Monday, June 08, 2009

The trouble for Calvinism

“The trouble I see for Calvinism is the fact that all over Scripture you find God saying he wants everyone to be saved, that he sent Christ for everyone, that he grieves when people are lost, and that he loves every person.”

If that’s a problem for Calvinism, then just about every other theological tradition is also in trouble. Every theological tradition which regards the Bible as, in some degree, a rule of faith, has its prooftexts–whether we’re talking about Calvinism or Arminianism or Mormonism, or universalism or annihilationism, or open theism, &c. Every opposing position appeals to the “language of Scripture.”

So, what we need is a harmonistic principle.

“John 3:16 is just one example of this type of verse.”

You have to exegete that verse. What does “kosmos” mean in Johannine usage. If you read Lincoln’s commentary on John, or if you read the entry on “kosmos” in the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, you’ll see that “kosmos” doesn’t mean “everyone.”

Indeed, it’s obvious in a passage like 1 Jn 5:19 that “kosmos” doesn’t mean everyone since it is set in antithetical contrast to Christians.

The “proper use of language” requires us to consider authorial usage.

“Calvinists and Arminians (anti-Calvinists) teach their children to sing the song "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so" without knowing whether God has determined that that child is going to be saved or lost. Is the song unbiblical?”

i) Reformed theology doesn’t have a uniform position on the fate of children who die young. In fact, there are about 5 or 6 different positions represented in different Reformed theologians.

ii) Wesley believed in infant baptism. The original rationale for infant baptism (in Latin theology and its successors) was to wash away the stain of Adam’s sin.

iii) Quoting a popular nursery rhyme is not a serious way to frame the issue. That has nothing to do with the proper language of Scripture.

“But if one of those children in the choir goes to hell, and in the final analysis the only reason that child ended up in hell was because God sovereignly decreed that the child should go to hell, then were all the claims that God loved that child accurate?”

That wouldn’t be the only reason. If, ex hypothesi, a child goes to hell when he dies (and this is not a settled issue in Reformed theology), it would be because he was stained by Adam’s sin.

“It strikes me as inconsistent with the proper use of the word ‘love’ to maintain this.”

The proper use of love in whose usage? The Bible or a nursery rhyme?

“Of course you can dodge these considerations by saying that the passages that say that God loves every person really only mean that God loves every member of the Elect.”

If you’re referring to Jn 3:16, this passages doesn’t say that God loves “everyone.”

If you’re referring to a nursery rhyme, who cares? Is Mother Goose our Bible?

“I think this does violence to the passages.”

What does violence to Biblical passages is when you don’t bother to examine authorial usage. When you don’t make allowance for anthropomorphic usage.

The Bible often depicts God in metaphorical terms, viz., God is a shepherd.

“I think you can only have a complete biblical case for Calvinism if you not only provide passages that support sovereignty, but also provide a plausible explanation for passages that imply a universal salvific intent. Otherwise, we should at least admit that the Bible doesn't adjudicate the Calvinist question.”

i) Calvinists have been doing that for some time now.

ii) Moreover, the objection cuts both ways. A universalist needs to provide a plausible explanation for passages which imply that only a subset of humanity will be saved.

“It's a simple question for Calvinists. Does God love those whom he reprobates? The most interesting Calvinists responses here, I believe, are the ones that affirm that God loves those he reprobates. I will be following up and looking at responses later.”

There's no received position within Calvinism on this issue. Different Calvinists come down on different sides of the issue. For example:


  1. Steve I responded to your comments on your post about the fall of lucifer. I'd be interested in knowing how you would reply.

  2. I plan to respond sometime this week. At the moment I have a few other things I want to deal with first.