can exercise faith in Christ. This is exactly what White says (see previous article).

a.       Critique – My critiques in the previous article still apply to Piper’s views, so, I will add nothing here.

3.      Limited Atonement: Piper describes the atonement in terms that all Christians should be able to agree with, “The atonement is the work of God in Christ on the cross whereby he canceled the debt of our sin, appeased his holy wrath against us, and won for us all the benefits of salvation.”[11] Piper sings the typical Calvinist tune concerning the limitation of atonement. He claims that it is not the Calvinist who has limited atonement but the Arminian. This is due to the fact that the Calvinist says that Christ’s atonement is fully efficacious for the elect, and, therefore, in no way limited. The Calvinist accuses the Arminian of having limited atonement, as its effect is limited to only those who believe. (I am struck by the rhetorical prowess of the Calvinist’s who turn the Arminian accusation on its head, by changing the subject.) For the Calvinist this doctrine means, in the words of Piper, “Christ died for all the sins of some men. That is, he died for the unbelief of the elect so that God's punitive wrath is appeased toward them and his grace is free to draw them irresistibly out of darkness into his marvelous light.”[12]

a.       Critique – When the Arminian claims that Calvinism teaches a limited atonement the idea that they are getting at is that the atonement of Christ is not for all men, but is limited to only those whom God freely elected prior to creation. In this sense, Calvinism teaches a limited Atonement (this is why I note above that I am struck by the rhetorical prowess of Calvinists who point the finger of limitation back at the Arminians.) My critiques in my previous article also apply here, so i will add nothing.

4.      Irresistable Grace: Piper says the following, “It means that the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible.”[13] If that is all that it means, then no Christian can contest this doctrine. (It is a question of the power of God, and it is expressed in terms of what is possible “can”.) However, it is not only that, Piper goes on to say, “More specifically irresistible grace refers to the sovereign work of God to overcome the rebellion of our heart and bring us to faith in Christ so that we can be saved. If our doctrine of total depravity is true, there can be no salvation without the reality of irresistible grace. If we are dead in our sins, totally unable to submit to God, then we will never believe in Christ unless God overcomes our rebellion.”[14] This is exactly what James White would say. Calvinists often use the example of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead as an example of what it means to be dead in sin, unless God acts, in giving us grace, we will remain dead in our sin.

a.       Critique – Again, my critiques in my previous article apply here as well. Of course, if Lazarus is a good example of what fallen humans are prior to the saving grace of God, then Calvinism must be true. However, it is doubtful that this is what scriptures teach, and though it is easy to find scripture passages to back up just about any view that we wish to expound, we should be less concerned with making a system work, then with teaching the truth. It does seem that if Calvinism’s doctrine of Irresistable Grace is true, then man is not responsible for rejecting Christ, as we cannot hold a dead man responsible for acting, he cannot!!!! If dead men are not responsible for acts that they cannot commit, then how can God justly hold them responsible and justly send them to Hell??? Just a thought.

5.      Perseverance of the Saints: Piper summarizes his views in 7 declarations: “Our faith must endure to the end if we are to be saved... Obedience, evidencing inner renewal from God, is necessary for final salvation.... God's elect cannot be lost.... There is a falling away of some believers, but if it persists, it shows that their faith was not genuine and they were not born of God... God justifies us on the first genuine act of saving faith, but in doing so he has a view to all subsequent acts of faith contained, as it were, like a seed in that first act... God works to cause his elect to persevere... Therefore we should be zealous to make our calling and election sure.”[15] It should be noted that this is not exactly the same as my exposition of it in the previous article.

a.                  Critique – There are some logical declarations in the above statements which carry with them some interesting implications, which are not contained in the idea of the security of our salvation. As stated I am not sure that I can agree 100% with this statement of the Perseverance of the Saints. First of all, this exposition of the perseverance of the saints seems to imply that our salvation is either dependent on our works, or that our works are not truly “our” works, but God using us as puppets, in which case we cannot be said to be the cause of anything, and therefore not responsible for anything, etc. Note the following: If we are to be saved, then our faith must endure to the end. We must ask ourselves the following, who is responsible for making sure that our faith endures to the end? If it is man, then it seems that if I lose my faith, then I lose my salvation. If it is God, then I am not responsible for having faith in Christ, and, therefore, it seems pointless to say, as Peter says, and Piper quotes, in 2 Peter 1:10, that we should be zealous in confirming our election. Obedience is necessary for final salvation. Which seems to imply two things, first of all, obedience is necessary but not sufficient for salvation, which means that other things can bring final salvation, but that if there is obedience then there is salvation, regardless of what else is needed. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the theological problems that are caused by such a statement. I will leave you with these humble thoughts and reflections.



[2]1 Cor. 1:11-12. All quotations will be from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

[3]D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapters 7:1-8: The Law: Its Functions and Limits (1973, repr.; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), 178.


[5]Ibid., Section 3.

[6]Ibid.

[7]Ibid.

[8]Ibid., Section 2.

[9]Ibid., Section 6.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Ibid., Section 5.

[12]Ibid.

[13]Ibid., Section 4.

[14]Ibid.
  
[15]Ibid., Section 7.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The 5 Points of Calvinism

This is the result of a question that a friend of mine asked me. The question was something along the lines of, what do you think of the 5 points of Calvinism. I decided to post my response as it may be of interest to other readers.

   I will be giving the 5 points in the form that is given by one of their most prominent contemporary defender (James White):

      1. Total Depravity - "As the consequence of his fall into a state of sin, man has lost all ability to will the performance of any of those works, spiritually good, that accompany salvation. As a natural (unspiritual) man he is dead in sin and altogether opposed to what is good. Hence he is not able, by any strength of his own, to turn himself to God, or even to prepare himself to turn to God." (A Faith to Confess: The Baptist Confession of 1689 Rewritten in Modern English, Quoted in Dave Hunt & James White, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishing; 2004), 64.) For my view on this doctrine see this blog post.

      2. Unconditional Election - "Unconditional election is simply the recognition of the biblical teaching that God is free in the matter of salvation. He chooses to exercise mercy and grace toward undeserving creatures solely on the basis of 'the good pleasure of His will' (Ephesians 1:5). There is nothing in the creature that merits, earns, or attracts his favor. It is unconditional in that it is based solely on His purpose and His pleasure and not in anything whatsoever in the creature....In biblical theology, it is God's free will, not man's, that determines the outcome of the work of salvation." (Dave Hunt & James White, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishing; 2004), 91-2.)

                   Difficulty - The Bible talks about God's election and predestination of his saints, however, the Bible also presupposes that man is responsible for chosing to receive the gift of eternal life in the person of Jesus-Christ. It would appear that if God decides, (and note the wording as it is very important) ahead of time, who will be saved, AND, if God is omnipotent, AND if God's will cannot be thwarted, THEN, it seems that no human can do other than what God decides. Therefore, man has no free-will. However, the entire concept of Justice and responsibility depend upon free-will. Therefore, it seems that the Calvinist description of what election and predestination mean, either (1) make God unjust for condemning to hell creatures whom God had decided ahead of time would reject him, or (2) make salvation (and evangelism) trivial because those whom God has elected and predestined will be saved, regardless of whether or not we evangelize, and inspite of any choice the agent might have made. So, I reject the calvinistic explanation of election and predestination, but not the doctrines of election and predestination. Unconditional Election is based upon the Calvinistic doctrine of Total Depravity.

      3. Limited Atonement - The Atonement for sins accomplished by Jesus on the cross was only for the elect. "God the Father decreed the salvation of an elect people, Christ died with the intention of redeeming those people through their union with Him and accomplished that task..." (Dave Hunt & James White, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishing; 2004), 170.) 

    Difficulty - This doctrine is based upon the doctrine of Unconditional Election, as even James White notes, "Upon examination, the vast majority of those who call themselves 'four point Calvinists' are actually not Reformed at all, for their objections are to God's freedom in electing men to salvation and to the total inability of man in his sin. Particular redemption flows inexorably from the truths of God's divine freedom and man's enslavement to sin." (Dave Hunt & James White, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishing; 2004), 178.) Therefore, if we reject points 1 and 2, then 3 is neither necessary, nor Biblical. In fact, it seems that the Bible claims that Jesus's sacrifice, and therefore the atonement, was available for all mankind, though only those who appropriate this sacrifice for themselves will be justified. So, I make an important distinction here that Calvinists refuse to make. That is, that God desired ALL men to be saved, and sent his son to die for the whole world, BUT, only those who freely, by faith, accept this gift will be saved by the grace of God.

      4. Irresistable Grace - "The doctrine of 'irresistible grace' is easily understood. It is simply the belief that when God chooses to move in the lives of His elect and bring them from spiritual death to spiritual life, no power in heaven or on earth can stop Him from so doing. It is really nothing more than saying that it is God who regenerates the sinners, and that freely." (Dave Hunt & James White, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishing; 2004), 197.) Generally Calvinists claim that God regenerates the sinner so that the sinner can then freely put their faith in Christ. As White says, "The divine act of regeneration is the ground, the condition that results in the acts of doing good, loving God, and exercising ongoing faith, the only faith that truly saves." (Dave Hunt & James White, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishing; 2004), 200.) 

                     Difficulty - Again, this doctrine is based upon the preceding 3 points. If man is so depraved that he cannot even desire to do God, and if God freely decides ahead of time who will be saved, and if the atonement achieved by Christ's sacrifice on the cross is only intended and efficacious for those whom God has chosen, then, God will only regenerate those whom he has chosen, so that they will be able to place their faith in Christ. Everybody else, all those who are predestined to hell, will never be regenerated, and therefore will never have the possibility to put their faith in Christ. (Calvinists often give the example of Lazarus that Jesus raised from the dead as an example of regeneration. This is a false example.) If we reject the first 3 points then this point is neither necessary nor desirable. Calvinists do not seem to make enough distinctions about the grace of God, and, they also, in my opinion interpret scripture in the light of the first three points so as to back up their position (I don't think they do this purposely, I think that they are just convinced about the truth of Calvinism, and therefore interpret scripture in light of it.) I don't see any reason to interpret Eph. 2:8-9 as proving Irresistable Grace (as Calvinists do). Man is saved by the Grace of God, that is 100% sure, nobody denies that. However, he is saved through faith! Faith, by definition, is voluntary assent to the truth. One of the consequences of such a definition is that in order to place your faith in someone, you must do it willingly!!!!! Not by coercion. But if Calvinism is true, then those who are saved have no choice in the matter. Neither do those who go to hell!!!

      5. Perseverance of the Saints - This is essentially the doctrine that once saved, always saved. In other words, those that God has chosen, regenerated, and saved, will never, by the Grace of God, lose their salvation. This doctrine can also be twisted in many different ways, but, I agree in general with it.

Note: I have not exposed any positive doctrines to which I myself hold. Rather I have simply given the contemporary explanations of Calvinism's five points along with a number of difficulties that I see in them. Please don't think that I am on the side of Arminianism. They also have a number of problems. I don't have time right now to give my own views on these issues, though you may find some elements in my responses to the five points, that will point you towards what I think on the subject.