[The following is a response to a YouTube post called “Mere Calvinism” on the Randos United channel. I highly recommend the channel which has grown out of the community that has developed because of the ministry of Paul VanderKlay (and channel of the same name) which started over 3 years ago and is dedicated to understanding “the meaning crisis” through an analysis of (such as) Jordan Peterson within a Christian frame.]
Thanks Kolten (et. al.) for presenting your perspectives on Calvinism. To “put my cards on the table” – I am an “ex-Calvinist” (for lack of a better term). So I want to try and engage you in a “good faith” discussion on what I see as weaknesses (and strengths) in your arguments…
First, a bit of background: I am 67, raised the son of a Baptist Minister, attended the University of Alabama (degree in Religious Studies – and during this time in my early 20’s embraced Calvinism) – went on to Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, MS (where [during “winterims”] I studied under the likes of J.I. Packer and R.C. Sproul).
Please know I say all of this not to prove that I therefore must be “right” in my current perspective – but, at the least, that I have some sense of what Calvinism is and the Biblical argumentation for it.
I must say that you (Kolten) are much more articulate than myself – and obviously possess a sharp mind and wit about you – so I already know I am not your equal when it comes to the intellect! (I am sure, BTW, that Luke and Jedidiah and Shari [all former Calvinists] could engage you far better than me – their intellect and personal experiences of Calvinism is considerable!)
I appreciate that you (at least on a few occasions) acknowledged and appealed to “mystery” (e.g. the state of Adam and Eve pre-fall) – but elsewhere you are quite confident that you understand the propositional truths (as you put it) set forth in Romans 9.
This is where the differences start between us: for me there is more (and increasing) “mystery” as the years have passed…. As never before, “now we see through a glass darkly… now we know in part” and “if any man thinks he knows anything” have become more and more relevant to me. Here are a few reasons why:
When I was first introduced to Calvinism it was Romans 9 that took my breath away! People who were very smart (in my estimation) and studious in Scripture took this chapter at face value – and “the world be damned” if they (the world and lukewarm Arminian Christians) could not come to acknowledge its bold, plain, God-exalting Truth! (BTW – I still believe deeply in the Sovereignty of God – that He has the first and final Word on all things – That He is not beholden to our autonomous claims on “free will” and can supervene and intervene at His pleasure – That He works ALL things after the counsel of His own will, That His Word will not fail Him, but will accomplish ALL that is His pleasure…)
But – after beginning my first pastorate (of 10 years) and raising (with my precious wife) four children… my ready answers from Romans 9 began to feel less and less truthful and resonant with my experience of “real life”… that Romans 9 is not the “complete story”. Eventually (and slowly) I came to realize what was right in front of my face – Romans 9 is NOT the “end of the story” – but that Romans 10 and 11 carried it forward to a greater completion – ending with Paul’s ecstasy of praise (and confession of ignorance), “How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?””
I will try and get to the most salient points lest this “comment” become a tome…
I think your take on Romans 9 is misguided for at least two fundamental reasons:
- The conception of election you read “out” of the text fails to bring to it the larger, consistent Biblical idea of “election to service”. Most notable: Israel is “elect” to become a source of blessing for the nations (the non-elect by comparison). If you read chapter 9 in isolation from this larger Biblical frame (and especially Romans 11 where it is borne out) you can tend toward misconstruing Biblical “election”. I do still believe in election – that certain persons/groups are chosen for specific purposes. But the purpose of those who are elect here (in Romans 9) is found in Romans 11: to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles (etc.).
- THIS IS THE CRITICAL POINT THAT LED TO MY DE-CONVERSION FROM CALVINISM’s READING OF ROMANS 9: What of those “hardened” in Romans 9 (assuming an obvious and explicit continuity of Paul’s stream of consciousness and his terminology)?
“Again I ask: Did they [vs. 7: “but the others were hardened”] stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!”, “if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.” There it is! The Sovereign power of our great God! “GOD IS ABLE”!
Beyond that, what Calvinist fail to see (or gloss over) is the great “mystery” he elucidates (and I have come to see more and more that “mystery” is a key concept in Pauline theology – especially “the Mystery of Christ”!): “Israel (Paul’s hardened Jewish brethren) has experienced a hardening in part until the fullness (pleroma = ALL) of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way ALL Israel will be saved” Paul is approaching a crescendo in his symphony of Mercy! His final “proposition” (before the paen of praise) is: “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”
So I encourage you to take yet another look at Romans 9 as it stands in rhetorical continuity with the next two chapters. Especially note Paul’s “heart” – the tears he sheds for the “hardened” – the willingness to be accursed for them! Is this not the Spirit of Christ manifest through Paul? Listen closely to his baffling “proposition” that may defy our logic, propositional knowledge and our (mine and yours) very human systematics: “the message is heard through the word about Christ. But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19!) What on earth must this mean? I am not sure – but I stand in awe and amazement at our Father!
Beyond this (sorry!) – let me TRY and be brief on a couple of more “points”:
I think Calvin’s anthropology is at best half truth: Total Depravity tends towards a failure to acknowledge the mystery of human nature from a fuller Biblical perspective – it flattens the truth of what we are in our very essence and created nature: We are made in the image of God (this is NOT destroyed, as Calvin understands it) – and (I believe) this is why it can be said of us all (as well as David) “we are fearfully and wonderfully made”! Of course sin has marred it – of course we are in bondage, with our proclivity toward sin and the certainty of death – but it remains and is the ontological grounding of our (even the “lost”) relationship with God. Calvinism emphasizes our alienation from God – but fails to account for our very existential relationship: “we are His offspring” (Paul twice tells the pagans of Athens that God is their Father!) – “He is NOT FAR from anyone of us – for in Him we live and move and have our being”. And if we want to build a robust, faithful and well-grounded doctrine of sin (and fallen human nature) let’s start with the first mention of “sin” in Scripture: “Sin lieth and the door – and it would have you – but you must master it” (Gen 4:7) I don’t claim to fully understand all the implications of this verse – but it sure does NOT sound like “total inability” to me. You are correct in quoting Paul – it is NOT by human effort – salvation is only by God’s Mercy – but who can possibly conceive of even our very existence – every breath we take, all that we are and need – ALL given by grace and mercy constantly sustaining us (even in our rebellion!). “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” John 1:16
I am convinced that God loves us all (not randomly or a select few) – for a reason – that He is passionate (“God SO loved the world..”) because we are no less of a treasure to Him than our own children are a treasure to us. Above all I think he treasures us because we are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of the Son – that every human bears somehow in their very ontology and created nature the imprint of Jesus Christ, “the express image of God” – Paul bears this out in Romans 5:14 where the first Adam is a “type” (imprint) of the “last Adam”, Jesus Christ. This entire chapter (now, to me) stands in direct contradiction to Calvinism – “just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” There again is that “all” that mustn’t be explained away: Christ, the last Adam, will do no less than the first! “Where sin abounded – grace doth much more abound”!
Finally – and what most of all de-Calvinized me was this simple yet infinite Truth: God IS Love. This is in some way the very essence of our Trinitarian God. (and not, “God is Love, BUT…”)
I think it is a very telling thing that Calvin (while quoting many passages of scripture) NEVER quotes this one in his Institutes. Why? And even if this passage is considered by Calvinists it (and its profound implications) is explained away by a convenient appeal to “mystery” – i.e. we just can’t understand what the Love that God “is” is. But I am rather convinced that Love is not so mysterious and “other” that it dies the death of a thousand qualifications and equivocations. It’s meaning, for example, is put on display in 1 Corinthians 13 (with which we are “over familiar”) – and while this may first apply to “human” love – can and will God love less? e.g. Love keeps no record of wrongs – love endures all things – love never fails… “How much more” must it be true of the source of all true Love?
That is the God I now embrace and worship along with Paul! “For from Him and through Him and to Him are ALL things!”
I will stop (much to the relief of your eyes, I am sure) – I had made many more notes after watching the nearly 3 hour discussion. But it’s now 4AM and I guess this old man needs to get some sleep. God alone knows my heart – but I hope what I have said comes from love and genuine concern (not merely being “triggered” into a posture of self-defense).
I acknowledge I just might be wrong – but this is where I am at this point in my journey…
Thanks for enduring my rant – please feel free to correct me or ask any questions or clarifications you might like.
Richest blessings to you, Kolten! I love your passion for God and Truth – I pray it never wanes!