Tuesday, December 16, 2008


When the enemies of Calvinism can’t successfully attack Calvinism on principled grounds, they resort to ad hominem. The stock example is Calvin’s role in the execution of Servetus.

Of course, this assumes that Calvin was wrong to sanction the execution of Servetus. But it’s worth asking, on what grounds was he wrong?

From the viewpoint of the anti-Calvinist, on what grounds was he wrong? And, from the viewpoint of a contemporary Calvinist, on what grounds was he wrong? Each side of the debate has its own burden of proof to discharge.

1. Calvin’s own reason for sanctioning the execution of Servetus was his belief in the duty of the civil magistrate to uphold both tables of the law. Now, we may disagree with Calvin, but it won’t suffice to simply pronounce him wrong and leave it at that. For this goes to issues that Christian have been debating for centuries. The proper relation between church and state. The proper relation between the OT and the NT.

And there are parallel arguments in the secular sphere regarding the proper jurisdiction of gov’t, ranging from libertarianism to socialism and totalitarianism. And they have their own inquisitions.

Mind you, even if we accept Calvin’s position regarding the duty of the civil magistrate, that—of itself—doesn’t warrant the execution of heretics. There are at least two additional steps you’d have to make.

i) You’d have to establish that the state enjoys the authority to define heresy.

ii) You’d also have to establish that heresy, even if a crime, ought to be a capital offense.

2. One might also object to the execution of heretics on the agnostic grounds that dogma is mere opinion. We should tolerate dissent because there is no way of telling who is right and who is wrong in matters of faith.

i) Such a sceptical attitude is appealing to theological liberals. However, many Christians who condemn the actions of Calvin are not that agnostic. They will have to use a different argument.

ii) And this would be an ironic way of defending Servetus, for he himself did not share their religious indifferentism. He took dogma quite seriously. He was quite dogmatic in his own right. He went out of his way to taunt and provoke the religious establishment of the day, both Catholic and Protestant, with predictable consequences.

He tried, by every means available, to convince people that he was right and his religious opponents were wrong.

3. What is the traditional argument for the execution of heretics? The traditional argument classifies heresy with soul-murder. Here’s a classic expression of that position:

With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.

On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but "after the first and second admonition," as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death. For Jerome commenting on Galatians 5:9, "A little leaven," says: "Cut off the decayed flesh, expel the mangy sheep from the fold, lest the whole house, the whole paste, the whole body, the whole flock, burn, perish, rot, die. Arius was but one spark in Alexandria, but as that spark was not at once put out, the whole earth was laid waste by its flame."


For Aquinas, you must quarantine the carrier to prevent a pandemic. And if the carrier proves to be incurable, he must be euthanized for the common good.

4. So what are we to make of this argument? Aquinas was nothing if not a logical man, so there’s a certain logical force to his argument—if you grant the premises.

i) From a Christian standpoint, there is a sense in which heresy is worse than murder. A murderer condemns his victim to death, but a heretic condemns his victim to hell.

ii) However, the argument from analogy suffers from certain equivocations. Except for voluntary euthanasia, a murder victim is not a willing victim. He is not complicit in his own demise.

By contrast, there’s a consensual element to heresy. You allow yourself to be persuaded by the heretic.

iii) From the standpoint of Protestant theology, while a given heresy may well be a damnable sin, we need to counterbalance the concept of soul-murder with the concept of soul-liberty. There’s an individualistic element to Protestant theology. Sola fide. The right of private judgment.

The position of Aquinas treats the “victim” of heresy as if he’s in a state of diminished responsibility. And that’s consistent with the paternalistic nature of Catholic ecclesiology. In Catholicism, the laymen are like impressionable children who require the adult supervision of the Magisterium.

But from a Protestant perspective, Christians are directly and individually accountable to God. By the same token, we can make allowance for differences in individual aptitude and opportunity. But a third party like the church doesn’t have the right to co-opt their personal responsibility.

A heretic can’t damn his victim in the way a murder can kill his victim. Damnation is a divine prerogative.

5. Ironically, militant atheists like Dennett, Dawkins, and Harris regard piety in the same way that Aquinas regarded impiety. They treat religion as a contagion. They think the general population needs to be shielded against the infectious disease of religion. They think it’s the duty of the state to restrain religious expression. For example, Dawkins equates religious indoctrination with child abuse.

So the extremes have come full circle. Dawkins is the flipside of Aquinas—although Aquinas has many compensatory virtues lacking in Dawkins.

6. Some Christians object to putting heretics to death on the grounds that, in the NT, the sanction for heresy is excommunication rather than execution. I myself think that’s basically correct, but the argument is somewhat complicated.

For example, the same sort of argument is used by Anabaptists to justify pacifism. They take the NT as their frame of reference, and there is no NT command for Christians to participate in gov’t. Moreover, from their reading of the NT, Christians forfeit the right of self-defense.

The traditional criticism of this position is that, since the NT was written at a time when Christians were a tiny religious minority, with no legal protection, it confines itself to the concrete situation of 1C Christians. But we shouldn’t construe its silence on various aspects of Christian statecraft as opposition to the role of a Christian magistrate.

And I think that criticism is basically correct. It’s also bound up with the contentious issue of whether NT ethics completely supplants OT ethics.

7. Since the OT treated some religious offenses as capital crimes, a Christian can’t very well argue that it’s intrinsically evil to execute someone for impiety. So we need to scale back the expressions of outrage.

8. However, you could argue that, in the OT, certain religious offenses were capital offenses due to the cultic holiness of Israel. And since the modern state isn’t set apart in that sense, we don’t execute people for mere sins or crimes against God. Rather, we only execute them for certain forms of social misconduct against their fellow man.

9. Let’s now revisit another issue: does the state have the authority to define heresy?

i) Even OT Israel didn’t enjoy that authority. God was the lawmaker. It was up to God to determine and disclose what constituted a religious offense in general, as well as a capital religious offense in particular.

ii) And there’s an obvious danger if we empower the state to define heresy. That would be a very useful weapon for the party in power to deploy against its political opponents.

10. Of course, you might argue that the church has the authority to define heresy. The church defines heresy for the state. The state merely enforces that definition. But there are some problems with that argument:

i) It made more apparent sense in the time of Aquinas, when there was only one church (in the West).

ii) It also made more sense if you believe in the authority of the Magisterium to formally define heresy.

Of course, as a matter of church discipline, Protestant denominations must also draw the boundaries of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. But they don’t lay claim to the same sort of divine guidance that you find in Catholicism (or Orthodoxy), or the fine gradations thereof. We define heresy, and excommunicate heretics, but we ultimately leave it to God to separate the sheep and goats.

11. Finally, if it’s appropriate to single out Calvin’s treatment of his religious opponents to discredit Reformed theology, then it’s equally appropriate to single out Archbishop Laud’s treatment of his religious opponents to discredit Arminian theology.


  1. ii) It also made more sense if you believe in authority of the Magisterium to formally define heresy.

    It would also make more sense if a Magisterium existed that actually did some formally defining once in a while.

  2. The point about Calvin was that he had little idea of the notion of freedom of religious belief.

    Some Anabaptists around that time were far ahead of Calvin in that respect. But all the Anabaptists were expelled from Geneva after one debate with him.

    Calvinism triumphed in Geneva for a variety of reasons, but Calvin's initial preaching there met with opposition for years from the more liberal ruling establishment, the "Sons of Geneva," whom Calvin labeled "libertines." The number of Calvinists continued to grow due to Calvinist converts fleeing Catholic France. Geneva prospered because Calvin made it into the publishing center of his works, a huge publishing center, and his works were selling at that time throughout Europe.

    As for the rest of the story, soon after Sevetus was executed, the Genevans who resisted Calvin had to flee, and the remaining rulers were all pro-Calvin. Several people committed suicide rather than face the Consistory at that time. Several adulterers both male and female were exectued. Children who talked back to their parents were hung in nooses by their armpits to show they deserved death per the laws of Moses. Some children were threatened with death for playing on Sunday. One child who struck their parents was beheaded. Calvin also railed that all the witches of Penney must die. Of course by this time there were also laws against daring to name your dog Calvin, laws against anyone who spoke out against Calvin's view of predestination, etc. So the town had by that time adopted Calvinism hook, line and sinker. Catholics had already been expelled prior to Calvin reaching Geneva, as soon as the town became Protestant. There were no Anabaptists, since they were expelled during Calvin's time after he'd debated them and they refused to convert to Calvinism. Everyone except Calvinists had been banished. That's how to make a perfect Christian city I suppose.

    But Calvin did not stop with Geneva. After Servetus was executed, Calvin and Beza each published some works on the Duty of Public Magistrates to Punish Heretics (Calvin wrote a small work, Beza wrote a longer one), and then there came an anonymous reply published in Bern I think. The reply featured quotations advocating tolerance and freedom of conscience, including some quotations from Calvin himself back when he was a young scholar. Calvin was incensed at the publication of such a work, and had his suspicions who the culprit might be who wrote that reply. Imagine the nerve of anyone using Calvin's own words against him, and advocating tolerance and freedom of conscience! Calvin wrote letters to the rulers in Bern telling them to find this guy and nail his *ss to the wall. Calvin accused the person of other things as well, right down to taking wood from the river, which was an offence back then since all such wood belonged to the ruler. Calvin also wrote letters to rulers in Poland telling them to execute non-Trinitarians there, or anyone who taught things similar to Servetus.

    In other words Calvin wanted to see people dead who disagreed with the Trinity, or who disagreed with his view that it was necessary to kill "heretics" as dictated by Scripture, and Calvin wrote letters to try and make that happen.

    Nice guy.

    Swedenborg, the unorthodox Christian mystic, had a vision of Calvin and also Melanchthon in hell. He had visions about a lot of things, many of them unbelievable. But Swedenborg lived during a more tolerant age and was not put to death for claiming he'd seen Calvin in hell, though we all know how Calvin might have reacted had Swedenborg lived in Geneva during Calvin's day.

    Oh, and ironically, though Luther and Calvin blamed Anabaptists for preaching under cover of darkness in people's houses with the blinds drawn, so as not to be arrested by Catholic or Calvinist local magistrates, that was exactly what Calvin told his missionaries in Geneva to do, who were sent to preach Calvinism in Catholic France, they were not to preach in the open but at night and with the blinds drawn. What's ironic is that Luther and Calvin called the Anabaptists cowards and lovers of darkness for not preaching in broad daylight, then their own missionaries were taught to do the same thing.

    Another funny story, 200 years after Calvin had founded his Academy in Geneva, it's presidents turned toward deism and disbelief in the devil, and Voltaire was living on a house beside lake Geneva.

    Happy Calvin's 500th birthday everyone! May God's predestined wrath smite everyone in your path today who disagrees with such a greeting!

  3. Thanks for offering evidence for Calvin's thesis that man is horrid sinner.

  4. "From a Christian standpoint, there is a sense in which heresy is worse than murder. A murderer condemns his victim to death, but a heretic condemns his victim to hell."

    Minor quibble at the expense of lengthening a very fine essay.

    It would seem that there are degrees of heresy. Coarsely, there is damnable heresy and heresy that's not damnable. For instance, and if I recall correctly, you have said that John Wesley and Arminius were in heaven.

    Now arminianism (from the perspective of a calvinist) is a heresy, but since you charitably speculate that Wesley and Arminius are in heaven (while also having realized the error of their teaching upon arrival in heaven), then arminianism is not necessarily a damnable heresy.

    Harkening back to the larger point then, it's not necessarily the case then that a heretic condemns his victim to hell. Since not all heresies are damnable.

  5. Ed,

    Care to document your sources?

    While you're on the subject, would you also like to give us a historical overview of life in non-Christian/anti-Christian regimes, such as pagan Assyria, or Japan under the Shogun, or China under Mao, or Russia under Stalin, or Germany under Hitler, or Cambodia under Pol Pot (to cite a few examples)?

  6. Building upon my last comment, Edward T. Babinski (hereafter shortened to Babinski) does commit soul-murder with his advocacy that there is no God.

    Yet somewhat ironically, I do object and I don't object at the same time. In one sense I object (and opppose) because the more people that become atheists, then the more people are condemned to eternity without God. Babinski, sad to say, is then a deceived pawn of Satan who is being used by the Father of Lies to draw others into the pit of Hell.

    Yet in another sense, I don't object to Babinski because I believe in clarity, refreshing honesty, and responsible freedom of speech. I fully grant that Babinski SHOULD have full right and freedom to express his position that Christians and other theists are badly deluded and deceived themselves for believing in God.

    That is why I didn't get all worked up over what's happening in the state of Washington with Dan Barker and his group putting up their sign next to the nativity display, and asserting that belief in God is a myth.

    At some level it is perhaps insulting, but at another level it spurs inquiry into the deep questions of the soul and will spark awareness of the slumbering masses into the truly important questions. And that is a good thing. Polemics is a good thing.

  7. truthuniteds/divides - "Babinski, sad to say, is then a deceived pawn of Satan who is being used by the Father of Lies to draw others into the pit of Hell."

    Are you being sarcastic here? If not, then seriously, what the eff are you talking about?

    Ed, is actually right about Calvin. (Sorry this is so long, but I include some quotes here to provide a source.) I don't know if this says as much about Calvin's theology as it says about his personal character & integrity. But John Calvin executed, supported the execution of, and advocated for the execution of a large number of people who disagreed with him. Power corrupts. If we were living in the city of Geneva today, Calvin would probably want half of us executed on the spot. For a source try - History of the Christian Church, by Philip Schaff.

    There really isn't any question that Calvin was basically a tryant in the city of Geneva. Servetus was a fellow Christian who got the doctrine of the trinity wrong, and argued against infant baptism, so he had to die - even though he still believed in the divinity and saving power of Jesus Christ on the cross.

    Calvin continued to defend why he believed "heretics" should be put to death afterwards - "Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt. This is not laid down on human authority; it is God who speaks and prescribes a perpetual rule for his Church."

    Here's Schaff describing Calvin's Geneva -

    "Let us give a summary of the most striking cases of discipline. Several women, among them the wife of Ami Perrin, the captain-general, were imprisoned for dancing (which was usually connected with excesses). Bonivard, the hero of political liberty, and a friend of Calvin, was cited before the Consistory because he had played at dice with Clement Marot, the poet, for a quart of wine. A man was banished from the city for three months because, on hearing an ass bray, he said jestingly: “He prays a beautiful psalm.” A young man was punished because he gave his bride a book on housekeeping with the remark: “This is the best Psalter.” A lady of Ferrara was expelled from the city for expressing sympathy with the Libertines, and abusing Calvin and the Consistory. Three men who had laughed during the sermon were imprisoned for three days. Another had to do public penance for neglecting to commune on Whitsunday. Three children were punished because they remained outside of the church during the sermon to eat cakes. A man who swore by the “body and blood of Christ” was fined and condemned to stand for an hour in the pillory on the public square. A child was whipped for calling his mother a thief and a she-devil (diabless). A girl was beheaded for striking her parents, to vindicate the dignity of the fifth commandment ..."

    "Bolsec, Gentilis, and Castellio were expelled from the Republic for heretical opinions. Men and women were burnt for witchcraft. Gruet was beheaded for sedition and atheism. Servetus was burnt for heresy and blasphemy. The last is the most flagrant case which, more than all others combined, has exposed the name of Calvin to abuse and execration; but it should be remembered that he wished to substitute the milder punishment of the sword for the stake, and in this point at least he was in advance of the public opinion and usual practice of his age."

    Interesting. Nice of Calvin to try and get him a less painful death, wasn't it? Of course the arguments for executing heretics are worthless. Soul murder? Honestly, I can't for the life of me figure out how a heretic could damn someone else's soul if free will exists. And if Calvinism is true, and everyone is either predestined to heaven or to hell, the how on earth could a heretic have any effect on anyone's eternal state. God determined that before anyone was born. So, I still can't understand how Calvin justified it at all.

    And I don't blame anyone for questioning his theology after looking at his rule in Geneva. The city kicked him out once, and some patriots (the Perrins) tried to rebel against him a second time, but he stomped them out. Banishing and killing them. I still read the "Institutes" occasionally, but the story of Calvin & Geneva really makes you take everything he says with a large grain of salt.


    "Servetus was a fellow Christian who got the doctrine of the trinity wrong, and argued against infant baptism, so he had to die - even though he still believed in the divinity and saving power of Jesus Christ on the cross."

    You're tipping your hand. Your heretical sympathy for a fellow heretic is the real source of your animus towards Calvin.

    Servetus was not a fellow Christian. If you deny the Trinity, then the Jesus you believe in is not the Jesus who died on the cross. The Christ of an anti-Trinitarian Christology has no saving power.

  9. I believe in the Trinity. But I don't think belief in and understanding of this doctrine is a requirement in order to be saved. It's possible to believe (a) Jesus was God, (b) there is only one God, and (c) that faith in his redeeming death and resurrection is the only answer we have.

    It is heretical to believe that God is one person who simply manifested himself in 3 different ways at different times, but I'm not sure that would be an eternally damning belief. At least I know I had faith in Christ before I had any idea what on earth the trinity was. If you read Servetus, he said he believed in Christ and in the divinity of Christ - but his understanding of the doctrine of the trinity was that it was actually pagan polytheism. Servetus was wrong, but how can we say he wasn't saved by faith because he got this doctrine wrong?

    I have the same sympathy for Servetus that I have for the atheist Gruet. Both were murdered under Calvin's tyrannical regime.

  10. Servetus wasn't some ignorant cobbler who didn't know any better. He was a very sophisticated individual. His disbelief in the Trinity represents culpable disbelief.

  11. I guess all this comes down to is whether you can be a Christian and misunderstand the Trinity. I could be wrong, but I assumed yes because I didn't think it's a requirement for salvation.

    Obviously you think the opposite. That's fine - and it would be an very interesting discussion topic sometime to look into which doctrines are requirements of belief in order to be saved.

    What was not fine was Calvin killing Servetus for it. Particularly since the idea of "soul murder" contradicts the very idea of election and the sovereignty of God in the first place.

  12. Persiflage,

    Servetus didn't simply "misunderstand" the Trinity, he knowingly DENIED it.

    Additionally, Calvin didn't execute Servetus, regardless of his role in the affair. The City of Geneva executed Servetus.

  13. Persiflage said:
    Particularly since the idea of "soul murder" contradicts the very idea of election and the sovereignty of God in the first place.

    The problem with this argument is that it would not be limited to just "soul murder" but would extend to every sin. It's a fatalistic assumption, and Calvinists are not fatalists.

    In other words, if men are not culpable for "soul murder" because God is sovereign, then why are they culpable for regular murder? Doesn't that, too, happen because of God's sovereignty? "I couldn't have killed this person unless it was the will of God; therefore, I should be praised rather than punished."

    But Calvinists have dealt with those issues time and again. So that particular argument has no traction.

    Of course you can still argue that Calvin was wrong to execute Servetus (which he didn't do, as Kyle rightly points out, because it was the government of Geneva who did so; but we can simply fix your statement and say that you can still argue that Geneva shouldn't have executed Servetus). That's fine. Offer an argument as to why it was actually wrong for Servetus to be executed; we'll interact with it.

  14. Peter,

    Precisely - most Calvinists are not fatalists in the sense that every single action on earth is predestined by God. So if someone commits murder for example, they chose to, God didn't fate them to. However, predestination (while not applying to individual actions on earth) DOES APPLY to the eternal destiny of every individual. So, in effect, it would be impossible for a heretic to convince one of the elect into damning his own soul. Thus making "soul murder" impossible. (It might, on the other hand, become possible if the elect were saved by the use of their own free will to believe in Jesus - but Calvin didn't believe this.)

    So the point here is that, along with Steve's argument from the individualistic element of Protestant theology, the Calvinist position on predestination makes the idea of a heretic being able to commit "soul murder" impossible. It is not whether a heretic could be held culpable for commiting "soul murder" just like physical murder - it's that God simply would never allow a heretic to do it in the first place (while God does allow the act of physical murder to happen).

    So, besides like Steve said, the government should never be granted the power to define heresy and execute heretics in the first place. It was also wrong for Servetus to be executed for commiting a crime ("soul murder") which does not exist under God's sovereign rule. If he was simply executed because he had different beliefs, well that's even worse then, isn't it?

    And yes Kyle, Calvin didn't personally kill Servetus. But he was still held responsible for it by other Christian men of his day (like the AnaBaptist David Joris). Easy to do since it was Calvin who set up the government in Geneva, heavily influenced it, personally sought Servetus's death, and set up his friend as the prosecutor at his trial.

    One of Calvin's friends, Zurkinden, wrote him after Calvin had written a defense of the execution of Servetus. Zurkinden wrote - "I wish the former part of your book, respecting the right which the magistrates may have to use the sword in coercing heretics, had not appeared in your name, but in that of your council, which might have been left to defend its own act. I do not see how you can find any favor with men of sedate mind in being the first formally to treat this subject, which is a hateful one to almost all."

    Calvin wrote later to another friend about it - "However, if I should appear to have faithfully and honestly defended the true doctrine, it will more than recompense me for my trouble ... there are others who assail me harshly as a master in cruelty and atrocity, for attacking with my pen not only a dead man, but one who perished by my hands."

    So why not blame Calvin for something that he claimed personal responsibility for?

    Calvin also wrote - "Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt. This is not laid down on human authority; it is God who speaks and prescribes a perpetual rule for his Church."

  15. Periflages,

    My point is that Calvin is not somehow solely responsible, but that is how he is always portrayed when in comes to Servetus. There is no distinction made between a lawfully executed civil death penalty & unlawful vigilante-style assassination. There is also no consideration made for historical context, as if Calvin were singular in supporting the execution of heretics.

    I'm not trying to mitigate Calvin's responsibility, but Calvin's critics all too frequently attribute to him much more than he actually did - not because they are interested in the truth of the matter, but because they are interested in smearing the man's name as a means of calling Reformed theology into question.

  16. Pardon me, that's "Persiflage," not "Periflages."

  17. Persiflage said:
    Precisely - most Calvinists are not fatalists in the sense that every single action on earth is predestined by God.

    Actually, that's not what I meant. Fatalism is actually closer akin to the typical Arminian view of God than the Calvinist view of God. This seems wrong to most people, but look at the logic of it and you'll see it's true:

    Calvinists are not fatalists because we believe that God ordains the means as well as the ends. Furthermore, we hold that two moral agents can both will the same event for radically opposed reasons, such that for one moral agent the action is moral while for the other moral agent the action is immoral.

    To give a Biblical example, when God used Assyria to punish Israel, it was God's sovereign decree that Assyria do such. Assyria willingly went along with this, because it was Assyrias desire to tear down nations and uplift themselves as pseudo-gods. The net result: God's will occured, and Assyria was later punished for it (cf. Isaiah 10).

    So let me be clear. God predestines everything that occurs. Or as the Westminster Confession puts it: "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" (WCF III:1).

    This is not fatalism because the will of the agents involved is not infringed. Another example are the Pharisees who killed Jesus. They did what God ordained they would do; yet they did so because they were wicked. They were not forced to do this, but rather it was what their wicked hearts desired to be done. God, however, willed it for good.

    As I said above, the Arminian position is more closely related to fatalism. This is because the Arminian will typically say such things as "God ordains the ends but doesn't do the little details." The net result is that either God knows in advance what people will do (the foreknowledge argument Arminians use), which renders His ordaining of events as superfluous since they will happen regardless of His ordanation; or God does not know what people will do (a la Open Theism) and must work to fix things after the fact. Most Arminians reject Open Theism and state the first alternative, but really hold to something like Open Theism. Namely, God ordains the ends, and then knows what people will do and, because He is smarter then they are, can work what people do back to His own ends.

    The problem with this idea is that that just is what fatalism is. Fatalism is the idea that no matter what you do, you cannot escape your fate. In the Arminian scheme, this cashes out as the fact that God's end will result no matter what you do; you cannot thwart Him because, like a superior chess player, He will always beat you.

    Calvinists, on the other hand, do not hold to that position at all. It is not a case of "no matter what you do" but rather "this is why you do what you do." In other words, rather than having a fate you cannot avoid (Arminianism), God has an ending that is intended to include you as a means to that end.

    In other words, under a fatalistic scheme, it would be like an engineer who builds an engine and takes a piece that doesn't fit but jams it in until the engine functions. No matter what the piece's shape is, it will be forced to do it's part. Calvinism teaches instead that God crafts the parts to the engine such that when a piston is needed for the engine to run, the piece is exactly what is needed. This isn't fatalism; rather it is a well-designed plan.

    Sorry to be so wordy on that point, but the distinctions are important. I'll wait to hear your feedback before responding further as to how this would apply to the "soul murder" concept as I anticipate you might have some objections to the above that we'd need to hammer out first. :-)

  18. Steve wrote: "Ed, Care to document your sources?"

    Sure, anytime, Steve. Just tell me which things I wrote about Calvin that you feel least comfortable considering, or most comfortable challening me on, and I'll supply the documentation. If you want we could write a joint article on the topic for your blog. I'll simply supply documentation and you rebut each piece I supply, piecemeal, since it's your blog. I just ask that you post the full documentation in context, nothing added or subtracted from what I send you for each question you challenge me on. Then you may reply to it at whatever length you choose. Whether or not people will accept that your explanations are all true and my documentation is all false or of absolutely no consequence, is something I'm willing to leave up to any reader of both sides.


    Steve also wrote: "While you're on the subject, would you also like to give us a historical overview of life in non-Christian/anti-Christian regimes, such as pagan Assyria, or Japan under the Shogun, or China under Mao, or Russia under Stalin, or Germany under Hitler, or Cambodia under Pol Pot (to cite a few examples)?"

    Steve, for the record, Germay under Hitler was filled with Christians who had moved to the right in reaction to the previously more liberal Weimar Republic days of Germany. So the country was moving rightward when Hitler ran for office, and the votes of Christians living in the country was where Hitler scored his biggest gains in votes and that's what got him elected. (The votes in the cities were too close to call among the various candidates.)

    Also, concerning communism and Christianity we could discuss the affinities that religion has with absolutist political ideologies that promise paradise (a worker's paradise in Marx's case) and claims to have the inerrant truth concerning all of history's questions (dialetical materialsm in the case of Marxism). It's also probably no mere coincidence that Maoists varried little red books they had to memorize and carry around like Bibles. See also Eric Hoffer's little book, The True Believer, which relates the psychological affinities b/w people who join religious, fascist, and communist mass revolutionary movements.

    Leaving such movements aside, let me point out that there are more examples than ever before from much of modern day Europe, Japan, and other first world countries that a high percentage of religious believers does not appear to be necessary for the health of such societies.

    Such countries have low percentages of religious believers, but high levels of education and vital statistics that are better in many areas than vital stats in the U.S.

    (Isn't it a bit ironic that some Evangelical Christians type away tomes on why civilization can't survive without Christianity, on computers invented and manufactured by atheists, agnostics, and Buddhists?)

    I could also cite an example nearer Calvin's day, the case of what took place in the Netherlands after Calvin had died but before the Thirty Years War, when relatively liberal Christians (for their day and age) formed the first successful republic in Europe, a place that prospered immensely, with freedom of religion, people of all religions trading equally with one another, and each worshipping as they pleased rather than as a king demanded they all do, and it was even a center for controversial exciting new works to be published from Hobbes to Spinoza, that publishers in other parts of Europe were afraid to publish. But here's what happened to this first success republic in Europe, what happened was that conservative Calvinists despised the prosperity that their fellows were enjoying under this experiment in a republican form of government and these Calvinists plotted with Catholics to reinstall a kingship which they deemed more godly than a republic, because they thought it was more important for a nation to fear God than gain in prosperity, and they hated that the Dutch East India Trading Company was not striving to make Christian converts out of everyone they hired and met in Asia. Hence the first successful republic in Europe was undone by conservative Calvinists. Though of course the Netherlands is back to being liberal today, and a republic. Calvinism just doesn't last so far as governmental systems go. Geneva today is over 40% Catholic and they erected at least one (I've read more than one) statue to Servetus, even naming a local football team after him. And Calvin's Academy is likewise more liberal than it was when he founded it.

    Puritanism in Britain and in the U.S. likewise lost it vigor. Such systems just don't hold up. Human creativity, curiosity and questions undo them all. Harvard was quite conservative religiously, then the questions began entering there, and Yale was founded in reaction to Harvard's loosening of its conservative orthodox heritage. Now look at Yale. Schools of the highest caliber attracting professors and students of the highest caliber for two centuries or more, do not remain as conservative in their religious beliefs as when they first began. You know about Westminster Theological Seminary? Van Til taught there. Founded by Machen who left Princeton Theological Seminary (home of B.B. Warfield, but by Machen's day Princeton Theol. Sem. had grown too liberal, so the fundamentalists left Princeton to found Westminster Theological Seminary. Today Westminster is having difficulties with professor Peter Enns and his book, Inspiration and Incarnation and the faculty's endorsement of him staying, but the administration told him to git gone because they don't approve of his broadening of the definition of inerrancy. And there's Paul Seely, a graduate of Westminster Theol. Semn., and his book the inerrancy question that nearly destroyed Glenn Morton's Christian faith. Seely also expressed himself with such aplomb and conducted such massive research in a few papers that they were published in the journal of Westminster Theol. Seminary, papers outlining why the creation stories are those of a flat-earth believing culture, and that the tower of Babel story is likewise probably mythical. I'd chalk up Seely and Enns as having had too much contact with the full range and depth of bibilical scholarship in the outside world. So in future I'd expect Westminster to also be considered too "liberal" by some Calvinists who go off to try and found another little retreat from modern scholarship.

  19. Ed,

    You’ve lost me, man. I honestly can’t figure out what on earth you’re talking about anymore or how it has anything to do with Servetus and “soul murder” … I think Steve made a joke, but then you took it serious and …


    Yeah, I can see how, as a believer in Reformed theology, that would become annoying. I can appreciate how, just because Calvin used his influence to get various heretics executed, this does not necessarily mean that his theology was wrong … or most of it anyway. I would say his theology regarding the role of government, use of liberty, and freedom of conscience was dead wrong - but that’s because I believe you can have theology about the role of government (John Locke did). As far as Reformed theology goes, it doesn’t fall just because Calvin & Geneva executed Servetus.


    Those are some pretty intricate arguments. Good work. What’s funny though is I think it would be much easier for us to reach an agreement about the idea of whether “soul murder” is possible, or whether the idea of “soul murder” is intellectually consistent within Reformed theology, than it would be for us to agree on some of the things you most recently said. I also don’t know how long you’re willing to continue this discussion - (although, because it’s all coming together in my head because of some things, I’m starting a 5 point series on Reformed theology over at my website - it’s time I started putting my thoughts down on this to even help myself understand it).

    So a few major points -

    - you quote from the Westminster Confession’s - “God ordains whatsoever comes to pass”, which then tries to qualify it with “but he’s not the author of sin” and “this doesn’t deny free will.” You say this is possible because “two moral agents can both will the same event for radically opposed reasons, such that for one moral agent the action is moral while for the other the action is immoral.” Assyria conquering Israel is an example. God put it into their heads to go down and conquer Israel in order to punish them for their disobedience.

    So this argument is our biggest problem. I don’t see where in Scripture it says that “God ordains whatsoever comes to pass” or that everything is God’s will. The Confession then flat out contradicts itself by trying to make qualifications. Hey, either everything that happens is God’s will (including Adam and Eve eating of the tree in rebellion to God) or it’s not. The Bible is clear that God predestines the elect to salvation. It is not Biblically clear that God predestines the lost to hell, nor that God predestines “every single action on earth.”

    Forget about Adam and Eve’s free will for a moment. Sin is God’s will? How do we know God’s will? By his commands. Genesis 2:16 is a very clear command. From Genesis 2:16, couldn't you say that it was NOT God's will for them to eat of the tree? Could I believe that God commands his people to do one thing, while what he REALLY had ordained for them to do is the opposite? No - and nowhere do I see a God that tricky or underhanded in the Bible. Even if Adam and Eve remained free moral agents willing to disobey God for sinful reasons while at the same time God had ordained for them to disobey him - there was never any question whether they would sin simply because that was what God wanted them to do - that was His will.

    So simply saying “two moral agents can will the same event for different reasons” does not suddenly make the Westminster Confession NOT contradict itself. If God ORDAINS everything that ever happens, then God ordained for sin, death, pain and suffering to enter the world because THAT was what would bring Him the most glory. I cannot believe that - and it’s one of the main reasons I’m not Reformed because of what that would mean about God’s character.

    Deep stuff - but again, we are completely off topic from Steve’s article aren’t we? I’m very interested in this discussion actually, but I don’t know if you want to continue it on this particular thread.

  20. Persiflage said:
    Deep stuff - but again, we are completely off topic from Steve’s article aren’t we?

    Yeah. I'll go ahead and respond to you fully in a new blog post (hopefully either today or tomorrow).

  21. awesome, thanks man

    This is a subject I'm interested in learning about. It has been bothering me recently.

  22. Massive debate between Calvinism and Arminianism that took place between (mainly) Victor Reppert, Steve Hays, Paul Manata, and Dominic Bnonn Tennant. http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2008/06/calvinism-vs-arminianism.html