Sunday, August 23, 2015

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

There's a blogger who attacks Calvinism from time to time. That's hardly surprising coming from an Arminian blogger. However, he recently defected from the Christian faith. Here's part of what he said: 
So why does God not speak to someone crying out, literally, in such pain and desperation? What is the value of God talking to all these people who are well when the sick are ignored? I don’t want to broaden this into an argument so much as express my experience so I will ignore the broader questions for now. In my most desperate moments of physical and mental agony, depression, and loneliness God was not there. I was rescued from suicidal thoughts by my family and a very good psychologist. I know some Christians will assert that he was there (in some sense behind it all) but I am afraid he was not there in any proper or real sense of that term for me. So perhaps God doesn’t continually chat with these other Christians either and they are projecting onto God what their conscious mind expresses? But even if that is the case that helps very little since God is still silent. It just makes it even more painful to realize that huge numbers of Christians are deluding themselves into thinking God is talking with them continuously when in fact he is not. The companionship which the New Testament appears to talk about was simply not there. So what is the point of all this noetic belief if that’s all my Christianity is (was)? What kind of God has no relational component to offer in this life? 
Christians love to use the father analogy for God. But what father would do that to his child especially if he has all the means to be alongside them at that moment? Certainly no decent father would distance himself at such a time. I cannot bring myself to believe in a God who is so clearly absent at the moment I needed him most. (And don’t get me started on the ‘Footprints’ poem!!) If the Christian God does exist and he does communicate with people then my spiritual antenna (as one of my Christian friends put it) is clearly broken. 
What I do know is that if my son was in unbearable pain and desperation and was sitting begging for me to comfort him in such a moment of desperation, and it were in my power to comfort him, I would!
i) I think there's extensive, compelling evidence for a God who is active in human affairs. But the pattern of God's activity is perplexing. 
ii) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the God of Arminian theism is nicer than the God of Reformed theism. Problem is, having a nice God on paper doesn't make real life any nicer. 
You can say all the warm and winsome things about God that Arminians are wont to say. You can contrast that with the "stern" God of Calvinism. But as this erstwhile Arminian blogger discovered from painful personal experience, the loving, fatherly "relational" God of Arminian theology is a paper God. A God that only exists in the mind of the Arminian. A verbal construct. You can say the Calvinist God is harsh or "morally monstrous." You can contrast the Calvinist God with what you deem to be the superior character of the Arminian God. But switching from Calvinism to Arminianism doesn't make the world any different. Believing in a nicer God doesn't make the world a kinder gentler place than believing in a "harsh" God. Does nothing to sand off the jagged edges. 
In the Arminian lodge, you have hot chocolate and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But when you have to get up and go outside, the dark arctic bast slaps you in the face. The world you must live in everyday is just the same whether you're Arminian or Calvinist. Believing in a softhearted God does nothing to soften the world. It changes nothing. The toasty, climate-controlled environment of Arminian theology doesn't survive exposure to the elements. It fosters expectations that are dashed by brutal experience. The glib, fact-free bromides of a Jerry Walls didn't prepare him for his ordeal. Reality is unforgiving. 


  1. Doctrine matters.

    "We are living in a day in which practically all of the historic churches are being attacked from within by unbelief. Many of them have already succumbed. And almost invariably the line of descent has been from Calvinism to Arminianism, from Arminianism to Liberalism, and then to Unitarianism. And the history of Liberalism and Unitarianism shows that they deteriorate into a social gospel that is too weak to sustain itself. We are convinced that the future of Christianity is bound up with that system of theology historically called "Calvinism.' Where the God centered principles of Calvinism have been abandoned, there has been a strong tendency downward into the depths of man centered naturalism or secularism. Some have declared - rightly, we believe - that there is no consistent stopping place between Calvinism and atheism.

    The entire article from which this quote was taken can be read here.

    1. That's nonsense. One name: Schleiermacher. He was a Calvinist and "the father of modern liberal theology."

      The idea that the invention of Calvinism (begun in 400AD by Augustine and completed in 1536 by Calvin) "degenerates" into the ancient Christian consensus of relational salvation by faith (Arminianism), and then this traditional Christian soteriology degenerates into Liberalism (invented by a Calvinist), and then Unitarianism (that's a nonsensical assertion), is truly nonsense.

      Secondly, it seems clear that the view of God which atheists 'generally' are most likely to rail against is the view of God presented by Calvinists: a Being who designed trauma, tragedy, and sin, and then blames other people for it.

      Finally, the deterministic rejection of freedom of will which is found in the Calvinistic system finds no parallel in any other Christian stream of tradition. Naturalists like Sam Harris are perfectly approving of such a mechanistic rejection of contingent libertarian freedom of the will, though.

      Liberalism, naturalism, and the quenching of the Spirit in various excessive "cessationalist" ideations have all historically flowed directly from Calvinism. I myself have known at least one person who drifted from traditional ("Arminian-ish") soteriology to extreme Calvinism, and in the process ended up leaving the faith.

    2. You'd be well served by reading the linked article. It would help to dispel many of your caricatures, and correct your apparent misunderstanding of the Doctrines of Grace.

  2. Thanks for your extraordinarily unsympathetic and opportunist response. I have addressed it at the bottom of my post since I have no interest in extended dialogue with it.

  3. aremonstrantsramblings, I wrote the following not expecting you'd visit Steve's blog. I don't mean to judge you personally. I took your response to your situation as an example of how many former Christians end up unbelieving.

    Many times I begged God to speak to me. Even just a single word. Something I would know was not a

    creation of my own mind whether conscious or subconscious.

    1. The apparent silence of God is not inconsistent with Christianity. Think of the Psalms or the minor prophets

    who wondered and complained about God's silence and apparent lack of concern. True, sometimes God

    actually is silent. But sometimes it's only apparent. Sometimes God is speaking but we need to listen

    [or learn to listen]. Listening is accomplished primarily from the teaching of Scripture and applying it to one's

    life. It includes interpreting God's providences in light of Scripture's teaching. It includes considering the godly counsel of mature Christians. Finally, [if one is a

    continuationist like myself] listening includes via private revelations of God which may be subtle or overt.

    2. While it's a cliche among Christians, the old saying is true that, "When you fear that God is silent, and you feel you need Him most - remember - the Teacher is the most quiet during a test." God's tests aren't merely to "prove" one's faith in the sense of demonstrating its existing noble qualities, but "prove" and "test" in the sense used of purifying metals like gold in a furnace. God's tests not only purify but also produce a quality of faith, character and results that weren't there before and wouldn't be there without going through such trials and testings. I like what Smith Wigglesworth was fond of quoting, "Only melted gold is minted."

    3. I'd say the case for Christianity is much greater than 50%, but assuming it were only 50% one should also

    consider what one actually wants/desires along with what is most potentially beneficial. One would think that given a mere 50% chance, Pascal's Wager would lead someone who has already been a commited Christian in the past to persist and continue being a Christian on account of the potential benefits and avoidance of malefits. In the case of aRemonstrant'sRamblings, he was a Christian for 22 years. By his own admission, "Christianity has not been a small part of my life. It has consumed my life and I have devoted a huge amount of my life to it." Why so quickly throw that all away? One would think the "Sunk costs" fallacy would tend to keep one persisting in the Christian faith. Especially, if there's no better alternative.


    1. 4. Christian faith, trust and commitment requires persistence despite one's current transient mood. I'm thinking

      of C.S. Lewis' definition of faith in his book Mere Christianity [book 3 chapter 11 & 12 which starts at page 68

      HERE I recommend reading

      the whole thing, but here's an excerpt.

      Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your
      reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view
      your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the
      whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity
      looked terribly probable.
      — C.S. Lewis

      5. As Steve says, there's plenty of evidence that God is still active in the world and performing healings,

      miracles and sign and wonders. Steve and Jason have addressed such issues plenty of times. I've collected

      some of those blog HERE.

      In my most desperate moments of physical and mental agony, depression, and loneliness God was not there.

      This begs the question. Also, it assumes God's presence should only count if He does something we would like to happen. In this case receiving, "Even just a single word [from God]." aremonstrantsramblings refers to presence as " any proper or real sense of that term for me." I placed "me" in bold because it shows a approach to relationship with God that's centered on oneself. Also, what about the Christians who'll be hurt by his abandoning Christianity. It's not just his soul that's at stake. IF Christianity is true, then the souls of other people might also be affected and endangered by his apostasy. He also begs the question regarding the presence of demons. He didn't seem to consider how demons might be tempting him to doubt and apostatize.


    2. What I do know is that if my son was in unbearable pain and desperation and was sitting begging for me to comfort him in such a moment of desperation, and it were in my power to comfort him, I would!

      The problem is that he forgets the limitations of analogies. God is our Father, but not ONLY a Father. There are things God is doing or not doing (passively and actively) for multivalent, multi-leveled reasons.

      2. The contrary and diverse teachings of the church (God’s inability to communicate effectively enough to

      resolve some pretty important questions Christians still debate).........[This] second is an argument which I think is highly problematic for, not only Christians, but all religious traditions which assert infallible and exclusive divine communication.

      This seems to assume an Arminian conception of God whereby God ought to do His utmost to clearly and unambiguously communicate His message of salvation in Scripture. But that's the exact opposite reason Jesus spoke in parables (Matt. 13:10-17.; Mark 4:10-12, Luke 8:9-10; John 12:37-40). Even from an Arminian perspective, the Arminian God could intentionally make His revelation vague so as to test the sincerity of one's response. See my blogpost Detecting and Finding God as well as "Unveiling" The Hiddenness of God.

      I still believe in some sort of God and perhaps that God is even personal (so I do not yet qualify as a deist yet either) but I do not believe this God involves himself in the affairs of humanity on this planet. In that sense I might be called a deist to some degree.

      Why, just because He didn't seem to be involved in your own life? This seems to be more emotional rather than a rational conclusion. I'm not saying this is the case with him, but some people take this approach and attitude almost as if to "hurt" God. "You didn't do what I expected, therefore I'm going to deny you even exist. Or if you exist, that you're irrelevant."

      I do continue to think that the only rational form of Christianity is one which allows for libertarian free will 2and that Calvinism is highly irrational and to be treated with contempt.

      It's interesting that (at least in my own subjective experience), Calvinists tend to be more rational in their approach to Christianity, AND that there are fewer cases of apostasy among Calvinists percentage-wise than among Arminian-like Christianites.

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    4. I recommend J.P. Morelands following speech where he gives examples of God giving him private revelations.

      J.P. Moreland: Discerning God's Voice - When God Seems Silent

      As well as two of my other blogposts.

      Testimonies of the Supernatural Among Respected Christian Leaders

      J.P. Moreland on the Continuation of the Revelatory Gifts [and Wonder Working Gifts]

    5. I noticed that the link to Mere Christianity I gave above doesn't work. Here it is again.

      C.S. Lewis talks about Faith in book 3 chapters 11 & 12 which starts at page 68 HERE or HERE. Or Page 81 (or page 75 within the book) HERE.

    6. I still believe in some sort of God and perhaps that God is even personal (so I do not yet qualify as a deist yet either) but I do not believe this God involves himself in the affairs of humanity on this planet. In that sense I might be called a deist to some degree.

      This doesn't seem to be a conclusion based on a deductive argument. It appears to be one based on an inductive argument. But his sample size seems to very localized. Mostly the inductive experience of his own life. However, that's not the testimony of the PRESENT church or PAST church (cf. HERE; HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE).

    7. After stating God was silent through his suffering he subsequently writes; "I was rescued from suicidal thoughts by my family and a very good psychologist" This, friend, is what is known as God's providence, His bringing people along side to stand with you in your pain. What you perceived to be silence was instead God screaming out to you by delivering exactly what you needed in your time of despair.

  4. Disparity between what is real and what we want to believe to be real can create an uncomfortable tension. I've seen too many people lose faith in a false idea of God because he didn't behave the way they believed he would. They interpret this as losing faith in God. If they only had faith in a false idea of God, then they didn't have faith in the true God to begin with. Interestingly, it's not usually along the lines of theological schools of thought as much as it is the way these schools of thought are imagined to be worked out practically. According to his revelation of himself, God is relational, but he's apparently not relational in the kind of romanticized way that people today think he should be.