Monday, June 7, 2010

What do I believe? pt. I

I recently had a discussion at lunch with some friends and we went through the five points of Calvinism. This was essentially our conclusion:

1. Total Depravity: essentially the idea of original sin. Because of the Fall, man is sinful by nature and is helpless without God. There isn't much I can really say about this doctrine (I will expand more on this later). Some may try to blame Adam for essentially damning us all because of his action in the Garden. But, would you have acted any different? No, our nature is sinful and we must, only through the Holy Spirit, choose to follow God in faith. Without the guidance of God, man is eternally helpless.

2. Unconditional Election: God, before eternity, chose some to be saved and some not; not based on any merit, choice or sin. Man, due to his depraved state, cannot choose his salvation. God holds all the power to give mercy to those he elects. The Calvinist conception of this predestination is used to show the power and grace of God's love:

"Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace." -reformed doctrine of predestination[1]

But what about the others? Funny, I can find almost no information on them other than phrases like: "passed by", "judged justly", "reprobation", etc.. Scripture itself is also lacking in this respect. The best I could get was a sentence from the Westminster Confession of Faith:

"The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the inscrutable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice."[2]

"To ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin". Let's look at this statement. We can almost immediately throw out the latter statement of "wrath for their sin." Didn't we just say before that man is not judged based on sin or merit? And doesn't this statement imply that man is being judged by their sin? What sin exactly? It's not like they chose of any free decision of theirs to sin or be eternally damned. I think this statement isn't a very good description of the fate of the reprobates because it seems to be to be too contradictory.

To 'ordain them to dishonor' implies that God decreed them to be reprobates. So, from eternity past, God created a section of the human race to be helplessly lost in sin without any hope of salvation; since we can do nothing to achieve salvation ourselves. Let me ask you this then: "What is their purpose?" The reprobates are essentially damned before their birth. Are we to say then that God simply created a bunch of useless people? If they lack any kind of free will or choice in the matter of salvation, then living becomes quite useless in my opinion. Part of what keeps me living day to day is my ability to make decisions and to continually hope for something better in life. I'm not saying that I do this all on my own. I have guidance and support from the Holy Spirit in my daily life. It is the Holy Spirit that allows me the ability to choose to follow God in faith and obedience. In my natural state, I am sinful and unable to choose God because 'every inclination of my thoughts and my heart are only evil continually.'[3] The inclusion of the Holy Spirit into my life gives me a freedom from this depraved state and provides me with a choice between following God and not following God.

Choice. It is all about the choice. Faith could not exist without man's free will decisions. What makes those great stories of faith so significant, such as Abraham and Isaac, is his decision to be obedient and faithful to God. It comes down to the choice. What makes faith and obedience so important is the fact that we, through help of the Holy Spirit, choose faith over ignoring it. Do you see? There is no faith otherwise. If our faith is only dependent at our birth, whether we are elect or not, and our actions are determined, then what is faith? You would be acting without really acting. It would almost as if you had no other choice. I am reminded of the character of Alex in A Clockwork Orange. He was a psychopathic criminal who was brainwashed through behavioral psychology to be a 'good citizen'. His treatment included watching, with his eyelids forced continually open, horrible crimes and rapes while being injected with a serum that makes him very nauseous. From that point on, any criminal inclination would be followed by an intense feeling of sickness. The question then becomes: "Is he good?" How would we define goodness in that circumstance? What makes 'good' actions good ones is the fact that we chose them over 'bad' ones.

Some claim that this view of human choice brings God 'down to our level' or diminishes His power. I believe that it raises God to a new high. God gave us the gift of free will and to exercise it is to utilize our gift. By using our gift to follow God in faith rather than turn away or deny Him seems to me to be an unparalleled act of devotion and worship to God's greatness. Also, God's ability to 'limit' His unlimited power to give us the power of choice is an even greater testament to His ultimate power. Note, I did not say that God's power is limited, only that He chooses of His own Divine free will to limit His power. In no way does this bring God down at all. I am not undermining God's abilities in any way. To say that God limits his salvation only to an elect view seems to bring God to a lower level in my opinion. Is His love not sufficient for all?[4] This also makes punishment for the 'reprobates' just. Rather than being punished for crimes they never committed (or haven't committed yet), they are punished for their rejection of the Holy Spirit and Christ's redemption. This is in fact the 'sickness unto death' after all.[5]

The sickness that does not lead to death is the acceptance of Christ's redemption on the cross. One we choose of our free will under guidance and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Through Christ, all are granted the ability to receive the gift of salvation, though not everyone does accept this gift. In this way there is a kind of 'elect' and 'reprobated' group, but the division is over one's willingness to accept Christ's sacrifice and live a life of faith. While we are on the topic of Christ's sacrifice...

3. Limited Atonement: this doctrine states that Jesus died on the cross only for the elect. He came to redeem those from Hell that God has chosen before eternity to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This doctrine was completely shocking to me when I first read it. I was unaware that theories like this even existed. Not only does it challenge all that I ever believed in, but it also makes God sound even more unjust than unconditional election did.

So, Jesus died on the cross only for the elect few? Again, I say: "what about the others?" It seems they are denied salvation again! Not only were they excluded before time began, but yet again when Jesus came to redeem man of the sins of his nature and provide him with salvation. The Calvinists, in response, claim that Jesus' redemption was not insufficient. It was infinite but only applied to the elect. Where is the justice here? Where is the loving God? I do not believe this doctrine because I believe in a loving God. Isn't God love, after all?[6] This limited scope of God's salvation seems to contradict the view of God being love. He loves his elect and...what, hates the reprobates? I refuse to believe that. God loved all mankind and sent His only Son our Lord to die on the cross for our sins.[7][8][9] (I could probably quote a hundred more Bible verses to back me up) Titus 2:11-14 pretty much sums it all up:

"11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good."

This fits right with what I have been saying. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can say 'no' to our sin and live lives of righteousness through Christ.
I leave off the last two points: "Irresistible Grace" and "The Perseverance of the Saints" because I feel they can be reconciled and are more or less true. Once you are saved, you are always saved and cannot be un-saved. If you believe yourself to be saved but do not live a life of righteousness then perhaps you were not saved to begin with.

So, now where are we? What if I am a reprobate? What am I if not saved truly? There is no way I can know. I must live the Christian life and act accordingly. I have faith in God and I believe in the power and sufficiency of His will.

There are some more specific details that I omitted due to a)the length already, b)laziness, c)I aimed to just get the general points. We can discuss this together sometime if you would like. I always love a good philosophical discussion among friends.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness, I love you. Is there anything more attractive than a good Christian man? (No.) I agree with everything you said, and it was very well expressed and backed up with scripture. Read this:

    I'm going to try to read more of his sermons, because this one really impressed me.