An Open Challenge to Calvinists

Calvinist MugMy challenge is simple, in fact, probably the simplest. There are many words used in Scripture and in our daily talk that necessitate human beings possess freewill. Let us take a few sample words that are theological necessities, regular words like love, forgiveness, believe, receive, doubt, etc. Anything related to the Christian faith requires the use of these words, yet each of them is wholly meaningless without human freewill. Take for example “believe.” What does it mean in Scripture when a person is encouraged to believe the gospel? If the person is not a free-agent (in the sense of possessing freewill) what does it mean to implore them to believe? It would be like telling a plastic doll to consider its favorite poem.

I’m asking a very elementary question related to language and logic. If a term is wholly illogical in its philosophical context, as in our example above, it should be discarded. For instance, there is no need to argue theologically how many miles are in purple. If the terms used in Reformed theology do not have a workable context in its general religious worldview they should be discarded.

Can the cosmic determinism inherent in Calvinism pass this simple language test?

I am truly in doubt that it can without becoming self-defeating, but I’m willing to hear out any articulate T.U.L.I.P enthusiast on the matter.

Thanks for reading.

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82 thoughts on “An Open Challenge to Calvinists

  1. Hi Eric
    It seems simple I would say ” “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

    You wouldn’t deny this I assume. You surely aren’t saying “This is the work of ME, I believed in him whom he has sent”

  2. Excellent. Calvinists – and I know and love many as well – should just be up front about the fact that their philosophical construct annihilates the human being as a meaningful concept. If it is “all God”, then there is no real “us”.

  3. Well, Trey, there’s two problems with this response. First, it doesn’t address what we mean by “you believe” in the Reformed context. Second, it is a misinterpretation of Scripture. The full context of the passage is Jesus was asked, “What must we do that we may work the works of God?” (John 6:28), then He responds, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” Jesus is saying, our work is to believe in Him. He is not saying that God “makes” us believe by divine fiat.

    But the real question is what do you mean by “you believe”? This must be answered otherwise we are only begging the question.

  4. Hi Eric
    Thanks for the response. I think that’s an excellent question. To start out we would say that to believe in Jesus is having faith in Jesus. Our confessions speak of faith in three aspects (knowledge, assent and trust). All of these are saving graces from God. Given to us.

    This happens in our effectual call. If you are going to ask Reformed questions then of course we have our categories to use for these responses. Question 67 in our WLC defines our effectual calling as the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills (Ezek 11:19, 36:27-27; John 6:45), so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.

    In regards to your exegesis of John 6. You are saying that our work is to believe in Him? How is that not Pelagian or semi-pelagian which were condemned at the councils of Orange 529 among others?

  5. Not sure if most Calvinists would see what you ask as a “challenge.” Calvinists believe that God regenerates only the elect which as a result enables them to fully believe, freely. For the non-elect the “general call” of the Gospel to believe falls on dead, or deaf, ears. The problem I had, as a former Calvinist, was that God holds the reprobate accountable for something they could never do (repent and believe) !!! Roger Olsen puts forth a greater Calvinist conundrum :

    “If (the Calvinist view is correct) that everything without exception is from God, planned, designed and governed by God for a reason such that God is not merely permitting it but actively willing it and rendering it certain, then the holocaust and the kidnapping, torture, rape and murder of an innocent two year old child are also “from God” in that sense. IF that’s true, then, I ask, why ever be upset about such things? Why react emotionally or with righteous indignation as if something happened that shouldn’t have happened? After all, God’s ultimate purpose in everything is his glory. (I demonstrate that that also is the traditional Calvinist view and I have asked many Calvinists if it’s their view and the answer has always been yes.) So, one who believes that has to say that the holocaust and the kidnapping, torture, rape and murder of a two year old child glorify God. Then why object to them? Why oppose them? Why blame the perpetrators? Why try to prevent them? This is the supreme Calvinist conundrum.”

  6. Richard, thank you for posting this. Roger Olsen’s quote is one of my favorites as well. I especially agree with the part that says, “If (the Calvinist view is correct) that everything without exception is from God, planned, designed and governed by God.” And this is exactly my point. If everything is God’s doing without exception, then the “elect” are not believing in the usual way that we use the term. They are only reflecting what they must do according to God doing it through them, i.e. THEY aren’t doing the believing, God is. Likewise, the unbeliever isn’t doing the doubting, God is. Hence, it is ridiculous to use terms that denote free-agency, like “believing” or “doubting” within a Calvinistic paradigm.

  7. Trey, and if all three of the “saving graces” are from God and imposed on His elect by fiat – since under a Calvinist rubric, grace is irresistible – then we are still at square one: those who “believe” do not believe as free-agents but as puppets. In effect, it is God who is believing in himself through the elect and doubting in Himself through the damned.

    Your example of question 67 makes this point: God enlightens their minds and “powerfully determines their wills.” Thus, it is ridiculous to attribute the elect’s believing to the individual believer. This language should be discarded.

    In regards to John 6, I only gave the context of the verse. I doubt that Jesus was guilty of either Pelagianism or semipelagianism. When Christ spoke of believing and of faith He spoke of a movement of a persons entire existential being – you must “love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.”

    Believing is not mere intellectual agreement with a set of doctrines, it involves one’s entire life. And where faith is concerned, of course it is a work of God. Faith cannot be self-generated, but it is cooperated with by the believer. This is a major difference between Calvinism and historic Christianity – in Calvinism the human is irrelevant in salvation, in historic Christianity the human is a full participant in salvation due to the fact that he is to become a “partaker of God’s nature” (2Pet 1:4)

  8. That’s an awful lot to hang on a mere linguitic implication.

    Calvinists screw up Calvinism, because few of them are as able as Calvin himself to either understand it or articulate it. So if you ask this quesion of Calvinists, you’re probably going to get an imperfect answer. Calvinists are the easiest people in the world to tie in theological knots and it marks no great feat of logic or theology to have led a few unsuspecting ones into a trap.

    Calvin’s understanding of free will, as I’ve understood him (not claiming a perfect understanding here, either) avoids the conundrum altogether. He does not define love, belief, etc. as actions of the soul that need to be free in order to be legitimate. They all fall within the normal scope of human agency in the created world, and some are necessary for salvation (he does belief in justification by faith, as a good reformer). But they are irrelevant to the question of the freedom of the will. They fall within a discussion of the inherent goodness and badness of the world as we find it. Love, belief, good works, temporal beauty, all these things exist naturally in the world for Calvin and are to be celebrated (remember, he was a good Renaissance Humanist) – but they are 1. wholly dependent upon God for their original existance and nature; 2. wholly dependent upon God’s continuing grace spread abroad in the world for their continuing existance and any continuity of nature they may maintain with God’s image. Love is only possible, in other words, because God is constantly working in the world to keep it possible. It may be free for us and not free at the same time. Belief is free in the same way that my children have freedom to play with their toys: they can only do so because I provide them with toys in the first place. And even when we respond by God’s grace to His prevenient grace, still if we are not God’s own and justified by faith already, then those freely chosen actions made possible by grace STILL have about them the nature of corruption, because corruption is so pervasive in the world, and only in Christ is the taint removed from anything or anyone. So the real question, according to Calvin, is whether love, belief, etc. are Good or Bad, not whether they are free or deterministic. His answer to the free will/determinism dilemma is always both/and, depending upon which level of reality and responsbility you’re considering. Calvin himself doesn’t get turned in these philosophical knots surrounding determinism. Freedom is not as important a consideration for him as the objective goodness or badness of a thing.

    On free will itself, we have to keep in mind that for Calvin the will is never free, even when it is sanctified. Freedom isn’t the goal. Calvin wasn’t an 18th century empiricist; we’re not talking J.S. Mill here. Freedom isn’t a value for him when it comes to the will. The goal isn’t, like Buddhists, to obtain an objective position of freedom in relation to God on the one hand and Evil on the other. Such a position doesn’t exist, for the will is always either tilted toward Evil or tilted (by grace) toward God. Calvin’s goal is never freedom, but a godly partisanship. Even if you could prove that love, belief, etc. are “free” by necessity, Calvin wouldn’t care. Their relation to human agency has nothing whatsoever to do with their metaphysical evaluation as good or evil. Even love, done in a state of corruption, is by definition corrupt, and has lost its own nature. Only in God can things truly be themselves.

    So Calvin himself wouldn’t get caught in the conundrum. Calvinists, on the other hand, are easy prey.

  9. John, great to have you on. Leave it to an Episcopalian priest to set me straight on Calvin, sheesh (haha). I am familiar with the idea that modern high-Calvinism does not necessarily reflect the thinking of Calvin himself. However, the issue of this article is not attacking Calvin’s own state of mind when arguing for his version of the Christian faith, but rather what his disciples understand Reformed theology to mean; i.e. its popular influence and content, not its nuanced meaning in the recesses of its founders thinking.

    It would be like saying we cannot incriminate communist influence based on the fact that Carl Marx never conceived of the Gulag.

    My challenge is not a product of 21st century Western ideals of freedom. The issue is as old as Calvinism itself, and older. Many of the early Church Fathers take up the issue of divine determinism and roundly refute it, even Augustine took part. Here is a great link for those who may be interested: http://www.orthodox-christianity.com/2011/02/the-church-fathers-on-predestination-ii/

    Also, I have to take issue with your analogy: “Belief is free in the same way that my children have freedom to play with their toys: they can only do so because I provide them with toys in the first place”

    This would only work as a parallel to Reformed doctrine if you not only provided the toys but also determined which ones they “choose” to play with as well. Oh, and you’d also determine if they loved you and you’d continue calling their love “love” even though its really just you loving yourself through them.

    I’ll need to someday research Calvin’s personal thinking on the matter, but from what I have read I understand him to be saying pretty much what T.U.L.I.P theology says. And if so, he did place emphasis on freewill and not only degrees of good and evil. But, I may be mistaken.

  10. Exactly, Calvinism cuts out the human from relationship with God. In effect, they should also drop the imagery of being the “Bride of Christ” since humanity, under a Reformed rubric, would be more akin to a blow up doll.

  11. Of course the saving graces are from God. Where else are they from? While there lacks an ability of man in their freedom (I would point to chapter 9 of the Westminster Confession of Faith where Free Will is defined) the work of God is enabling.

    Your pursuit of freedom however is almost assumed rather than established. Because if you are talking about a freedom like that of Adam then no one has that. However, the question is what effects have happened to humanity as a result of the Fall. If our will has been corrupted or has it not? Why must we depend on the grace of God to act on us before we can act? I think you ask an important question however, it isn’t reflective of a problem of Calvinism rather a lack of what the Reformers taught and the Confessions teach.

    I can sympathize with your problem of the wording that God is so active in our regeneration. However, it must be so because of our anthropology and because of the clear teaching of Scripture.

    Ezek 11:19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,
    Ezek 36:27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
    John 6:45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—

    Regarding John 6. Of course Jesus isn’t guilty of Palagianism nor semi-pelagianism. He is speaking of the monergistic work of God in justification (see DA Carson’s commentary on John 6).

    That being said, I don’t see how your statements aren’t guilty of such. Reformed hold that faith can only come after regeneration rather than the opposite. Hence in the ordo salutis faith is preceded by regeneration for anthropological reasons (and of course scriptural). The Reformed soteriology is an enabling. It is a freeing of the slave. It is simply God saving sinners.

    thanks

  12. Trey, thank you for your thoughtful response. I can tell that you are truly invested in helping others to understand the Reformist perspective. Indeed, many of their tenets require prior constructs of thought available only in Reformed theology and not found in historic Christianity. For example, the idea that there are many different graces is simply invented. The Orthodox faith teaches that grace is the very uncreated presence of God. The graces you speak of are understood in a Latin context as “created graces,” hence, something which makes the believer presentable before God, but not something that truly unites the believer with God. When God imparts grace He imparts Himself and therefore creates union with man. This is how Peter could speak of becoming a partaker of the divine nature, and not simply “declared” righteous.

    But, honestly, I do not want to get into Scripture parcing. It can go on forever and it only serves to further delineate the differences between Orthodox theology and Reformed theology. What I am interested in for the sake of this article is the undeniable divine determinism present within Reformed faith and how, if possible, one can square that with language that requires human free-agency – such as love, belief, doubt, etc.

    Again, if our doubt is determined beforehand by God, then it is God doubting himself through us. If our faith is determined beforehand and He “powerfully determines our wills” then it is not the person believing but rather God believing through the person.

    In short, there is no relationship between man and God in Calvinism, only between God and Himself. This is the follow up point that I would like to hear debunked. It is a logical straight shot from Reformed teaching. Show me how I’m mistaken.

    Cheers.

  13. For some reason my browser wouldn’t show the “reply” button. Yes Eric I don’t mind that some brothers want to challenge or criticize Reformed theology. I believe it is helpful in us all sharpening each other and working to the glory of Christ. So I only hope to bring out the Reformed position perhaps clearer so that it can better be engaged and perhaps it would demonstrate the fault in this “challenge”

    I’m unsure if by Orthodox you are referring to the eastern Church or the catholic orthodox Church. If you are referring to the Eastern Orthodox Church, that is a different argument. However if by Orthodoxy you meant “orthodoxy”, as if the correct, catholic teaching then of course I will disagree. We do not hold to an ontological problem that grace must address. Rather the issue is forensic. In our justification the saving graces address the problem of sin. These are benefits that are never apart from our Union with Christ. Which is another essay…

    However to address your question of the “undeniable divine determinism” and understanding human free agency I think is a more focussed question.

    You must be corrected in an important understanding. And I will refer to the Canons of Dordt (CD) to help respond. You said “our doubt is determined beforehand by God, then it is God doubting himself through us.” However here is what the CD says:
    1.5 “The Sources of Unbelief and of Faith”
    “The cause or blame for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is not at all in God, but in man. Faith in Jesus Christ, however, and salvation through him is a free gift of God. As Scripture says, It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is a gift of God (Eph 2:8). Likewise: It has been freely given to you to believ in Christ (Phil 1:29).”

    I only want you to at least criticize us correctly. Because no one is saying that unbelief (your words used were doubt but surely that’s not sin, and that isn’t what is punishable by death but the sin of rejection and unbelief is) is from God. We have said that it is from man. The cause of unbelief is in man, not in God.

    God leaves some in their sin on the basis of his just will but does not need to cause them to sin. This speaks to our human condition apart from the grace of God.

    CD 3&4.3
    Article 3: Total Inability
    Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to
    reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.

    You wrote: “In short, there is no relationship between man and God in Calvinism, only between God and Himself.” In Reformed soteriology man is freed. They are enable where as before they weren’t able to be in a relationship/covenant with God. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to them by faith and they are adopted as the sons of God.

    Additionally here is the Council of Orange 529 speaking of what the natural man is able to do. (Because you mentioned the historicity of the Reformed confessions)
    CANON 7. If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, “For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).

    CANON 18. That grace is not preceded by merit. Recompense is due to good works if they are performed; but grace, to which we have no claim, precedes them, to enable them to be done.

    That when we do good it is from God:
    CANON 23. Concerning the will of God and of man. Men do their own will and not the will of God when they do what displeases him; but when they follow their own will and comply with the will of God, however willingly they do so, yet it is his will by which what they will is both prepared and instructed.

    and regarding our love for God, it comes from God:

    CANON 25. Concerning the love with which we love God. It is wholly a gift of God to love God. He who loves, even though he is not loved, allowed himself to be loved. We are loved, even when we displease him, so that we might have means to please him. For the Spirit, whom we love with the Father and the Son, has poured into our hearts the love of the Father and the Son (Rom. 5:5).

    I apologize for the long post. But I wanted to hopefully interact directly with the Reformed sources more.

  14. Trey, much of what you say here the Orthodox have no problem with (I am of the Eastern Orthodox Church, to answer your question). But some of the basic presuppositions of Reformed theology, some of which you touched on, are simply products of the Reformation and have no foundation in the historic faith according to Scripture and the Holy Fathers. Let me try to address some of them.

    First, let me address the Council of Orange. The parts you quoted are fantastic, but there is much more that you did not cover. This Council upheld Augustine against Pelagius concerning the impairment of the human will, Adam’s sin, and the role of grace in salvation. However, it roundly repudiates irresistible grace and the doctrine of double predestination. The first is accepted through all rank and file of Calvinist followers, the second is not. This issue of double predestination is a stance taken by what is often called “high-Calvinism.” When you say that I am not criticizing Reformed theology accurately, I would say yes I am, particularly in dealing with high-Calvinism. I should also state that the Eastern Church does not care much what the Council of Orange declared in the first place, since it is not considered an Ecumenical Council, but rather a regional synod. Many synods contradict each other and are not considered authoritative in matter of the Orthodox faith. Regardless, the Orthodox, again, have no problem with this one, but not a few Calvinists do for the reasons already mentioned.

    Moving on, much of what you said concerning man’s sin and righteousness is a full acceptance of the existence of freewill. This is a slippery slope for the Calvinist because once you allow it any room you must account for it in a way that does not contradict other Reformed teachings. This cannot be done for if man has the freewill to sin it means that he also had the option to not sin by freewill, else there is no freewill. One choice = determinism = absence of freewill.

    How can this be affirmed without also affirming semi-pelagianism? Because it does not follow that because man has freewill that he is thus able to come to God without the grace of God. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was release to convict the world of sin and of righteousness. God has sent the invitation to all – the highways and byways – to fill His wedding feast. Anyone who comes to Christ does so because God first convicted them. They are then free to pursue or deny God. It is as if a man was stuck in a well and a man came along and threw him a rope and pulled him out. The trapped man would be a fool to believe that it was by his own means that he freed himself from the well, even though he had to grab the rope to get out. Grabbing the rope of God is not man attaining his own salvation, it is simply co-working with Christ, as the Apostle declares we do (2Cor 6:1). Semi-pelagianism claims that we make the first move to come to God and then grace pulls us through. This is not what the Orthodox Church teaches. God first comes with the “rope” and it is up to us to either grab on or continue clinging to the darkness of the well.

    Back to Reformed teaching, you brought out much from the Canons of Dordt, but hear from the Westminister Confession, which is the premier catechism for Reformists. Chapter 3, 3, “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.” This is the doctrine of double predestination which was refuted at the Council of Orange.

    One passage of the confession that is highly disturbing for the Orthodox is in chapter 6, 1, “This their sin (both the devil and mankind) God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.”

    Wow!

    How does one, using this rubric, make any separation between God and satan? The Bible clearly states that God tempts no man with evil, yet He ordered this evil to befall man and angels for His “glory.” Incredible.

    I’m running out of time, must leave for work soon. There is so, so much that could be said, but in the end we still have not moved the ball forward. Man, under Calvinism, is still irrelevant in the work of salvation. God does all things, He is wholly sovereign over all events – both believe and unbelief, both sin and righteousness. I could (if time were unlimited today) quote dozens of Reformed sources to claim as much (and will later if possible). All I am proposing is that in order to remain consistent, Reformists should drop language that insists on human-agency. And, yes I understand what you have said thus far. I realize you are saying man does have freewill to sin, but not to do right. But when one spends time teasing this theory out there is only one logical endgame – that man is a cosmic chess piece, not a player; a cosmic blow up doll, not a “bride.” I don’t mean that crass, but its the image that comes to mind.

    I enjoy our discussion, Trey. Please feel free to respond, long or short. Thanks again. Cheers.

  15. Thanks for the freedom to post a longer response. I won’t abuse that. I tried to keep it short and because of that had to cut off the end. In reference to the issue of the doctrines of the Reformed Confession your statement is incorrect. I would start off by stating the obvious that the church Fathers are not our standard of the catholic faith. And I don’t know that you would want to defend that using Vincent’s Canon to determine what “catholic” is.
    The Reformers weren’t trying to establish a new church but a return to the true catholic faith (hence we recite the Apostle’s, Nicene, Athanasian and Chalcedonian creeds in our liturgy) that had not been corrupted by neo-platonism and superstitions. I’m sure you are already aware of this, but I just want to make sure you understand that the in the Reformers minds they were not splitting off. Additionally, I would cite Hodge’s letter to Rome in response to the invitation to Vatincan I (http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?1845). They were “returning” to the true faith to which we could supply numerous quotes but I would simply refer to Calvin’s small treatise entitled The Necessity of Reforming the Church and his other entitled A Treatise on Relics. Both are short and helpful (IMO).

    Regarding Orange 529:
    My purpose in highlighting in this is that the Reformed confessions used Orange 529 in expanding on their anthropology. In regards to your two claims of Irresistible Grace (IG) and Double-Predestination I’m a bit confused.

    IG:
    “CANON 23. Concerning the will of God and of man. Men do their own will and not the will of God when they do what displeases him; but when they follow their own will and comply with the will of God, however willingly they do so, yet it is his will by which what they will is both prepared and instructed.”

    “CONCLUSION:….And we know and also believe that even after the coming of our Lord this grace is not to be found in the free will of all who desire to be baptized, but is bestowed by the kindness of Christ, as has already been frequently stated and as the Apostle Paul declares, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29)….
    There are innumerable passages of holy scripture which can be quoted to prove the case for grace, but they have been omitted for the sake of brevity, because further examples will not really be of use where few are deemed sufficient…..
    We also believe and confess to our benefit that in every good work it is not we who take the initiative and are then assisted through the mercy of God, but God himself first inspires in us both faith in him and love for him without any previous good works of our own that deserve reward, so that we may both faithfully seek the sacrament of baptism, and after baptism be able by his help to do what is pleasing to him.”

    These statements are making it clear that man is not able to please God without God first making them “able” to do so. I re-read the council and am still not seeing how you are arriving at your conclusion. It may be that I read over something I can admit. Man is unable to work unless God acts on him first.

    Double Predestination:
    “CONCLUSION: We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.”

    First I think it’s important to help you rightly understand double-predestination (or Reprobation). Because the confessional statement is not that God predestines some to be damned. Second the statement by the council: “foreordained to evil by the power of God”. Does not address double-predestination or Reprobation but condemns that God is the author of evil. This statement is reaffirmed throughout the Reformed confessions. Is there a Reformer or Reformed Confession that speaks contrary to this? The answer is no.
    When one writes “God does not predestine some to be damned”. That discussion is a significant discussion to have but eternal damnation is not what is being discussed in this council. But rather that God is the source of all evil.
    But since the moment has lent itself to an opportunity, it is entirely wrong in understanding the Reformed confessions of soteriology as the Decree of Election as monergistic and the decree of reprobation as monergistic. This makes God becomes the author of sin because he punishes those men who would do what God had monergistically and irresistibly had called them to do. This is absolutely a monstrous view of God as it is an assault on his integrity. This is not the Reformed view of Election/Reprobation but a gross and inexcusable caricature of the doctrine. Some would probably refer to this view as hyper-calvinism or perhaps a radical view of supralapsarianism but the it is rejected by the Confessions. This view has been rejected universally and monolithically by Reformed Thinkers.
    Calvin writing against the idea that God is the power behind evil (or author of evil) “First, it must be observed that the will of God is the cause of all things that happen in the world; and yet God is not the author of evil.” (Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.169) The WCF speaking against God as the author of evil: WCF 4.iv: “The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men,(1) and that not by a bare permission,(2) but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding,(3) and otherwise ordering and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends;(4) yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God; who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.(5) (1)Ro 11:32,33,34; 2Sa 24:1; 1Ch 21:1; 1Ki 22:22,23; 1Ch 10:4,13,14; 2Sa 16:10; Ac 2:23; Ac 4:27,28 (2) Ac 14:16 (3) Ps 76:10; 2Ki 19:28 (4) Ge 1:20; Isa 10:6,7,12 (5) Jas 1:13,14,17; 1Jn 2:16; Ps 1:21. The Belgic Confession Article 13: About the Providence of God: …Neither is it possible to say that God is the author of or the guilty party in the evils that occur in this world… The Canons of Dordt 1.5 “The cause or blame for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is not at all in God, but in man. Faith in Jesus Christ, however, and salvation through him is a free gift of God.”
    This can be a long “rabbit-trail” of a discussion. But my point is clear. The statement from Orange (529) does not apply to Reformed theology. Because no one affirms that people do evil because God is making them. They are sinners who do evil because they choose and approve what their heart desires.
    Then what is Reprobation (double-predestination)? It is best to stay with the Canons of Dordt as I believe they are clearest and self-explanatory:
    1.6Article 6: God’s Eternal Decision
    The fact that some receive from God the gift of faith within time, and that others do not, stems from his eternal decision. For all his works are known to God from eternity (Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:11). In accordance with this decision he graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of his chosen ones and inclines them to believe, but by his just judgment he leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen. And in this especially is disclosed to
    us his act–unfathomable, and as merciful as it is just– of distinguishing between people equally lost. This is the well-known decision of election and reprobation revealed in God’s Word. This decision the wicked, impure, and unstable distort to their own ruin, but it provides holy and godly souls with comfort beyond words.
    1.15 Article 15: Reprobation
    Moreover, Holy Scripture most especially highlights this eternal and undeserved grace of our election and brings it out more clearly for us, in that it further bears witness that not all people have been chosen but that some have not been chosen or have been passed by in God’s eternal election– those, that is, concerning whom God, on the basis of his entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure, made the following decision: to leave
    them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves; not to grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but finally to condemn and eternally punish them (having been left in their own ways and under his just judgment), not only for their unbelief but also for all their other sins, in order to display his justice. And this is the decision of reprobation, which does not at all make God the author of sin (a blasphemous thought!) but rather its fearful, irreproachable, just judge and avenger.
    Now of course you will disagree, but at least you can properly represent what the Reformed confession holds to rather than asserting something then finding a statement that doesn’t address a Reformed confession and using it as a proof text against the Reformed confession.
    “Does God cause someone to sin?” It is rightly asked. God doesn’t have to cause a sinner to sin. They are acting in accordance with their ability. What God causes is faith. This (faith) is not an ability they have. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (RGL) wrote one of his greatest works on the doctrine of predestination if you wanted a more mature response I would recommend him. He mentions the “intention-execution” idea which Augustine initially hinted at but during the scholastics it became more prominent. Additionally as the Pelagian heretics pressed against Augustinianism it would be more pronounced. He also writes: “This explanatory formula we find in the writings of the earlier fathers, especially in St. John Chrysostom’s commentary on the words of St. Paul: “For who is it that distinguisheth thee? Or what hast thou that thou hast not received?”(4) The principle of predilection was already obscurely expressed in these words. It thus became increasingly certain that our Lord’s granting of the grace of final perseverance to the good thief in preference to the other was because He willed efficaciously to save him, and this efficacious will was from all eternity.”
    This is why I was saying you are not rightly understanding Reformed theology. In regards to your statement on freewill I would refer you to Chapter 9 of the WCF. I would respond in full however, I already feel that I am pushing the liberties of space you’ve given me to post. So I cannot sadly, respond to your other excellent questions.
    I will close by correcting on you on a statement about the use of Dordt. There are those who are Continental Reformed (URC, CRC, etc.) and Presbyterian (PCA, OPC, etc) (Scottish Reformed). The Continental subscribe to the 3 Forms of Unity (Heidelberg Catechism 1560s, Belgic Confession 1567 and Canons of Dordt 1619) while the Presbyerian subscribe to the Westminster Standards 1649 (WCF, WLC, WSC). While we use each one’s standards there is a technical difference.

  16. For many years I have felt that we have have spent too much time trying to define God and not enough time trying to imitate him. Reform theology is the greatest offender. Let our freedom determine our spiritual path.Good article!

  17. I tend to agree, Irvin, though I have known some pretty stout imitators of Christ on the Reformed end. However, they have introduced so many concepts into the faith that it nearly requires a PhD in theology just to keep up with it. Trying to track the Reformist thinking from Augustine to Calvin and down through their various leaders is an overwhelming task. It’s scholastic theology on crack.

  18. Trey, I think rather than trying to answer all of your questions and statements in one post, I will have to break them up as I am finding it difficult to set aside enough time to answer it all in one sitting (I have 7 month old twins at my ankles).

    First, you said: ” I would start off by stating the obvious that the church Fathers are not our standard of the catholic faith.” Followed with this: “The Reformers weren’t trying to establish a new church but a return to the true catholic faith (hence we recite the Apostle’s, Nicene, Athanasian and Chalcedonian creeds in our liturgy).”

    Is it possible that you do not use the Church Fathers as your standard yet use all of their creeds and canon of Scripture? I think you give them more credit than you think. I would also be interested in why you cut off the Ecumenical Councils where you do. Why do you not accept all 7? Who decided where the Church became corrupted, in other words?

    As a side note, every Christian group believes they are restoring authentic, ancient Christianity. I often wonder why people don’t just return the the Church that has been there all along, the Orthodox Church. It has remained virtually unchanged for 20 centuries. We are not called to “restore” the Church that Christ promised the gates of hell would never prevail against, we are called to “receive” the Church. Any attempt at “creating” the church results in just another schism.

    Next, you made many references for the Reformed reasons against Rome, but I’m wanting to make certain that you know I am Orthodox, not Roman Catholic. As far as doctrine goes, you’d find that due to a pervasive acceptance of all things Augustine, the Reformed churches have more in common with Rome than Orthodoxy has with Rome.

    Moving on, I was not aware of the differences between the Reformed positions that you mentioned – Continental and Presbyterian, and their many sub-divisions. With all the various groups adhering to a different set of confessions I see why there are so many PhD’s from Calvinist based churches. One needs advanced degrees to keep up with all the moving parts. 🙂

  19. I’m curious, is this a big issue with EO? I’m used to assertions about free will from Arminians (and all modern evangelical heirs of Finney), but I thought EO had other fish to fry.

    While I doubt I can answer for Calvinism to your satisfaction, I also doubt that you can answer to my satisfaction the very simple question of, how can man have free will, and God be sovereign?

    And even though you won’t like it (could you if you tried? are you free to like it if you will?), here’s my take on the question. We don’t have free wills, we have (a la Luther) bound wills; we always choose within the bounds of our will. Prior to regeneration, we freely choose to reject God. In regeneration, the Holy Spirit re-generates our will so that, seeing that God first loved us, we freely love God in return.

    My favorite way to sum it up is, we start with a “free won’t,” and God changes it to a “free will.”

  20. RubeRad, Insofar as EO does not use Reformed theological constructs, we are fairly uninterested in addressing what seems to us to be, essentially, a Latin-Augustinian conundrum. It all relates back to how the EO understand the primordial sin of Adam, grace, and salvation, i.e. deification. These categories across the EO, Reformed spectrum are wholly separate – nearly different religions all together.

    That being said, we find no logical necessity to exclude God’s sovereignty at the expense of freewill. We believe that God in His eternal power is able to will mankind to have freewill. This does not mean that man can come to God on his own. We believe in something similar to the Arminian notion of prevenient grace, i.e. that the call of God is given to all people everywhere (note the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was released in the earth to convict the world of sin and of righteousness). The individual then has the option to humble himself or to remain in pride. God gives grace to the humble and resists the proud.

    That’s the extreme short version of my answer. Thank you for joining the conversation.

    You and Trey might be interested to know that I bought Calvin’s “Institutes” today and have begun reading book II. Truly interesting stuff. My fears have been confirmed. 😦

  21. I’ve never understood prevenient grace, but if EO has a similar notion, that would explain the question.

    I don’t see it as a question of what abilities God is able to create into man, but whether God is able to “turn off” his sovereignty. For a being with omniscience and omnipotence (he knows everything that will ever happen, and he has the power to make anything happen otherwise), it doesn’t make sense to speak of God “making” some things happen, but “letting” other things happen.

    I’m glad you’re reading Calvin, not sure why you bought it instead of just reading it free online

  22. It available online for free? Damnit! (hard to picture reading over a 1000 pages on a computer screen, though).

    Think of allowing your children to play outside according to their freewill rather than dictating what toys they will play with and how, and you’ll understand why the EOs believe God is still sovereign even with human agency. How they play and with what they play has no bearing on the fact that I’m still in charge of the house and can call them to account for strangling each other or attempting to burn down the house, and dish out punishments accordingly. Determining how they play and what they do changes them from my children to my chess pieces.

  23. Institutes are here (that’s the older translation, Battle I think, if you want more modern English you have to buy). Also all his commentaries, which I personally find more helpful.

    Your analogy breaks down immediately, as I am not God, and do not have omniscience that extends to each of my children’s innermost thoughts, nor omnipotence to control them.

  24. Thanks for the links. And, no kidding, you have to use your imagination. 🙂 In order for my analogy to break down you have to demonstrate that the “logic” doesn’t work, it does not matter that you cannot perform the analogy in real life. Does that make sense?

  25. Looks like we’ve bottomed out the reply-nesting! Probably that signals the end of the conversation…

    I just can’t see how my lack of total control of my children could possibly apply to God. Set aside desire for now (would I want my children to be my chess pieces? Sometimes maybe yes, but what does what I want have to do with what God wants?), I don’t see how it would be possible for God not to be in control of anything.

    When it comes to our regeneration, another way I like to think of it is according to that common phrase “you gotta love it!” Really? Is something ever so good that compulsion is involved? How horrible! I’m no robot! But that’s exactly what is going on with God. For those to whom he reveals the magnitude of their sin and the grace of the gospel, we gotta love it. We are no longer free to hate it, because we have been regenerated to understand that it is truly lovely. (And of course, pre-regeneration, lacking revelation of God’s goodness, we are not free to love Him, but freely choose to hate him.)

  26. My answer would be Peter’s denial of Christ. Once Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him could Peter have NOT denied Christ? If Peter had never known the prophecy, or us for that matter, we would naturally assume that he denied Christ of his own free will. But since he knew, and we know from scripture, we have to face this fact. If Peter truly had free will and choosing to NOT deny Christ was a legitimate option then to the degree that it was possible for him to choose contrary to what Christ predicted is the degree to which it was possible for Christ to be wrong and if it’s possible for Christ to be wrong then it must be possible for God to be wrong. How’s that for a moral dilema?

  27. The only other option is to believe that we can act apart from God’s express intent. This means that we would have the power to thwart the plan of God. In a free will universe God creates Adam somehow knowing that he will sin and then sitting in heaven watching and hoping the He is wrong.

  28. Its a good example, thanks for bringing it up. My observations: (a) Jesus tells Peter that “you”(Peter) will deny Me. To use the language of determinism rightly one must say, “Peter, I will cause you to deny Me.” That Christ puts the blame on Peter is to deny His (Christ’s) causing it to happen. (b) Knowing what Peter would do is far from linking Jesus to be the cause of Peter’s action, else every prophet who foretold the future would be “god.” (c) Foreknowledge implies inevitability if one considers an eternal vantage point. “Eternal” precludes linear time as we experience it here on earth. In that sense God foreknows all things in advance without being the causation of all things. It’s only inevitable in that it happened, if that makes sense. (d) Again, to emphasize the point from a different angle, to know all things from the vantage point of heaven in no way involves a logical necessity of that knowledge being linked to causation.

  29. Yes but the fact that God knows in advance precludes anyone having a free will choice at the moment of the choice. If God knows everything in advance then our lives play out like a cosmic DVD. The universe is causal and since God is the initial cause and all that transpires is according to His will then He is ultimately responsible for all that goes on in His universe.

    Before God created He must have examined quite a few different scenarios. Knowing the future of all these scenarios, and apparently not finding one that didn’t involve sin, he decided on one in which he created Adam, gave him a wife, put them in the garden, allowed the serpent to have access to the garden, put a tree in the middle of the garden, made it beautiful to look at and told them not to eat from it. Adam eats and we know what follows. So armed with this knowledge what does God do? He creates it that very way. Adam hasn’t made a choice yet. God did not “technically” force him but it is evident that God created conditions in order to come to one outcome. Adam had no other choice. But from his point of view he did. Free will is ultimately an illusion. But it is also freeing because knowing we can never overthrow God’s plan and not knowing what the future actually is allows us to act as if do have free will.

  30. Sorry. I didn’t really address your point A. You assume Christ is blaming Peter for denying Him. It could also very well be a statement of fact. Peter’s declaration was that his will was contrary to Christs claim. Therefore something apart from Peter compelled him to act the way he did. Peter was swept along by events and unseen forces that were well beyond his control. How was Peter’s denial a free will choice? If God is in control and God determined that Christ should suffer the pain of betrayal then why should it not be that God would cause someone to do so?

  31. Well, I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree on the logical conclusions of God’s omniscience. But, since denying the existence of freewill precludes the use of words charged with freewill (i.e. love, hate, belief, disbelief) must be thrown out of the Reformed vocab in order to maintain consistency.

  32. Denying Christ is a sin. By your logic, Christ led Peter into sin. This is blasphemy according to every Reformed creed and confession I’ve read, including Calvin’s own works.

  33. Yes, God is in control of sin and evil, he keeps it in check by his common grace in this age, applies justification and grows sanctification in the elect, and in the age to come will finally and completely judge it.

    If you are asking, rather, whether God is the author of sin or evil, or culpable for it, the reformed confessions have always taken great pains to deny that.

  34. Foreknowledge implies inevitability.

    And beyond that, there is no escaping God’s not just foreknowing, but causing Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened, and the infallible commentary on that in Rom 9.

  35. Pharaoh hardened his own heart first in Exodus 8:15, 32, and 9:34. This is why St. Paul says in the beginning of Romans:

    Romans 1:22-25 ESV Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

  36. Again, are you saying God led Peter into sin and determined Judas to betray Him. If so then it was not Peter who denied God, but God who denied Himself through Peter. Likewise, it would be God who betrayed Himself through Judas. Hence, back to the OP, Reformist should drop words like “believe” and “doubt” as attributing them to humans and attribute them to God instead.

    If instead you merely mean that “God works all things to the good,” then who would disagree? It’s divine determinism that is on the hook here, not God’s power to make His plan come to pass in terms of the economy of salvation.

    There is election, indeed, but it is an election of covenant – a covenant body. It was Israel, but they fell away. It is now the Church. The Church is predestined for glory, but its individual members can fall out of it through unbelief. See Galatians 5:4, Hebrews 10:26,1 Corinthians 9:27

    Is it God’s will that any should perish? But will many perish? Why will they perish? Because God determined them to? That’s wholly out of court.

  37. Pharaoh hardened his own heart first in Exodus 8:15

    You should check Ex 4:21 and 7:3

    This is why Paul says in Rom 9 ‘For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.’

  38. If so then it was not Peter who denied God, but God who denied Himself through Peter

    But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” etc. Vessels of wrath, and vessels of mercy (from among Israel and Gentiles) sounds more like individuals than corporate, covenant bodies.

    Anyways, we’re just going around the same tree that Calvinists & Arminians have gone around for centuries. There will be no convincing either way here.

  39. Indeed, we are. That’s why I didn’t necessarily want to get derailed with a scripture shoot out. No one ever wins. Rather, my OP question is fairly simple but has not really been addressed yet. I’m not really looking to change Calvinists, but only help make them more consistent.

    Also, this particular reply of yours is what can be very frustrating when talking with Calvinists. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed our exchange, but answering a very direct question with the regular, go-to-response of “who are you to question God,” when the quote does not fit our context of discussion, tells me that thinking has been replaced with defense. Either God makes men to sin or He doesn’t. If the former – blasphemy. If the latter Orthodoxy.

  40. I’m sorry if you find it trite, but I (along with all other Calvinists) of course see that sarcastic rhetorical question put into scripture for exactly this discussion. Although to be fair, you are not questioning God here in the form of “how can that be fair/just”, but more as “how can that be logically possible”?

    To risk overdoing the go-to verses, I would also point to Deut 29:29. All of this election stuff belongs to God. It is revealed to us that TULIP is true and God is in total control, working out his purposes from beginning to end. But the details (who, when, how) are available only to God (see also here).

    What is given to us is our linear experience of time through the duration of our lives, and the cause and effect relationship of our will and actions. To dwell on the fact that our futures unalterably known is fruitless and dangerous. The Greeks knew this well, thus all of their tales of inescapable fate. And Calvinists have always known this well, which is why we have always consciously resisted the tendency towards hyper-Calvinism (well, most of us anyways), and always striven to affirm the “well-meant offer of the gospel”.

  41. Okay, one last round of Bible shootout.

    “Does the potter have the right over the clay”

    Paul is alluding to a passage from Jeremiah where he says: ““O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” (Jer 18:6)

    You can see God is dealing with the covenant group here, Israel. Going back to Rom 9:22 (“Although God desired to show his wrath and to make known his power, He endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,”) and continue on with this: “in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (v.23). In short, God endured the unfaithfulness of Israel in order to bring about salvation within the new covenant Church, which makes Paul drawing from Jeremiah make complete sense. Jeremiah is addressing God’s relationship with old Israel, then Paul explains that God endured their endless wickedness to enable His mercies to be made known within the Church, which comprised both Jews and gentiles.

    Ah, but what about God “preparing” those vessels of wrath? Does He not do the preparing, i.e. did He not determine them to fall?

    Here’s where the Greek becomes important and why the Greek Fathers never read into this verse what the west has for centuries. Let me here quote from Witherington: “Paul uses two different verbs when talking about the vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath…Katertismena, used of the vessels of wrath, is a perfect passive participle. Proetoimasen, used of the vessles of mercy, is an aorist active indicative. This change cannot be accidental, and it suggests that Paul means that the vessels of wrath are ripe or fit for destruction. Indeed, one could follow the translation of John Chrysostom here and understand it in the middle voice: ‘have made themselves fit for’ destruction”

    This harkens back to the point made earlier about Romans chapter one. It is no mistake that Paul opens this book with a long description about how one becomes debase in their minds – because “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debase mind” (Rom1:28). This is exactly what happened to Pharaoh, and what happens to the rest of us who resist God. “God resists the proud and give grace to the humble”. Therefore humble yourselves, says the Apostle Peter (1Pet 5:6).

    Indeed, not only can we resist God’s grace through pride, but we can even receive it in vain if we do not become co-workers with Him (2Cor 6:1). Paul even feared that he himself might be “cut-off” if after preaching the gospel was found himself not to keep his person under control (1Cor 9:27).

    So, back where we began, it is not at all the same to ask “Is God the author of sin” as it is to ask “why does God still find blame.” The first is a simple declaration of “no.” The second takes some time to develop, but again, Paul developed it fine in the first chapter of the same book in which he sarcastically responds to naysayers.
    That was a long post.

    I’ll let you have the last word, but I hope that within your response you will address the OP. Thanks again, its been a pleasure.

  42. Well that’s some fancy footwork there; I don’t have the chops in Greek to counter myself, though I don’t doubt I could line up exegetes on the other side as well. In any case, it fails to address the particular case of Pharaoh.

    But back to your OP, I am not convinced by your kids in the yard analogy that we can do what we want, and God remain sovereignly in control. What you describe as “the fact that I’m still in charge of the house and can call them to account” means that God can react, but he can’t really plan. EO (you) are not Open Theists, are you?

  43. ” I am not convinced by your kids in the yard analogy that we can do what we want, and God remain sovereignly in control.”

    Never mind the kids analogy then, would you conceded that God usurps man in all causality in human affairs? Then God is the author of every terrible evil on the planet. Again, this is blasphemy by any standard of orthodoxy, and it dwarfs any accusation of “open theism.”

    And, no, I’m not an open theist. God’s plan comes to pass. His elected body is predestined to be conformed to His image. The Church is his covenant elected body. To be clear, we are not talking about God’s plan in all things, instead we are talking about the individual and his/her relation with God. God has granted, by His eternal power, that mankind would have freewill to respond to His call of salvation. A person is free to stay at the bottom of the well (death) if they desire, or they can grab the rope that Christ has thrown them and allow God to pull them out (life in Him). But nobody at the end of a rope at the bottom of a well congratulates himself for getting himself out of the well on his own merit because he held on to a rope which he neither supplied nor moved upwards. This is as close an analogy as I can think of at the moment to describe the Orthodox understanding of theosis. One holds on to the rope with fear and trembling – they are indeed “working out their salvation with fear and trembling” watching the bottom of the well become further away as they are pulled up. Letting go means crashing hard (eternal death).

    I hope this helps. Orthodoxy is an existential faith at its best. So much of it is realized in its worship and spirit and not merely in its explanation. But one must try. 🙂

  44. Hi, Your question, “What does it mean in Scripture when a person is encouraged to believe the gospel?”, already contains your presupposition in your word, “encouraged” rather than what scripture states as a “command”. You also have another presupposition in your question, “If the person is not a free-agent (in the sense of possessing freewill) what does it mean to implore them to believe?”; If you could expand on your understanding of free-agent other than, “It would be like telling a plastic doll to consider its favorite poem”, it may be helpful for others like myself to understand your belief system.
    Some things to consider are the following taken from THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH, Chap. 3.1 (as-well-as Chap 9: “Of Free Will”
    I. God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

  45. Hello Administrator,

    “Your question, “What does it mean in Scripture when a person is encouraged to believe the gospel?”, already contains your presupposition in your word, “encouraged” rather than what scripture states as a “command”.

    Does “command” and “encourage” have different presuppositional foundations? I can use “command” without changing my point whatsoever. Help me understand where you are seeing a difference.

    “If you could expand on your understanding of free-agent other than, “It would be like telling a plastic doll to consider its favorite poem”, it may be helpful for others like myself to understand your belief system.”

    I have expanded on it quite a bit throughout these 50 posts. As far as “my belief” system it is that of the Orthodox Church. I did not create it. It’s been here since the very beginning, however, Calvin’s expansion of Augustinianism has not. It is a major leap off the tracks of historic Christianity, and, as I’m showing through this article, its also a leap off the tracks of logic.

    Your quote from the Westminister Confession is actually a perfect example of how Reformists want to have their cake and eat it too. On the one hand, God “ordains whatsoever comes to pass” and on the other hand there is an exception – sin. This is the point exactly. Either He ordains all things and “all” means “all” or “all” means “almost everything” which is ridiculous.

    Thus, we’re back where we started: Reformists should remove language from their speech that requires human freewill to make possible. If this is not the case, please help me understand how one can infer freewill while at the same time claiming it does not exist.

  46. It sounds like you have your mind made up. Fortunately, we are saved by Christ and not by our presuppositions. Enjoy your journey.

  47. Administrator, were you hoping to convert me to Reformed theology? I’m actually not trying to convert Reformists to Orthodoxy, though that would be great. I’m aiming at helping Reformists to be consistent in their theology. Pleasure to meet you, cheers.

  48. Like I told my Muslim friends, “Only God can convert”. I’ve been on both sides (or many sides) of the fence; Arminianism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arminianism), Dispensationalism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dispensationalism). My first Bible was a Scofield Bible… I took the full Scofield Bible course. I read “Chafers Systematic Theology. But those theological camps left me with more questions and confusion when I tried to reconcile them to the Word. I also know some of the weakness to Calvin’s postion, but his writings were closer to the Biblical teaching on many doctrines than was the camp I started out my pilgrimage in. To say, as a Christian, that we know all things and can explain all things through some system of theology is to, at best, have the tail wag the dog… and at worst… mimic the cults and their special vein of human logic. I would hope that you can approach your system of theology with the fact that we all see through the glass darkly and there is the ever, more-important, command of Romans 12:2.

  49. “To say, as a Christian, that we know all things and can explain all things through some system of theology is to, at best, have the tail wag the dog”

    Well, whoever the fool is that would claim to know all things, he has bigger issues than predestination vs. freewill. 🙂

    I know you are not condemning all theological “systems” because they are the only way we can make heads or tails of Scripture on many points. My theological system, or exegetical method, is to follow the Apostolic Tradition – that is Scripture is “prima” (not Sola), and is best interpreted by the holy Fathers of the faith. The method I was taught in grad school was to develop my own intellect and decipher Scripture on my own. But I ran into a similar revelation you did – everyone disagrees, particularly those with PhD’s in theology and Biblical studies.

    Paul claims that the “Church is the ground and pillar of truth” (1Tim 3:15). That was a claim I could never believe as a Protestant, but as a newly converted Orthodox believer, I totally get it. The Church is the very presence of the Holy Spirits continued work in the earth, making the body of Christ united. It is only in the Orthodox Church that you will find a continual agreement on doctrine and Scripture for the last 20 centuries starting with the Apostles. I bow my own intellect and understanding to the Church when I find myself disagreeing with its ancient understanding of the faith.

    I’ve read quite a bit of Calvin and many of the Reformed confessions and even studied under a professor who was a student of James Torrance, but I still find so much confusion and forced logic in Reformed thinking that it boggles my mind. You find that it explains Scripture, I have found just the opposite. I find it making a complete mess of Scripture. But, as is the purpose of this article, I am hoping that Reformists understand their doctrine better than I do and can shed some light on some of the issues I have the most trouble with.

    Again, I appreciate your comments. Please keep them coming. I enjoy civil theological banter. 🙂

  50. Hi, would you expand or explain your statement, “… – that is Scripture is “prima” (not Sola)”.
    Also, since there are many expressions of “orthodox” (that word has taken a beating just like the original word “catholic”) in the world, what particular “orthodox” expression are you adhering to when you stated, “… only in the Orthodox Church that you will find a continual agreement on doctrine and Scripture for the last 20 centuries starting with the Apostles.”

  51. By the “Orthodox Church” I mean Eastern Orthodoxy, the only “pre-denominational” Church, the one found in the Nicene Creed – “One, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church,” the one founded at Pentecost delivered to the saints.

    The Church has always had Scripture as “prima,” i.e. the first and highest textual authority given to the Church for doctrine and practice. The Orthodox do not remove Scripture from Holy Tradition from where it came. The Protestant Reformation is the first time one hears of the phrase “Sola Scriptura.” The Protestants used it as a way of telling Rome that they were denying the authority of the Roman Church and taking Scripture as their sole authority. Though one can understand their passionate desire to separate from Rome, removing Scripture from its roots and placing it in the hands of every Tom, Dick and Harry to decide what “they” think it means has led to the greatest ongoing schismatic movement Christianity has ever seen. There are now 1000’s of “churches” with wildly different theology which all claim to have restored the ancient Church through their private interpretation of Scripture. This is the inevitable result of pulling Scripture from the garden in which it was planted – Holy Tradition.

    As an Orthodox, again, I can fully appreciate the Protestant’s original beef with Rome but what they should have done, rather than go-it-alone, they should have returned to the Church (the same one which Rome itself fell away from in the 11th century).

    Sorry for the over-explanation. Does that help?

  52. Thanks for your explanation, it did help to understand what you stated previously. It’s interesting to note that I have a relative who gave me a similar explanation of why he joined the Roman Catholic organization. While you are correct in pointing out, “Paul claims that the “Church is the ground and pillar of truth” (1Tim 3:15)”, I find the deeper meaning (scripture interprets scripture) to be 2 Tim. 2:19, as well as the vast wealth of other verses in scripture defining what a visible and invisible Church consists of.
    I can also see your point about Schism after the Reformation took hold. No so-called Protestant or Reformed believer would ever cheer for the Schismatic condition in which the visible Church finds itself today. They would have to divorce themselves intellectually from all the scriptures that teach about keeping one Church. Martin Luther himself never wanted a break up. I myself enjoy the fact that the denomination my particular Church is part of has access to structures and governmental modes of operation that help us to be less susceptible to the winds and waves of funky doctrines that come floating to the surface from time to time. I’ve been a part of the independent movements before and find the lack of due process very insecure. One thing that I have learned is that Sola Scriptura may be taught, but there usually is the practice of Prima Scriptura at some level of practice. But Scripture is ever the only true root from which all faith, practice, Church rules/regulations, and guidance come from. We can trust no other source… especially since it took over 300 years to finally make a determination and standard as to which writings were considered Scripture. Even after 367 a.d., you can see certain writers had difficulty accepting the list that was agreed upon.
    It sounds like you found a Church that you feel comfortable with and in agreement with? To that you should be thankful that God has provided a corporate body to which you can feel at home with. But, I hope your pilgrimage with your family does not hinder your freedom in Christ to have true fellowship with believers who are at different places in their sojourning?

  53. Very wise words. I’m grateful to have you on. 🙂

    Indeed Scripture is the true root, in that it is a work of God and not of man, however getting the correct interpretation of it is the trick. The only way to guarantee your interpretation is correct is if it is reflected in the consensus of the Church. The Orthodox use as their exegetical method that of the holy fathers, as mentioned earlier. Much of Protestantism, at least from my experience, uses the method of academic training (at best) or self-directed “revelation” (at worst). We were always discouraged in our Greek and Hebrew classes from first checking in with commentaries and/or the Fathers when interpreting Scripture. That’s terrible advise. It was always fun to pit one PhD professor against another PhD professor when interpreting passages. Even at their level of education they were wholly divided (my college had many denominations among its faculty in the theology department).

    Anyway, its a pleasure conversing with you. Have a great New Year!

  54. Hi, could you provide a list of the “holy fathers” (taken from your statement, ‘The Orthodox use as their exegetical method that of the holy fathers, as mentioned earlier.’). I’m slowly progressing through Church history and enjoy a deeper understanding of what extant writings still exist and their (the authors) perspective.
    It’s been said that this age or day of the Church has “more light” in the context that we have more resources and writings that we can access.
    Unfortunately there are few and far-between Seminaries that provide a deeper understanding of the Scriptures and the Church history that applied those same Scriptures. Our denomination supports a few and one in particular. But the candidates coming from them seem resistant to fully apply the entire canon, they take exception or try to compensate for their inability to stomach the truth. We maybe witness in this age to Luke 18:8 … Nevertheless when the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth?

  55. I guess a short list would include Athanasius, Cyril, Ignatius, Irenaeus, the Cappadocian fathers (Basil, Gregory of Naziansus, and Gregory of Nyssa), Maximus the Confessor, Symeon the New Theologian, and a host of others. The Philokalia is a collection of writings from various monks and saints from the 3rd to the 15th century that the Orthodox Church hold in the highest regard.

    In regards to your point about seminaries providing very little in the way of Church history, you couldn’t be more right. Unless you want only that strain of history that stems from Augustine. My seminary had a dozen full library shelve stacks dedicated to him and only a 4’x4′ area reserved for Orthodox history and writings. It’s a good idea to actually visit with a local Orthodox priest to field questions. They are usually very open to such meetings and extremely helpful in explaining the Orthodox view. And they’re usually not ultra evangelical so you won’t feel like you’re talking to a car salesman.

  56. Ah yes, Athanasius, from whom we derive the NT list of the Canon prior to the Council that agreed with that same list.
    Which Basil?: … Basil the Elder, 4th century saint, father of Basil the Great
    Basil of Caesarea (Basil the Great), 4th century leading churchman
    Basil the Confessor, 8th century saint
    Basil Fool for Christ, Russian saint
    Saint Basil of Ostrog, Serbian saint.
    Which Cyril?: Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313 – 386), theologian and bishop
    Saint Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376 – 444), Patriarch of Alexandria.
    I think we can miss whole chunks of Church history if we leave any of the pre-Augustine writings out. None of these guys had perfect understanding, but it gives us insight into what they believed during their time frame and culture.
    We have a Greek Orthodox Church nearby, but they are more cultural than spiritual.

  57. I was specifically referring to Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea, one of the Cappadocian fathers. And Cyril of Alexandria, though my list was only partial, I was in no way attempting a full list.

    I find that many Orthodox Church can be a little heavy on the culture shock spectrum. It’s unfortunate, but cool at the same time. You’ll find that Orthodox Church goers are not necessarily immune to simply going through the motions any more than any other church, but those who take it seriously are quite an amazing bunch. My priest told me on day one to never look to anyone in the Church for a resting place of trust, but rather to trust the sacraments, trust the liturgy and trust the Scripture. They never do you wrong. 🙂

  58. I am reading a helpful book that quotes him, “Annunciations are frequent, and incarnations are rare. St. Basil, bishop of Caesarea”. I find I am at a crossroads when I am strengthened by Reformed theology, comforted by a Charismatic (or Pentecostal) author, and challenged to understand an Eastern Orthodox blogger.
    One more trust you may want to add to the list your priest gave you is; trust the Author of Scripture 😉

  59. Indeed, Im pretty sure he assumed that was a given.

    It’s an interesting crossroads you find yourself at. My advise is to take your time. God is faithful and will lead you in the right path. There is no rush. Cheers my friend.

  60. Hi, assumptions and annunciations seem to be close words 😉
    Quick tangent … your ref. to “trust the sacraments”; What do Eastern Orthodox believe about the Lord’s Supper?
    Transubstantiation: Priest says the magical incantation to change the bread/wine in real body/blood of Christ?
    Consubstantiation: body/blood of Christ are present alongside the substance of the bread/wine?
    Baptist: Grape juice turns into wine, leavened bread (or donuts) turns into unleavened bread (obvious attempt at sarcastic humor).
    Reformed: Jesus death is not only memorialized, but He is present in a special way to the believers by faith and the emblems of bread/wine are a sensual reminder of the reality of Jesus and the incarnation?
    Other?

  61. Haha, I highly appreciate the humor. The Orthodox relish the mysteries of the faith. For us, the Eucharist is the pivotal aspect of our communal worship and it is the mystery of Christ’s presence, our uniting with him, and our uniting with each other. We believe when Jesus said “this is my body… this is my blood” he was not speaking metaphorically but mystically. We fully appreciate the Roman Catholic attempt at rationally defining the phenomenon, but we prefer to leave it in the mystical category. With the same faith that we believe in the incarnation, we believe the Eucharist elements become the body and blood of our Lord.

  62. Calvinisms Refuted
    Genesis 4:3-8 (NKJV) 3 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. 4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” 8 Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
    If we look at the context of these verses we can learn much about God’s relationship with man at that time. Both Cain and Able brought offerings to God. However, only Abel’s was accepted by God. Why? Abel brought the firstborn of his flock, a requirement God later gave to the Israelites. We can reason then that Abel was obeying a requirement which God had expressed to man at that time. Otherwise, God could not tell Cain “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” This is a complete free will choice to made by Cain alone.

    Let us apply the Calvinist Doctrine of Election to these scriptures. If God only calls those He has chosen/elected why does He offer Cain the opportunity to repent? God does not mock men by asking them to do what they cannot do. Cain did not repent as is evident in that he murdered his brother. Therefore, Cain cannot be one of the Elect because Calvinist Doctrine says the Elect cannot refuse God’s choice. If you say that God’s offer of forgiveness is universal but only the Elect can respond because of the Total Depravity of man, then you are calling God a liar and deceiver. How could God offer Cain the opportunity to repent if Cain could not because of total depravity and he was not one of the elect? Why would God offer Cain the opportunity to repent if God knew he could not respond to the offer? If Cain was totally depraved why was he bringing an offering? He had to have some awareness of the requirement and need didn’t he?
    Hebrews 11:4 (NASB)
    4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.
    This clearly teach Abel’s salvation because of his faith in God, demonstrated by his offering which was in accordance with God’s instruction.

  63. My good friend, (a “4 Pointer” & a ”Bapticostal”-GOD delivered him from Alcoholism, in direct answer to Prayer, BUT he believes the Charismatic Movement is largely a ploy for $$$) has a Web Site on ”the DEITY of CHRIST” aimed at the JW mindset. He refuses to become a ”5″er, because of the abundance of Scriptural support of Christ’s dying for ”ALL” — But he loves John MacArthur, so when I mention Scriptures that Contradict Calvinism, he seems to glaze over, just like any other CULTist when protecting their own CULT!!! Do you have any suggestions on HOW I might break through his CULTic Veneer that is shielding him from the TRUTH???!!!

  64. This is why the apostolic tradition is so important. Scripture is easily twisted and bent into an image of our own liking. It doesn’t matter what I, you or anyone else happens to think Scripture says. I matters only what holy tradition says it means. Else the Protestant schismania never ends. 🙂

    Your friend will probably reject the notion of the importance of holy tradition, but I’m curious if you will also reject it. We must always take care to be sure we ourselves are participants in the things we want others to do. Cheers.

  65. Mr. Hyde,
    Dr. Jekel asked me to remind you that this is a site on the many ERRORs of CALVINism! I, for one, would appreciate your taking your ‘Anti’-Christ comments elsewhere. A young priest finally ADMITTED to me that “When the Ancient ROMAN Empire conquered the surrounding PAGAN nations, since They were all illiterate, WE couldn’t very well give them Bibles to Read! SO WE just gave all their PAGAN IDOLs and TRADITIONS Christian NAMES.” Then he paused uncomfortably, before Sheepishly adding, “Thereby WE made Whole Nations ‘Christian’ (spelled ‘ROMAN Catholic’) overnight!?!?!?
    Turns out ROME just took the names of the BAAL worshiping PAGANs, (such as BAAL’s MOTHER, the ‘queen of heaven’ — aka ‘mother of god’) and gave them to ROME’s New ”CHRISTIANITY”???

  66. Mr. Griswold, Dr. Jekel is mistaken. This blog concerns my personal journey through the Orthodox Christian faith as well as various musings of my liking. It is not a site about the many errors of Calvinsim. Your writing style reminds me of many folks I’ve met in the past who have appointed themselves masters of the universe, and I’m not inclined to retain your comments if they continue this course.

    In addition, you may want to do some private research on Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy so that your assaults land where you desire and not throw your blazing intellect to the wind.

    If you would like to have civil discourse, you’ve found the right place. If not, I will kindly spam your comments from here on out. Thanks.

    Cheers.

  67. It’s been a while, I don’t know that I have any more to add (one more time around the same tree?); I just wanted to link to this. Sometimes art illustrates truth better than I can. (Very often in fact!)

  68. Eric,
    Please
    forgive any misplaced fervor. I was hit by a car and in a COMA, for 5
    weeks, back in 1968, when I was 15, so I have had my challenges (Many of
    which continue to this day!) BUT the LORD IS GOOD!!! My wife has
    stuck by me for over 35 years, AND we have a MIRACLE daughter of 25
    years — my wife had been told, after 3 months of testing and 6 months
    of NOT ovulating, that the tests indicated that she was “going through
    ‘early menopause'” @ age 29 and 6 months! (She had had a Dalcon Shield
    I.U.D. which had caused her sterility!) Upon leaving the Dr.s we were
    very discouraged! BUT upon arriving home I remembered our pastor always
    saying, “JESUS CHRIST, the Same Yesterday, Today, AND Forever.” (Hebrews
    13:8?) AND “HE HEALED them ALL.” And somewhere else I heard, “IF you
    have a NEED, and do NOT know where to look, SEE WHAT The BIBLE SAYS!!”
    So upon entering our 2nd floor apartment, my wife went straight for the
    bedroom to SULK on the bed, thinking she would NEVER be able to BEAR
    CHILDREN! BUT I ran for the Concordance to my BIBLE to look up the Word
    “BARREN”!!! Deuteronomy 7 or 8 has a verse which says, “The Fruit of
    your WOMB shall be BLESSED.”
    NICE, I thought, BUT her WOMB IS DEAD!
    So I looked up the 2nd reference for “BARREN” which was Psalm 113, verse
    9: which proceeded to JUMP off the page at me!!! “HE gives
    the BARREN Woman a home, AND MAKES HER the JOYFUL MOTHER
    of CHILDREN. PRAISE the LORD!” I read it a few times, to make
    sure I wasn’t Hallucinating, and then proceeded to hurry into the
    bedroom, pushing my BIBLE under Clarice’s tear-soaked face, as I said,
    “LOOK WHAT I FOUND IN THE BIBLE!!!!!!!!!” (((Our pastor had
    always taught us to TRUST in CHRIST And TRUST in HIS WORD,
    giving us Scriptures like “MY WORD Shall NOT Return To ME VOID,
    BUT IT Shall ACCOMPLISH What I PLEASE, AND PROSPER In the
    THING For Which I Have SENT IT.” {Isaiah 55:11} And “HE SENT
    HIS WORD And HEALED Them.” {Psalm 107 verse 20}

  69. Very encouraging words, brother. Trust in His Word is paramount. God is kind and gentle to come to us communicating Himself in a book. We can pick it up or put it down anytime we wish.

  70. Dear Eric,
    Hebrews 9:22 says, in part, “Without the SHEDDING of BLOOD there is NO FORGIVENESS.” So when I asked the young priest WHY the MASS was said to have SO MUCH VALUE, since it is a “BLOOD-LESS” Sacrifice, he appeared a little flustered! And when I pointed out that the BAAL Worshipers in Jeremiah 7:18 offered a BLOOD-LESS Sacrifice to BAAL’s MOTHER, the queen of heaven, he FINALLY ADMITTED that the BAAL W. (BW from now on) believed the SUN god, BAAL, was an ANGRY young God who Never Refused a Request of His much more loving, compassionate and merciful MOTHER.
    Wait!!! Why am I telling you this?! You probably have NO interest in knowing the TRUTH, because you have access to ROME’s TRADITIONs!!!
    Well, let me know!

  71. Mark, I’m sorry you think that way. Incidently, I’m not Roman Catholic.

    I will say this about the Eucharist, it is rejected by those outside of Christ for in it is the mystery of the incarnation made known to the Church. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him” (John 6:53-56).

  72. I can not express how exciting it is for me to read your posts and comment chains. It is as though you are an alternate me, but more educated and well expressed. So good. Thank you!!!

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