Neo-Calvinism: A Plea

I’m about to start a series on something called “Neo-Calvinism.” I’m pretty excited about it, mainly because it’s an area of theology I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. I think there’s a lot to learn here. But I’ve put off the study for months because, well, I hate listening to Calvinist – Arminian (in the sense of “not Calvinist”) arguments. I do. I confess it.

Why? Well, it’s nothing personal against Calvinists as such. Some of my best friends are Calvinists. It’s just, well … these arguments can be so annoying. You see, both Calvinists and Arminians have their proof texts. And when they argue on the internet, they just talk past each other with each side citing their favorite text or argument, and neither bothering to actually wrestle with the other guy’s text or argument — and I’ve heard it all before, many, many times.

So let me say this plainly. Yes, there are classic Calvinistic proof texts and there are classic Arminian proof texts. And if you try to build your theology on one set of texts or the other, you are no better than Thomas Jefferson, who literally cut texts that he disagreed with out of the Bible. It’s all quite foolish and pointless and just tedious beyond words.

I’ve read and acknowledge all the Calvinistic texts. They’re there. But so are the Arminian texts. And I tried to honestly wrestle with the difficulties quite a while ago in a series posted as Searching for the Third Way. And if you want to argue for Calvinism, go over to that series, read what I’ve already written, and tell me what you think. But unless you’re interacting with the arguments there or saying something really new and interesting, I’ll not be responding.

On the other hand, if you do want to discuss the Third Way posts, I’ll be pleased to do so (time permitting). But only if you’ve read them and have something to add. Not if you want to just post one more set of arguments based on ignoring the Arminian passages or Calvinist passages. Been there. Done that. Not interested.

Also, there’s developed this very distasteful tendency among some Calvinists to argue that you can’t go to heaven unless you are a Calvinist. And not just a Calvinist, but the right kind of Calvinist. And this new Calvinistic narrow-mindedness is becoming increasingly militant — and annoying. For the reasons I reject the legalism of the conservative Churches of Christ, I reject the narrowness of these hyper-Calvinists. Indeed, this small-minded, Biblically ignorant approach to Christianity threatens to do great harm to Christianity in this country. It won’t be countenanced here.

Now I say all this in preparation for the upcoming discussion on Neo-Calvinism. In that discussion I’m going to present some very interesting ideas coming from that strand of thought, which I very much want to discuss. I just don’t want to discuss the 500-year old Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate. It’s not interesting — unless you are making a genuine effort to synthesize and combine all Biblical thought dealing with the challenges both sets of passages present. And do it over at the Third Way posts.

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26 Responses

  1. Jay,

    I found your blog, and I must say, you are quite the thinker! I might have some differences with you, though. You seem to think that all Calvinists (as well as Arminians) just go by their proof texts. And then, once they have found that “magical verse,” they decide one way or the other. But this really isn’t the case. I know many Calvinists who refuse to proof text their theology. In fact, they claim that “context is king.” One such example would be John Piper, who, through solid and sound exegesis of the text, can show quite systematically that the doctrines of grace do, indeed, stand.

    Another notable exegete would be John MacArthur. Known for his ability to accurately bring out from the text the original meanings of the biblical writers, MacArthur cannot be rightly accused of proof texting.

    It’s not the case that all Calvinists turn to Romans 8:29 and say, “Aha! Predestination is biblical!” That’s not the way we formulate our theology.

    Moreover, you’ve acknowledged that there is a sense of “militant” attacks from Calvinists, as if they are the only people going to heaven. Yet again, this is not the case of all Calvinists. You are confusing Reformed culture with Reformation theology, or hyper-Calvinism with classical Calvinism. There is, as some have said, a difference between the two.

    So, I would encourage you to deal with the text, not just those who claim to live by it and fail to do so. As Augustine once said, “Never judge a philosophy by its abuse.”

  2. Matthew,
    I hesitate to put words in Jays mouth, because he’s perfectly capable of doing that for himself. However, Jay’s post invites you to engage in the very conversation you seek to have, just in the context of his Third Way series.

    I encourage you to take him up on it.

    David

  3. Jay,
    In your post you said:
    “Some of my best friends are Calvinists.”
    I am sure that those of us that might call ourselves Calvinists also name some Arminians and Semi-Pelagains among our best friends.

    But total Pelagians is where we draw the line. For them we cast their candle down and slam shut the book of life. After all, a person has to draw the line somewhere. OK, just kidding. 😉

    Peace,
    Randall

  4. Matthew,

    … what David P Himes said.

    PS — I’ve read Piper, and I’m a fan — except on TULIP. In fact, I think he’s taking the Baptists in a very unhelpful, unhealthy direction. Traditional Calvinism is all about the sovereignty of God, whereas the scriptures emphasize the love of God much, much more. If we want to understand God as he presents himself (how else?), we’ll read his revelation in light of his essential nature — not just that he’s sovereign (and can whatever he pleases) but that he’s a Sovereign who loves. It makes a difference. Therefore, I’m unimpressed with arguments that end with: God is sovereign and so he can act unlovingly if he pleases. Yes, he can. No, he doesn’t. As noted before, my solution to the quandry is presented at Searching for the Third Way.

  5. Jay said:

    “Therefore, I’m unimpressed with arguments that end with: God is sovereign and so he can act unlovingly if he pleases.”

    Jay, not sure where you have heard that argument, but I am sure it was not a well-informed Augustinian/Calvinist.

    God will never act against His nature – God is love, but He is also just – what the Calvinist can do is resolve this issue biblically without impinging on God’s sovereignty in matters of salvation or injecting an unbiblical element of chance or constraining God to an unscriptural time-based foreknowledge.

    God’s love is first and foremost focused on His glory. That glory is manifest in the person of Jesus Christ, who is glorified by God’s predestined decree as Redeemer and Judge. That is – Jesus manifests God’s glory as the Redeemer of His elect and the Judge of the reprobate.

    So, God fulfills His nature as a loving God through the redemption of the elect and fulfills His nature as a just God through the condemnation of the reprobate.

    There is no “unloving” dichotomy between His sovereign love and justice.

  6. To piggy back onto JD’s comment I would add that the wrath of God is also one of his attributes. That he would execute his wrath on those that hate him, and his children, is not an evil thing.
    Peace,
    Randall

  7. To assert that Calvinism teaches a loving God is not the same as demonstrating it. If God elects some and not others and does so unconditionally, why is it not arbitrary? And if it’s arbitrary, how can it be loving?

    How is God’s love shown in a system where he picks those to save and those to damn purely to show his sovereignty? This is Piper’s view. http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2002/116_Unconditional_Election_and_the_Invincible__Purpose_of_God/

    And I see no love in it. If you’re elect, you can celebrate being chosen. If not, tough luck. You get to celebrate God’s glory in hell.

  8. It is if he arbitrarily unconditionally elects some to salvation and not others. The Calvinist theorem begins with: all deserve God’s wrath. And this is true. But the theorem continues: most remain damned because God did not unconditionally elect them, which contradicts “God is love.”

    Yes, we all deserve damnation. But, yes, God loves all men and so wishes that all would be saved.

  9. Jay said:

    “If God elects some and not others and does so unconditionally, why is it not arbitrary? And if it’s arbitrary, how can it be loving?”

    1) Paul answers this in Romans 9.

    2) It is not arbitrary – we just don’t know the reason He picks some and not others – it is according to His secret will that we have no insight into (Deut. 29:29), but is His divine right.

    You shouldn’t press your philosophical conundrums on God’s revealed will. He loves whom He loves for His own purpose and to His, and ultimately the elect’s, glory.

    God expresses His love and wrath according to His will in order to glorify Himself through Jesus Christ. Christ glorifies His elect.

    This is no contradiction – it is God’s plan to express His love and His justice for His own glory. Any theology that does not acknowledge both is incomplete.

    Isaiah 30:18
    Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

    Romans 9
    22What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?

    23And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory

    Paul is not speculating – he is revealing God’s will through rhetorical question and response.

    Christ will return to gather up His elect, who will experience eternal loving communion with Him and judge with justice the reprobate for eternal condemnation – all to His glory and according to His predestined will.

    Romans 9:16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.

  10. Jay said:

    “Yes, we all deserve damnation. But, yes, God loves all men and so wishes that all would be saved.”

    Scripture does not teach that God loves all men individually without distinction – it teaches that He loves all men that He has elected – that is – those that come into the knowledge of the truth by His predestined will through the Holy Spirit and confess their belief in Christ.

  11. Jay,
    You’re a bright guy. You assert that the LORD is a loving God, and yet you acknowledge he will condemn some (many?) to hell. How can that be if he is loving? We are both in the same boat on this one.

    One of us asserts God made that choice before man made the choice and the other asserts that man made the choice before God made the choice – indeed that man’s choice is the more important one. But both of us assert God will damn the wicked.

    I presume we agree that God could have done things in such a way that all would have been saved, and he chose not to do it that way. If you disagree please say so.

    But neither of us believes that God is unloving b/c he punishes sin or executes his wrath on the evil. Surely you acknowledge that wrath is one of God’s attributes just as much as love is. A.W. Pink may be right when he says the problem may be that we love God everywhere except when he sits on his throne and sovereignly rules his kingdom. Who is man to decide what if right and wrong and then see how well God measures up to man’s standard. That’s a little bit of the cart before the horse.

    Semi-Pelagians would (logically) have God in heaven wringing his hands b/c he tried so hard to save someone and just wasn’t able to accomplish it. How frustrating that must be for him. Calvinists can not imagine that God was determined to accomplish something and was thwarted in his desire by a mere man.

    I have said before and I will say it once more: Calvinism is the worst possible understanding of the sovereignty of God I have ever heard, except for all the other understandings I am familiar with. We gotta remember that we are merely humans with puny intellects trying to understand the mysteries of an infinite intellect – indeed God is infinite is all his attributes. It is our nature that one of us would place a little more emphasis on one thing than the other – and each of us places a little more weight on one passage of scripture thant he other. But as we strive to demonstrate our point of view we could also strive to not misrepresent the other. To the extent that I have falllen short in this reagrd I offer my apolgies now.

    Peace,
    Randall

  12. Jay stated: “…The Calvinist theorem begins with: all deserve God’s wrath. And this is true. But the theorem continues: most remain damned because God did not unconditionally elect them, which contradicts “God is love.””

    Responses:
    1. First, it must be pointed out that condemnation is always based on one’s own sin and guilt, not what someone else didn’t do. (i.e., man is damned because of his own guilt, not because of God’s actions or choice not to act).

    2. Second, your assertion of a contradiction is false and fails to understand the “nature” of mercy and how it works. For example, while a person may be merciful, that does not necessitate them being merciful toward all people and/or to the same extent. For example, if I have a hundred dollars (which belongs to me and is owed to no one) and I come across three needy people, the choice is mine whether to help any of them or not (for I do not OWE any of them anything). If I chose to help two of them by giving them $40 each, should it be said I am NOT A MERCIFUL person because I did not help the third person (even if I have the ability)? That’s not the nature of mercy and the way it works. Seems you confuse love and mercy with obligation.

  13. Randall said:

    “Calvinism is the worst possible understanding of the sovereignty of God I have ever heard, except for all the other understandings I am familiar with”

    Aaaaaaamen!

  14. Look at what you’ve started, Jay. lol

    I have stayed out of the divisive Calvinist-Arminian debate for a long time now and have cut off all connections I have with the Calvinist elite I no longer listen to or read John Piper, MacArthur, etc. It’s not that I don’t believe myself unable to learn anything from them, it is that reading their books and listening to them has been spiritually damaging to my walk with God.

    I will say this, I am with Jay on this, Calvinism makes God out to be arbitrary and not loving. I’ll go on even further, Calvinism makes God out to be not so different from Allah in these ways, distanct, impersonal, an arbitrary despot. I don’t have the book with me, but I will come back on here and put up quotes from “Islam and Terrorism” and The Qu’ran that says about God exactly what the Calvinists say about Him.

  15. Swordbearer wrote:
    2. Second, your assertion of a contradiction is false and fails to understand the “nature” of mercy and how it works. For example, while a person may be merciful, that does not necessitate them being merciful toward all people and/or to the same extent. For example, if I have a hundred dollars (which belongs to me and is owed to no one) and I come across three needy people, the choice is mine whether to help any of them or not (for I do not OWE any of them anything). If I chose to help two of them by giving them $40 each, should it be said I am NOT A MERCIFUL person because I did not help the third person (even if I have the ability)? That’s not the nature of mercy and the way it works. Seems you confuse love and mercy with obligation.

    This is very distubring and quite frankly, cut-through- bone chilling to the core This excerpt is the coldest thing I’ve ever read. Your heart clearly is not in the right place. You should WANT to help out all three of those needy people as much as you’re able. You’re looking at this all wrong. No, God doesn’t have to offer salvation to all of mankind, but He does, because He loves us and love moves Him to do what He did and does and that’s where you’re missing the whole point of salvation. Love motivation is what’s [supposed] to make the Christian perspective different from say…Islam. You, sir, like every other Calvinist, know nothing of God’s love and it shows. I find it ironic that those who are the most dogmatic about being saved by grace, those who claim to have God all figured out, are the least gracious people you will ever meet.

  16. to answer your question, Swordbearer, as to whether or not helping two out of three of the needy people is merciful. My anwer is no. that does not make you merciful in the least bit. It makes you arbitrary and cold.

  17. The logic is circular. You conclude that God acts without revealed or discernible reason. Because you are sure you are right, you presume there must be a good reason. Therefore, it’s neither cruel, unloving, or arbitrary. But this conclusion is based on faith in the certainty of your exegesis, not in the nature of God’s character as revealed.

    Indeed, so far as is revealed, we can’t even tell why God should be glorified for electing only a few unconditionally. So who glorifies God? The non-elect? I doubt it. The elect who do so not understanding why? That’s not any kind of real glory.

    Any argument that ends with “God can do anything he wants” is a weak argument, because literally anything can be justified by such logic.

    In Rom 9, Paul begins with God can do as he pleases, and then he goes into much greater detail in the rest of chapters 9 – 11.

    (Rom 11:6) And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. (Rom 11:20) Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.

    God can do as he pleases, but it pleases him to reward faith and reject unbelief. Hence, Romans does not argue for an unknown/unknowable rationale. Rather, chapters 9 – 11 flow quite naturally from 1 – 8. God saves those with faith.

    The mistake is to figure that Romans 9 is the end of the argument, when it is in fact only the beginning. Romans 9 says God can do as he pleases. Romans 10 – 11 then say what God pleases.

    (Rom 10:11-15) As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

    Or consider —

    (Rom 10:21) But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

    If God wanted them damned, why hold his hands out to them? If God hardened their hearts contrary to their desires, why reach out to them?

    Paul is referring to Isaiah 65 —

    (Isa 65:2-12) All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations– 3 a people who continually provoke me to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick; 4 who sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil; who eat the flesh of pigs, and whose pots hold broth of unclean meat; 5 who say, ‘Keep away; don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!’ Such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day.

    6 “See, it stands written before me: I will not keep silent but will pay back in full; I will pay it back into their laps– 7 both your sins and the sins of your fathers,” says the LORD. “Because they burned sacrifices on the mountains and defied me on the hills, I will measure into their laps the full payment for their former deeds.”

    8 This is what the LORD says: “As when juice is still found in a cluster of grapes and men say, ‘Don’t destroy it, there is yet some good in it,’ so will I do in behalf of my servants; I will not destroy them all. 9 I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah those who will possess my mountains; my chosen people will inherit them, and there will my servants live. 10 Sharon will become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for my people who seek me.

    11 “But as for you who forsake the LORD and forget my holy mountain, who spread a table for Fortune and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny, 12 I will destine you for the sword, and you will all bend down for the slaughter; for I called but you did not answer, I spoke but you did not listen. You did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.”

    God condemns those he reaches out to, not because he chose not to elect them for an unrevealed reason, but because of their sins, because they forsook the Lord, because they didn’t listen to him.

    Only then does God destine their fates. This is strange passage for Paul to choose if he means to say “God chooses without discernible reason.”

  18. God doesn’t love the unelect?

    (John 3:16-17) “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

  19. Randall wrote,

    You assert that the LORD is a loving God, and yet you acknowledge he will condemn some (many?) to hell. How can that be if he is loving? We are both in the same boat on this one.

    No, we’re not. You see, I believe God distinguishes the saved from the lost based on faith/faithfulness. (And I’m a conditionalist, as explained in the “Surprised by Hell” series from last summer. http://oneinjesus.info/index-under-construction/surprised-by-hell/)

    Semi-Pelagians would (logically) have God in heaven wringing his hands b/c he tried so hard to save someone and just wasn’t able to accomplish it. How frustrating that must be for him. Calvinists can not imagine that God was determined to accomplish something and was thwarted in his desire by a mere man.

    Yes, God so loves the world that he sent his Son to die for all. Yes, he’s frustrated. In fact, he’s mourning. Yes, we have free will and so sometimes reject God.

    And therefore when we choose God, it means something. The Calvinist worldview turns humans into the moral equivalent of robots. It’s like a man who makes a clockwork woman to love him. It’s not real love because “she” has no choice. It’s an illusion. And God is smart enough to know the difference between having someone choose to love him and someone forced to love him. The first is actual love. The second is actually something else.

    And so, Calvinism changes our relationship with God from one of freely chosen love reciprocated with freely chosen love (like marriage) to something more like my kids’ old Furby collection: little robots programmed to mimic affection. And my kids outgrew them very quickly.

  20. You are standing on the shoreline of the ocean and see three people drowning — because they went swimming in a red flag area. It’s their own fault.

    You are a skilled, trained lifeguard. You are fully capable of saving all three. You are concerned that those watching acknowledge your glory. You tell everyone you meet that you are a loving lifeguard. And yet you save just one and you give no reason for your choice not to bother with the others.

    How will you be perceived?

  21. Adam Davis said:

    “Calvinism makes God out to be arbitrary and not loving. I’ll go on even further, Calvinism makes God out to be not so different from Allah in these ways, distanct, impersonal, an arbitrary despot. I don’t have the book with me, but I will come back on here and put up quotes from “Islam and Terrorism” and The Qu’ran that says about God exactly what the Calvinists say about Him.”

    Yes, please do – please make sure and quote Calvinistic scholars when you do so.

    I’ll make a prediction – this won’t happen, since it is so obviously a strawman and so easy to refute. In fact, it is already refuted in my earlier posts.

  22. Jay said:

    “You are standing on the shoreline of the ocean and see three people drowning — because they went swimming in a red flag area. It’s their own fault.

    You are a skilled, trained lifeguard. You are fully capable of saving all three. You are concerned that those watching acknowledge your glory. You tell everyone you meet that you are a loving lifeguard. And yet you save just one and you give no reason for your choice not to bother with the others.

    How will you be perceived?”

    1) This is the root of the problem – people are not drowning in their sins and trespasses – they are *dead*

    Ephesians 2
    1And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,

    2) God is not concerned about how He is perceived.

    Romans 9
    20On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?

    Job 38
    4″Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell Me, if you have understanding,
    5Who set its measurements? Since you know.
    Or who stretched the line on it?

    3) The Lord is clear that His love resides on His elect and His wrath on all others

    Romans 9
    22What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?

    23And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,

    4) And He is clear as to His purpose and focus
    Isaiah 48:11
    ” For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act;For how can My name be profaned?And My glory I will not give to another.

    At the risk of being repetitive – God’s love is His to give to whom He chooses – the question is why He chooses *any* – the answer, of course, is that God is glorified by Christ’s sacrificial birth, life and death for His elect.

    God is also glorified by the outpouring of His just wrath on His enemies.

    Nahum 1:2
    A jealous and avenging God is the LORD;The LORD is avenging and wrathful The LORD takes vengeance on His adversaries,And He reserves wrath for His enemies.

  23. Jay said:
    “Yes, God so loves the world that he sent his Son to die for all. Yes, he’s frustrated. In fact, he’s mourning. Yes, we have free will and so sometimes reject God.”

    God so loves the world that He sent His Son to die for those who savingly believe – that is through saving faith given to the elect by God. Eph 2:8-9

    God is not frustrated – this is a patently un-biblical assertion – Romans 8:28 – All things happen according to His foreordained plan and for the good of those He has called.

    God is not mourning – in fact, He is rejoicing in the fact that the elect are secured and the sacrifice for them is finished through the work of the Son, in whom He is well pleased.

    Jay – if you don’t mind – it would be very helpful if, when you make assertions about God or His character, you would back them up with contexual or reinforcing Scriptures. I’ll try and continue to do so, as well.

    Thanks and blessings to you.

  24. The swimmers had been warned many times and went out there in rebellion. Yet, in spite of this you send your only begotten son to them to save them all. They laugh and spit at him ignoring the danger they are in and the salvation he offers. And they kill your son refusing his efforts. But one or two of the swimmers eventually heed your efforts and are saved. The rest continue to laugh and deride and refuse the offer. We don’t make fun of God for that.

    As to Calvinism making men little moire than robots (from another of your comments). I am disappointed again. This old, tired caricature is never used by anyone that understands Calvinism. Jay, are you even making an effort to understand and accurately portray what Calvinists actually believe? Are you simply interested in winning a debate rather than understanding?

    Do you know any Calvinists that hold the views you attribute to them? I certainly don’t. In a group consisting of millions of people there may be some that believe anything , but please don’t judge the whole group by them. If they are even out there anywhere at all they are certainly hiding themselves well enough.

  25. You also fail to discern the various offices of Christ, which include not only Savior but Judge. Half truths often end in tainted results

  26. Jay,

    Your illustration also fails to take into account that God is not only Savior but Judge. Half truths often lead to tainted results.

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