Thursday, October 01, 2009

A theology of thanksgiving

Before I delve into the specifics, I want to make a general point. What is Calvinism? Calvinism is a theology of thanksgiving. It’s also a theology of hope.

God wrote the whole story of the world. Brought all his wisdom and goodness to bear in writing the story.

God didn’t outsource the story of the world to hack writers and script doctors. God doesn’t rely on an essay mill for his material.

I don’t trust the devil to write any part of the story. We don’t trust sinners to write any part of the story.

Do you really want Genghis Khan to have a hand in writing part of the story? What if you’re one of his victims? Do you want to be the victim of his authorship? Do you want to be a character in his twisted narrative, where he decides your fate? Where his values dictate the shape of the narrative?

However you cut it, we live in a fallen world. A world with evil men and evil events. Whose values do you want shaping that story?

A Calvinist thanks God even for the villains because we trust God to know what he’s doing. Either way we have evil. It’s not as if the world of the Arminian or open theist or universalist is a painless world.

Now, it’s easy to thank God for the nice things, the pleasant things. It takes an act of faith to thank God for the hard providences.

Still, Calvinism cultivates a spirit of thanksgiving. It fosters an expectation in which we seek, and hope to find, in this life or the next, the good in whatever God has purposed. Sometimes his wisdom is evident, at other times–inevident.

His wisdom is inevident to the degree that you can’t fully appreciate a story until you know the end of the story. And we haven’t read the ending yet. You and I are not at that point in the story. We don’t know how it all comes out.

We know that God wins. And we know that his people win. His win is their win. We know the bad guys lose.

But why any particular thing happens the way it does can only be seen with the benefit of hindsight. The emerging pattern can only be perceived in retrospect.

Like reading a good book. You don’t know, as you read the story, where it’s going. The story raises many questions. It’s only when the novelist ties up all the loose ends that you can look back and appreciate all the preceding events.

So we live in hope. For a theology of thanksgiving is also a theology of hope. They’re two different perspectives on our position in time. Hope looks forward while thanksgiving looks backward.

The alternative to a theology of hope and thanksgiving is a theology of suspicions and recrimination. Someone who’s consistent with this outlook views God the way a juvenile delinquent views his old man. On the one hand, he wants dad to get off his back. Stop meddling in his life. Itches for the freedom to do his own thing.

On the other hand, he likes having dad around just in case he gets in trouble with the law and lands in the paddy wagon. Dad is generally a nuisance, but you should keep him on speed-dial just in case you need him to drive down to the pokey and bail you out.

The delinquent doesn’t love his father. Rather, he loves his freedom. But he loves to have his father available in a pinch.

Moving along:

Robert said...

“I posted this before but received no response from Steve Hays then, so I repost it here to make sure that he sees it:Hays is making reference to Romans 2:5 here. That verse is talking about nonbelievers (‘because of your stubborn and unrepentant heart’) who by their continual sinning are ‘storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath’. In Hays’ theology that verse is referring to reprobates.”

Really? Both Tom Schreiner and John Murray wrote full-length commentaries on Romans, yet I don’t see them construe the verse in quite those terms.

Rather, the verse is a warning to impudent, impenitent sinners. A warning against spiritual presumption, and the consequences thereof.

“Steve Hays direct question for you: Are you claiming that I am a reprobate?”

I’m claiming that when you throw around invidious comparisons with Satan, Klansman, and Nazis, that you’re stacking firewood which will be used against you on the day of judgment unless you repent.

“Drwayman one of the things you have to keep in mind when dealing with a theological determinist like Steve Hays is that they deny the common and ordinary understanding of foreknowledge that most Christians have held throughout church history and even today.”

Most Christians throughout history never read the NT. Most of them were illiterate. Most of them had no Bibles. And most of them didn’t read the Hebrew OT or the Greek NT. Robert’s claim is utterly fatuous.

“The normal understanding of foreknowledge is simply that God foreknows the future event and so that even will occur with certainty.”

i) Arminian Ben Witherington denies that “normal understanding” in his commentary on Romans. Arminian Robert Hamilton denies that “normal understanding” in his exposition of Rom 9. Jesuit Joseph Fitzmyer denies that “normal understanding” in his commentary on Rom 9. Likewise, N. T. Wright (no Calvinist) denies that “normal understanding” in his commentary on Romans. Non-Calvinists who construe the verb the same way a Calvinist does.

ii) Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that Robert’s statement is correct, then if foreknowledge renders the outcome certain (notice that this is something Robert volunteers), it cannot go either way.

“But you need to know and keep in mind that a person like Hays denies this understanding of foreknowledge. For them, God **cannot** foreknow a future event if libertarian free will is involved.”

And many non-Calvinist philosophers agree.

“Furthermore, according to their understanding of foreknowledge, they believe that GOD ONLY FOREKNOWS WHAT HE ORDAINS. So God only foreknows a future event as occurring because he preplanned for it to occur as part of his secret all encompassing total plan, his ‘sovereign will,’ and he then ensures that it takes place by controlling all things and making things happen in line with the total plan.”

Just like Isaiah grounds God’s knowledge of the future in his plan for the future (Isa 46:10-11).

I’d add that Arminian John Oswalt, in his commentary on Isaiah, confirms that linkage.

“Now the reason I bring these things up is because if God only foreknows what he ordains, then when it comes to perpetual nonbelievers, what they call ‘reprobates’. God does not foreknow in the ordinary understanding that these people will repeatedly reject God and so end up as nonbelievers. Hays cannot borrow from our view and claim that God foreknows what these people will do (i.e. that they will sin) and then deals with them in response to what they have freely chosen to do (in his view free will as ordinarily understood does not exist, cannot exist as God has predecided everything and no one can do other than what God chose for them to do).”

Why would God merely be responding to what they do? Is God a first-responder who can foresee a catastrophe, do nothing to avert it, but only send the ambulance after it happens?

“No, instead, the god of determinism makes people into whatever they are, makes them do whatever they do, whatever they are whether elect or reprobate, whatever they do, is completely dependent upon what God makes them to be and do.”

Imagine saying that every creature is completely dependent on God!

“It is as if the whole creation and human persons are tinker toys that God first decides what they will be, then goes ahead and constructs them to be what he had already decided for them to be.”

It is as if the whole creation is clay that the potter first decides how to shape, then carries out his plan.

You see that Robert’s outlook represents the theology of suspicion and recrimination. Note his instinctual distrust and seething animosity towards the very notion of a Creator and Lord–on whom he’s totally dependent. Robert can’t stand the idea that he’s merely a creature. God can’t stand the idea that God rules over him. Robert wants to be, at the very least, a demigod. Here is Robert’s gospel:

You said in your heart,
'I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.'

If you listen to the way so many internet Arminians talk, you’d think the best God is the least God. We want just enough God to make “provision of salvation” in case we screw up, but we want God out of our hair the rest of the time.

“And in this fantasy land of the determinist imagination, God chose them to be the lucky ones who get to at some time become believers. The so-called ‘reprobates’ on the other hand, are not so lucky because God decided to damn them before they did anything (not foreknowing that they would sin and then condemning them, remember according to the determinist God can’t do that, he can’t foreknow some future event unless he predetermined it). So God damns them first in his plan and THEN CARRIES OUT THIS PLAN as world history.”

i) Unless Robert supposes that God made the world without any forethought regarding what world he would make, then, in the nature of the case, God’s intentions are prior to the world he intends to make. Naturally they hadn’t done anything as of yet–since they didn’t even exist as of yet. Their very existence is the result of a divine decision–a decision which is, as it must be, prior to the result.

And, yes, a plan is prior to the implementation of a plan. Or is Robert an open theist? Does he think God is improvising? Trial-and-error, like Dawkins’ blind watchmaker?

ii) As to foreknowing what they would do, if what they do could go either way (the freedom to do otherwise), then there’s no one thing they would do, is there? The future is open. Forking paths. Alternate timelines.

“In eternity according to the theological determinist, when no human persons existed and when no actions had been done by any human persons, God conceives of the total plan including how many human persons there would be…”

Once again, does Robert think that God has no idea how the story will turn out? Does he think creation is a shot in the dark? A blind experiment? God sets something in motion, then sits back to see what will happen?

“It is like entrapment on a universal scale, where the ‘criminal’ is set up to do the ‘crime’ that the police want him to do so they can convict him of a crime and then condemn him and execute him for doing the very crime he was **set up to commit**. And then the police say: ‘but he had it commin since he did the crime so his execution is deserved!’”

i) Is “entrapment” always a bad thing? For example, is it a bad thing to smoke out pedophiles before they have a chance to molest actual kids?

ii) Moreover, there’s no one thing that a merely possible person could possibly do. Different hypothetical outcomes are logically possible.

When God instantiates one possible outcome, he’s not making that person do something contrary to what he was going to do all along, absent God’s selection. Rather, God is selecting one possible course of action from several alternatives. Hypothetically speaking, the possible person could possibly do either A or B. If God instantiates A instead of B, or B instead of A, he isn’t “trapping” the individual, as if the individual had other plans.

“And if I am a saved person then my sins are forgiven and I am in no danger of making statements that ‘imperil’ my ‘immortal soul’.

Of course, that confuses the Reformed doctrine of perseverance with an antinomian version of eternity security–popular in Dispensational circles.

“In that case, why is Hays warning me about imperiling my immortal soul (because according to his theology if I am elect whether calvinist or not, my salvation is assured and there is nothing that I can do to imperil my immortal soul). So if I am a reprobate, then the warning is useless and inapplicable as it won’t change anything and if I am elect, then the warning is also useless and inapplicable because as an elect person there is nothing that I can do to imperil my immortal soul.”

Once again, that confuses the Reformed doctrine of perseverance with an antinomian version of eternal security.

“First of all, this ASSUMES that Calvinism is true. But what if CALVINISM IS NOT TRUE? I have no qualms or hesitancy in saying that I attack Calvinism and believe it to be a false theology. If I am correct, then my attacks against this false theology are justified, whether Hays appreciates them or not. I am involved in protecting the church from a false theology that has divided the church and dishonored God and his character.”

i) Calvinism is no more “divisive” than any other “ism” in the history of the church. You don’t see Robert attacking other “isms” like, say, Dispensationalism.

ii) Out of curiosity, I ran Robert’s Nazi/Klansman comparisons by I. H. Marshall. His response: “This kind of emotional venom is best ignored, but its authors need our prayers, and we need to speak the truth in love” (private email, 9/29/09).

Back to Robert:

“Second, Hays is aghast at my analogy which he cites here and I will be glad to further explain it soon.”

Where did I ever indicate that I was “aghast”? Not at all. It’s useful to see Robert reveal the true character of his belief-system. Robert is a great evangelist for Calvinism.

“And yet Hays engages in ‘incendiary’ and what I would see as inappropriate analogies of Arminian beliefs, Catholic beliefs, Eastern Orthodox beliefs, etc. etc.”

To set the historical record straight: consider all the choice language, not to mention the coercive penalties, which Leo X resorts to in his bull excommunicating Martin Luther.

Consider the fact that the Orthodox church regards evangelicals as heretics and persecutes evangelical missionaries.

Consider the fact that Arminius calls the pope a “pimp,” “pander,” adulterer,” and “false prophet”–as well as the “Antichrist.” He also accuses the pope of using “satanic” instruments” to achieve his aims.

Consider that John and Charles Wesley use terms like “blasphemy,” “worse than Moloch,” and “worse than Satan” in their characterization of Calvinism.

My own rhetoric is quite tame compared to the traditions I critique.

“And his attacks are OK and justified, while mine/and others, are not. If mine/and others are not OK neither are his. But he wants to operate according to a double standard where he can attack other person’s beliefs while others are not allowed to attack his own false Calvinistic beliefs.”

i) Deliberately and demonstrably false. I’ve never taken the position that harsh, judgmental language is ipso facto wrong. In fact, I’ve often explained in some detail why that’s sometimes justifiable. Robert is imputing to me a standard he knows perfectly well I reject.

ii) Conversely, Robert is the one who is constantly harping on genteel standards of Christian discourse (“kind,” “gentle,” “respectful.”).

He holds me to a standard which I reject while he refuses to hold himself to his very own standard!

“On the other hand, if I am a genuine Christian then Hays’ attacks are completely out of line and he is making serious charges that are false about one of God’s own, and God is watching all of this.”

That doesn’t stop Robert from venting his scurrilous charges against Reformed believers. What if he’s making false charges, not only about God’s own, but about God himself?

“Third in response to his comment here my question then becomes: How so? If I am a Christian (and I have years of personal experience as a Christian…”

Robert’s self-testimony as his own character witness. Very convincing!

“And a solid testimony among those who know me personally)”

Robert claiming to have others who will vouch for him. Notice that all this is filtered through Robert as the only news outlet. Why aren’t they actually speaking up for him? Why don’t they come forward. Let’s see some verifiable names. Let’s cross-examine them.

“Then why would God give me this great Christian life and experience for years, a ministry that has been involved in the conversion and discipleship of many people, a great marriage and family life, satisfying local church involvement.”

Since Robert conceals his true identity, Robert’s evidence boils down to this: “I’m trustworthy! If you don’t believe it, just ask me!”

“Fourth Hays forgets his own false and misguided theology here. If I am a reprobate as Hays claims…”

He imputes to me a claim I never made, then accuses me of inconsistency! Robert writes the play and plays all the parts. Does he perform in his attic before an audience of Barbie dolls and stuffed animals?

“Fifth there is a problem about Hays claiming that I am a reprobate.”

Which I haven’t. It is, however, rather telling when somebody is so defensive about an indictment that was never made. People who feel the need to constantly assure you that they didn’t commit of the crime, when no one accused them, act exactly the way you’d expect nervous people to act who are on the lam and perpetually afraid of being apprehended. Unless Robert is fearful of being found out, why does he keep denying a charge I never made? Why does he keep peering through the blinds of the motel room window to see if the cops are pulling into the parking lot?

“Unless Hays has some inside information from God himself there is no way that he could know that I was a reprobate.”

Actually, the motel clerk tipped me off to Robert’s suspicious behavior. Little things–like seeing him pull a heavy, lumpy, blanketed something from the trunk of his car, drag it off into the bushes under cover of darkness–then go back to the car for a shovel. Nothing conclusive, mind you. Just a bit suggestive, that’s all.

“In that case how could Hays claim that I was a reprobate and know for sure?”

Once again, he spends an awful lot of time protesting his innocence in the teeth of a nonexistent charge. He’s making himself a suspect. If you didn’t suspect him before, his unprovoked denials suddenly make him, at the very least, a “person of interest.”

“The fact is that Hays is extremely arrogant to claim that I am a reprobate when he is not in the position to know that.”

Once again, Robert is like a red-faced, fist-shaking man who barges into the police station shouting, “I didn’t kill her! I didn’t! I didn’t! How dare you accuse me of murder!”–when, in fact, the startled desk officer and quizzical homicide detective have never seen him before.

“This goes back to something that I frequently observe with Steve Hays: he is an extremely arrogant and hateful person… In this case God is the ultimate racist and Hays is a good follower of this racist, displaying the same racism as his father toward the preselected ‘reprobates’.”

Can’t you just feel wave upon wave of warm, sudsy Arminian love washing up against you from Robert’s large-hearted Arminian theology?

“(If he really believed his Calvinism that all events are predetermined by God and that in each and every case people never have a choice but only and always do what they were predetermined to do, what God already chose for them to do, then why is he so harsh and angry and frustrated and hostile to people who are only doing what they have to do?”

Of course, Robert is projecting. Angry? Frustrated? Seems to me that Robert is the one hurling the emotive rhetoric, not me.

“If I believed that people espousing error or attacking the truth cannot help themselves but are only doing what God predetermined and ensures that they do, I would feel sorry for them and I would have no hostility or hatred towards them at all because they cannot help themselves.”

Well, that’s a very revealing admission, is it not? If Robert thought Calvinism were true, then he wouldn’t hate Calvinists.

But since Robert denies Calvinism is false, that mitigating factor does not apply. Therefore, by Robert’s own logic, he hates Calvinists! And his rhetoric bears that out.


  1. "Therefore, by Robert’s own logic, he hates Calvinists! And his rhetoric bears that out."


    Robert is a Hater.

    An Arminian Hater.

  2. Ironic, is it not?

    Thankfully, there are also Arminians like Dwight Moody and Billy Graham who at least practice what they preach. Who, unlike Robert, are not haters or chauvinists.

  3. “In eternity according to the theological determinist, when no human persons existed and when no actions had been done by any human persons, God conceives of the total plan including how many human persons there would be…”

    These guys apparently have a problem with Acts 17:22-28

    Hmmm... in one verse alone (26) I see both the words "determined" and "appointed" used in relation to the boundaries of mankind's habitation. It must really take a lot of training for these guys to get so good at gymnastics.

  4. There is just so much in here, where does one begin?

    Well, I narrow to the beginnings with these, your words:::>

    "....God didn’t outsource the story of the world to hack writers and script doctors. God doesn’t rely on an essay mill for his material....".

    Those, my friend are such profound words, it bears highlighting among so much.

    Here's why:::>

    Psa 149:1 Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly!
    Psa 149:2 Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
    Psa 149:3 Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
    Psa 149:4 For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.
    Psa 149:5 Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds.
    Psa 149:6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands,
    Psa 149:7 to execute vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples,
    Psa 149:8 to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron,
    Psa 149:9 to execute on them the judgment written! This is honor for all his godly ones. Praise the LORD!

  5. I'm sure I'm not immune to this myself at times, but I'm always astonished when folks really can't see their own use of coarse language and analogies as hateful and hurtful. I would never have imagined in my life comparing a fellow believer's theological positions regarding Christ and His Church to Hitler, Nazism and the KKK.

    And yet, we have here a fellow believer, albeit one with a POV that we see as flawed, buttressing his theological arguments with scurrilous assertions of a most vile nature.

    So many today seem to be infected with a "moral equivalence" which helps them harshly judge the speech and behaviour of others while at the same time giving their own speech and behaviour a pass. We've even seen others come to Robert's defence using the moral equivalence principle.

    You're right, Steve, about Robert's continuing defensive posture in the face of a non-allegation. I have never seen any statement by you that Robert is a reprobate. Quite the contrary, you have stated clearly that Arminians are brothers and sisters in Christ.

    I see Robert's extreme statements as a projection, a means of alleviating his own anxiety over the possibility that he may not, in fact, be the final arbiter of his own salvation. He hates the idea, and hates those who believe the idea, that our salvation is ultimately not in our own hands. More than that, he's deathly afraid that he may not be among the elect, so he must lash out at those who seem more secure in their salvation than he is.

    However, I see this as a good sign that he may, in fact, be under conviction of the Holy Spirit in this matter, and is fighting the Hound of Heaven tooth and nail before finally surrendering his autonomy to Him who is our only hope in this life and the life to come.

  6. "We know the bad guys lose"

    You insist on making these statements that make it seem like you think life is some sort of DC comic book where good guys wear nifty costumes and the bad guys wear black.

    In reality, the "bad guys" include people who probably have more natural virtue than you do but who just don't talk to a man named Jesus.

    Besides, isn't everyone "totally depraved" and worthy of Hell? Who are the "good guys", then? Those who get a free pass by virtue of the fact that God likes them better?

  7. We know the bad guys lose

    That's really just a literary way of referring to the consummation of all things at the end of history. The Bible refers to sheep (His people) and goats (not His people). We could say sheep are good guys and goats are bad guys in a literary sense.

    But in real theological terms, Christian believers understand that their goodness is really just the goodness, or more precisely, the righteousness of Christ applied to them through the instrument of faith, both of which are the gifts of God.


    "You insist on making these statements that make it seem like you think life is some sort of DC comic book where good guys wear nifty costumes and the bad guys wear black."

    You seem to think that pedaling comic-strip caricatures of the Christian faith proves anything.

    "In reality, the "bad guys" include people who probably have more natural virtue than you do..."

    Quite possibly true–thanks to common grace.

    "...but who just don't talk to a man named Jesus."

    Which reveals their monumental ingratitude toward the source of all good.

    "Besides, isn't everyone 'totally depraved' and worthy of Hell?"

    Left to their own devices, yes.

    "Who are the 'good guys', then?"

    Those who've been chosen, redeemed, and renewed by God.

    "Those who get a free pass by virtue of the fact that God likes them better?"

    The elect are no more likable than the reprobate. God's mercy is the differential factor.

  9. Massive debate between Calvinism and Arminianism that took place between (mainly) Victor Reppert, Steve Hays, Paul Manata, and Dominic Bnonn Tennant.