Some Hopefully Not-Crazy Musings on Calvinism & Predestination


John_Calvin_by_HolbeinThe Christian family is large and diverse. The little corner of that family that I occupy is usually called “Reformed”, meaning they can trace a lot of their distinctive teachings back to John Calvin. Now, if theres one thing Calvin is known for (other than the burning a heretic thing) is a section of his teaching on Predestination–the idea that before everything, God “decreed” that only some people would be “saved”, and others would not be–they didn’t make the choice in that matter, He did.

Now, “Calvinism” wasn’t actually a thing until after Calvin had died, and he had a lot more to say about a lot of things other than Predestination. Nevertheless, having just recently re-read the portion of his magnum opus that deals with this issue, I can say that even the most caricatured, extreme articulations of Calvinism out there have a strong kernel of truth. Calvin was definitely a Calvinist, in all its untactful, harsh, unapologetic glory.

In college, I got super into Calvinism and took it way too far (Exhibit A; Exhibit B). I hurt a lot of people. Then I went to my first seminary and mellowed out on it. Since then, I’ve just been absorbing lots of different strands of thought around this issue, and haven’t really made a concerted effort to synthesize them. I’ve sort of been sitting in the Mystery of it all.

This seminary semester, though, I have to bring together all my thoughts on Predestination and its related doctrine of Election into some coherency. This means I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And today, I want to offer some of my random, contradictory, messy thoughts and get your responses and help. Imagine my brain on this topic as a big ball of yarn, with each strand of thought existing together all at once, not being able to distinguish where one thought ends, where the other begins, and how they can all fit together.

Strand 1

First, there really isn’t any such thing as “Free Will”. I can’t “choose” to have different parents, to fly, to shoot lasers out of my eyes, to breathe underwater, what color hair I naturally have, where I was born, etc. Arguably, the most formative, important, foundational things to who we are as people are unchosen. The point in saying this is to point out that our wills are not “free”, but are bounded by nature. All our choices are limited by our nature.
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God sometimes might send His people to Hell | Romans 2.1-8


Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.
Romans 2.1-8

Fundamentalists always read stuff like this and think it’s talking about “those people” outside of the Church. But this passage is talking to Jewish Christians! It’s talking to the very people who would presume their security and election (*cough* like many fundamentalists *cough*) . But you know what? Paul never says they’re wrong in their security and election! And yet he still says there will be wrath and fury. Might those things not be mutually-exclusive? An important theme here is that God’s people bear the brunt of God’s judgment, not the rest of the world. These verses are speaking to Christians, not “those people”. God’s people will face the possibility of God’s fire (but might it be refining fire?). This is very much what Lesslie Newbigin wrote about when he talked about election.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

When easy & simplistic proof-texting trumps the nuance & complexity of wrestling pastorally with the text


On Tumblr, a very, very dear friend posted this earlier, in support of the Doctrine of Double Predestination, which says that in eternity past, God predestined not only who would be saved (apart from their own works), but also those who would not be saved (apart from their own works):

“They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” 1 Peter 2:8

Double predestination

#it’s biblical

In one of the most widely used Bible commentaries in existence, I found these words written about this verse, starting with commenting on the word “also” (which isn’t found in my friend’s translation of the verse). I’ve changed some formatting and some grammar to make it easier to understand. Enjoy:

“also” [as in “as they were also destined to do”;  this is in the Greek, though Revelation 19’s translation doesn’t have this]—[this is] an additional thought; God’s ordination; not that God ordains or appoints them to sin, but they are given up to “the fruit of their own ways” according to the eternal counsel of God. The moral ordering of the world is altogether of God. God appoints the ungodly to be given up unto sin, and a reprobate mind, and its necessary penalty.

The phrase “Were appointed,” (Greek, “set,”) is an answer to the “I lay,” (Greek, “set,”) found in 1Pe 2:6.

God, in the active, is said to appoint Christ and the elect (directly). Unbelievers, in the passive, are said to be appointed (God acting less directly in the appointment of the sinner’s awful course) [Bengel]. God ordains the wicked to punishment, not to crime [J. Cappel].

“Appointed” or “set” (not here “FORE-ordained”) refers, not to the eternal counsel so directly, as to the penal justice of God. Through the same Christ whom sinners rejected, they shall be rejected; unlike believers, they are by God appointed unto wrath as fitted for it.

***The lost shall lay all the blame of their ruin on their own sinful perversity, not on God’s decree; the saved shall ascribe all the merit of their salvation to God’s electing love and grace.***

(from the “Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible)

What are your thoughts on this issue? How important do you think it is in the grand scheme of the Gospel?

The Cross: eternal Beauty made present | Lent {2}


Earlier this week, I kicked off this year’s Lent series with a question.

This season, we’ll be meditating on the biblical idea that Jesus, in some mysterious way, was slain in eternity past. And so, I asked what this means for the Cross of Jesus:

Was it an eternal truth breaking into the temporal realm, or was it itself such a powerful event that it echoed backwards and forwards through the past and future?

My vote? Jesus’ suffering and “slain-ness” is an eternal attribute of who he is, and the Cross was this aspect of the nature of God breaking into our reality. The Crucifixion was, in effect, God drawing the curtain back on a heavenly reality that had, until that point, only been hinted at.

I side with this for two main reasons: the essence of God, and the election of God.

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The Sweet Taste of Sovereign Suffering


devil-jesus-arm-wrestle

I absolutely REFUSE to believe the following:

  1. I worship and believe in a God that spends half his time saying “Oh crap, did that just happen?” (Romans 8:28)
  2. Satan is just the evil version of God that pretty much has the same power and authority as Him. (Job 1:7-12; Zechariah 3:2; Matthew 16:23)
  3. God merely REACTS to the suffering Satan causes, thus making Satan pre-eminent and initiator of all bad things. (Isaiah 45:7)
  4. Every creature and being in all of the universe has a free will of self-determination EXCEPT God. (Isaiah 55:8-11)

Something that has been on my mind a lot lately, is this topic of God’s presence in a world full of suffering. Let’s face it: life is pain. You’re either coming out it, going through it, or about to enter into it. So . . . where is God in all of this?

We don’t worship a God that looks at the suffering of the world and says “Wow, that’s bad, someone should do something about that.” Rather, we worship a God that enters into this suffering and undergoes it Himself in order that His Will may be accomplished of saving His people and ushering them into His Glory.

My decision to finally get these thoughts down on the blog was because of an interesting message I read in my personal study of Micah. You can find some more context in Micah 2:1-5, here I give the verses of significance.

they oppress a man and his house,
a man and his inheritance.
Therefore thus says the LORD:
behold, against this family I am devising disaster,
from which you cannot remove your necks,
and you shall not walk haughtily,
for it will be a time of disaster.

The Hebrew word for “devising” can also mean “create,” “weave,” “fabricate.” The Hebrew word for “disaster” used here can also mean “evil.” So, this verse can reasonably read:

“Therefore thus says the LORD:
behold, against this family I am weaving together evil.”

If you want a more direct verse, look at Isaiah 45:6-7:

that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the LORD, who does all these things.

In both these passages, why is God directly weaving together and creating calamity and disaster? In the first passage we see that the intended result of this time of “disaster” is that the Israelites would no longer “walk haughtily” – or in other words: Discipline and Sanctification of God’s people. In the second passage, we see that the LORD is doing these things so that everyone may know that there is no other God but Him, and that He is in control – or in other words: Revelation and Communication of God’s eternal Attributes and Being. How does it do that? Suffering and evil cause something deep inside of us to want to cry out “No!” because something inside of us just knows that it isn’t the way it is supposed to be. Suffering shows us how fallen the world is and how unlike it was originally created to be. So, from these passages we can conclude three primary reasons for suffering, as it is caused by God Himself:

  1. God’s Glory
  2. Our Holiness (God’s Glory in us)
  3. Further His Redemptive Plan (God’s Glory in History)

Where did I get that last one? The context of Isaiah 45 is that this is the passage where Isaiah is prophesying about (and to) the ruler that would free the Israelites from the Babylonian captivity 500 years (I think) later! He calls him by name and country: Cyrus, king of Persia. The opening lines of Chapter 45 are “Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus.” He refers to a pagan king who never believed in God (as far as we know) and calls him “his anointed”! Cyrus is anointed because he was chosen by God to free the people and so God says in this passage that he is opening every door and using everything to bring Cyrus to this point to display His Glory in the world, because God will use whatever it takes to bring about the redemption of His Creation, a pagan unbelieving King, light, darkness, or calamity.

Also take note that in all those purposes, God’s Glory is the key to it all. God’s Glory is at the center through every pain, every atrocity, and every evil perpetrated in the world. How does this help us? Well, it can’t – naturally. It really only helps some of us. Those whose very nature has been changed so that it delights in the Glory of God more than the glory of themselves. The natural man cares more about himself than the Glory of God. That is what conversion is. Heaven is an eternal revelation of the infinite Glory of God, being poured into the finite beings. Heaven is not eternal just because that’s how long it is – no, Heaven is eternal because it will take that long to exhaust the storehouses of God’s Glory for us to experience. The problem is thus: when people are born, they care about and enjoy every OTHER thing but the Glory of God. So, conversion is (and must be) the process of changing someone’s very nature so that they now delight in the Glory of God! It is to prepare us for Heaven. What does this have to do with suffering?

Well, two things:

First and foremost, the complete canon of Scripture testifies to the fact that (a) God does ALL things with His Glory foremost in His mind (even love us), (b) He is the one who actively causes suffering, tribulation, and pain in the world, therefore (c) He does it all for His Glory, which the converted soul now delights in, thus the Christian can delight in suffering, trusting that it is revealing God’s Glory in Him/Herself, the World, and History.

[UPDATE TO THIS POST: I should probably give an operational definition to the phrase “Glory of God.” It’s a nice concept, but what does it mean? The best way I have found to define it is thus: The “Glory of God” is the external manifestations of the manifold perfections of God. If that is your passion in this world, then you are converted.]

The second reason this helps the Christian I will discuss at length in my next post, but I assure you, it is Glorious (no pun intended).

I know this is very rough and hard to follow and my case isn’t made very fully. I just knew this was going to be long enough, so I had to try and compact somethings. Really, if anyone wants more Scripture on this, just ask. There is PLENTY to go around. Also feel free to leave a question if you see some philosophical, logical, or exegetical holes in my thinking. I’m sure there is a lot. Please let me know.

I appreciate everyone that reads this blog, and love you so dearly. Until next time.