- Hamiltons "The Order of Faith and Election in John's Gospel" also found Here. Also see my review.
My Biggest Problem with Calvin/Calvinism
Roger E. Olson
Professor of Theology
George W. Truett Theological Seminary
Above all I want to make clear that I admire and respect my Calvinist friends and colleagues. We disagree strongly about some points of theology, but I hold them in high esteem for their commitment to the authority of God’s Word and their obvious love for Jesus Christ and his church as well as for evangelism.
However, I do not admire or respect John Calvin. I have been told that he should not be held responsible for the burning of the heretic Servetus because, after all, he warned the Spanish doctor and theologian not to come to Geneva and he urged the city council to behead him rather than burn him. And, after all, Calvin was a child of his times and everyone was doing the same. Nevertheless, I still struggle with placing a man complicit in murder on a pedestal.
Furthermore, I find Calvin’s doctrine of God repulsive. It elevates God’s sovereignty over his love, leaving God’s reputation in question. What I mean is that Calvin’s all-determining, predestining deity is at best morally ambiguous and at worst morally repugnant.
Much to the chagrin of some contemporary Calvinists, Calvin clearly taught that God foreordained the fall and rendered it certain. (Institutes of the Christian Religion III:XXIII.8) He also affirmed double predestination (III:XXI.5) and displayed callous disregard for the reprobate who he admitted God compelled to obedience (disobedience). (I:XVIII.2) Calvin distinguished between two modes of God’s will—what later Calvinists have called God’s decretive and preceptive wills. (III:XXIV.17) God decrees that the sinner shall sin while at the same time commanding him not to sin and condemning him for doing what he was determined by God to do. To Calvin this all lies in the secret purposes of God into which we should not peer too deeply, but it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of anyone who regards God as above all love.
John Wesley commented on the Calvinists’ claim that God loves even the reprobate in some way. As one contemporary Calvinist put it, “God loves all people in some ways but only some people in all ways.” Wesley said that this is a love such as makes the blood run cold.
Calvin’s successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza, commented that those who find themselves suffering in the flames of hell for eternity can at least take comfort in the fact that they are there for the greater glory of God. To paraphrase Wesley, that is a glory such as sends chills down the spine. God foreordains some of his own creatures, created in his own image, to eternal hell for his own glory? Calvin may not have put it quite that bluntly, but many Calvinists have and it is a necessary extrapolation of the inner logic of consistent Calvinism. (Institutes III:XXII.11)
I have been heavily criticized by some of my Calvinist friends for saying that my biggest problem with Calvinism (by which I mean consistent divine determinism) is that it makes it difficult for me to tell the difference between God and the devil. (I am not saying Calvinists worship the devil!)
For me nothing about the Christian worldview is more important than regarding God and the devil as absolute competitors in this universe and its tragic history. God is good and desires the good of every creature. As church father Irenaeus said “The glory of God is man fully alive.” The devil is bad and desires harm for every creature. To view the devil as God’s instrument makes a mockery of the entire biblical narrative.
Amyraldianism - Commonly known as 4 point Calvinism, is a belief system that accepts the doctrines of Calvinism, except for the doctrine of Limited Atonement.
Compatibalism - The belief (held by the majority of Calvinists) that Determinism and free will can co-exist. Compatibilistic free will is different to the more common understanding of free will (i.e. Libertarian Free Will). Under Compatibilistic Free Will, we are only as free as our nature, so that when confronted with a choice, we are only able to "choose" the predetermined choice.
Determinism - The belief that all events are predetermined with no possible alternative outcome [determined by God in the A/C debate]. Sometimes referred to as Exhaustive Determinism (ED) to clarify that it refers to all events.
Election - God's choosing of who will be saved. Arminians believe that God's election is conditional with the condition being faith. Calvinists believe that election is unconditional.
Infralapsarianism - Is the view held by the majority of Calvinists regarding the order of God's eternal decrees. The order is as follows:
Libertarian Free Will (LFW) - The belief that man has the ability to make some choices which are not predetermined by God. [In the A/C debate, men are only able to do so by God's grace.] Commonly referred to as just "free will", "Libertarian" to distinguish it from the determined free will of the compatibilist.
OSAS - Once Saved Always Saved
PoE - Problem of Evil
Prevenient Grace - The Arminian doctrine of grace, where God acts graciously on men, which enables men to repent and believe.
Regeneration - The doctrine of being born again. Arminians generally believe that one becomes born again when they repent and believe. Calvinists generally believe that one must first be regenerated (sometimes called "quickened") in order to repent and believe.
Reprobation - The Calvinist doctrine, where God before the foundation of the world chooses who will be eternally condemned.
Supralapsarianism - Is the view held by a minority of Calvinists regarding the order of God's eternal decrees. The order is as follows:
Total Depravity - A doctrine shared by both Arminians and Calvinists, where man left to his own devices lacks the ability to repent and believe, as a result of original sin.