On the Absurdity of Calvinism, part 3 of 7: Logical Contradictions

part 2, Discourse Issues.

This might be the shortest and most scattered of the posts in this series, because there is a lot of overlap between the content here and what I plan to further develop in parts 4-6, and several things I want to point out without really getting too detailed. So let’s just dive in and see where it goes.

Let’s start by alienating most evangelical Christians, Calvinist and otherwise. Packer, in his essay, states that Calvinism is “the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible”; “the natural theology written on the heart of the new man in Christ”; “theism, religion, and evangelicalism, all in their purest and most highly developed form”. Wow. First of all, if there is a single, natural, perfect theology that unifies the whole Bible, [4] it is quite arrogant to assume that we’ve got it figured out. It is especially odd that Packer calls Calvinism “natural” and (in the same sentence) deems Arminianism “an intellectual sin”, when Calvinism takes far and away the most intellectual approach to Scripture and theology. Indeed, defenders of Calvinism might say that belief in free will is the “natural” line of thinking for a believer until they take a more intellectual approach to Scripture and discover the Calvinist doctrine therein.

But more than that, [5] it is naive to assume that there is a single, unified theology or perspective spanning the entire Bible. This is quite a rabbit hole, I admit, and fully developing this idea would take its own series of posts. (Or you could just read “Come Out, My People” by Wes Howard-Brook – which you really, really should.) Let me try to be brief – I’m not suggesting there are multiple “Gods” in the Bible. I’m not suggesting the Bible is “wrong”, entirely or partially. I am, however, indicating a movement away from belief in inerrancy. For too long, the church has feared that deviation from inerrancy leads to a critical, faithless approach toward Scripture that is dangerous at best and heretical at worst. But this paranoid attitude is just as dangerous, as the blinders of hyper-faith often cause people to miss out on particular edifying and beautiful insights.

The conservative church tends to believe that the Bible must be 100% correct and true, because if it is not, then all of Christianity collapses in on itself. Yet this is false, as well as patently idolatrous. We don’t worship the Father, Son, and Holy Bible! Believing that the Bible is a single, inseparably unified entity does injustice to the texts, devaluing them and their individual contributions to the story of God’s relationship with His people. The Bible is a collection of diverse stories which all show parts of the single story of God’s relationship with humanity. The Bible is indeed unified and coherent, but not in the strict sense of mutual dependency, such that we must treat each piece of the Scriptures as exactly the same in terms of validity and importance as all the rest. Tradition views the Bible as a photograph – one image containing a perfect representation of God’s relationship with humanity. I view Scripture as a series of divinely commissioned paintings. When an artist is commissioned to paint a portrait, the final product has the touches and character and style of the artist more so than the one who commissioned it; imagine the Bible as God commissioning many of His children to paint the portrait of His relationship with them. The portrait painted by a king will differ, perhaps greatly, from that of a prophet, or a fisherman, or a scribe; and not a single one of them will capture the glory and greatness that is the true Image of God Himself. But the Bible is not one perfect photograph in which we can see an exact likeness; it is a collection of imperfect paintings, by many artists with many different styles and media, in which we can see certain aspects and features of the Image God intends to show us, and only by looking at each image can we move toward deeper understanding of what the real Image looks like.

Switching gears and going back to Packer’s essay, let’s look a couple of other statements he makes that don’t seem to jive with his presentation of Calvinism at all. If God is sovereign in this whole process of conversion, salvation, sanctification, and so on, then what He chose to sovereignly do is rather mysterious. God’s irresistible grace, says Packer, “destroys the disposition to resist”. [6] Yet it does not destroy the disposition to sin. Why not? How is it glorifying to God for the so-called “regenerate” to remain sinners? What level of “effectiveness” does the blood of Christ have when it can be claimed to save and renew the believer but not change them so completely that their disposition toward evil is eradicated? (Sidenote: why would God allow the elect regenerate to develop Arminian theology? Why not destroy their disposition toward believing in free will?) Thus, internal to the high view of God’s sovereignty, there is contained a necessary restriction of that sovereignty. (We’ll touch on the very idea of sovereignty more completely in part 4.)

A Calvinist may come back at this point and state that regeneration, and the departure from sinfulness, is a process, and that this is what is meant by Peter’s petition that each believer should “make every effort to be sure of your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10). To this I simply reply, what happens to an elect believer who fails to do that? The elect are the elect – they cannot fall away, according to Calvinism. It is up to God to sanctify them and save them; the role of human effort is vehemently decried. But perhaps, rather than being decried, it is actually shifted, such that the role of human effort is relevant only after “conversion”, to ensure that the conversion was not a false one. But again, it cycles back around to not really mattering; if God has chosen a person, she will bear fruit, using the effort inspired by God; if not, oh well, nothing can be done about it.

Somewhat tied in to that, another illogical point is that Packer calls repentance and faith the “duty” of the elect believer, and that God will cause that repentance and faith to occur in “every soul that shall freely give up themselves unto him”. Whoa, there, Packer! [7] You’re starting to sound like you believe in free will! Is God sovereign in who He saves? Or does He save those who “freely give up themselves unto him”? You can’t have it both ways. (Plenty more points like this to come in part 5.)

How about this one – Packer has the balls to claim that invitations to salvation are universal (his italics!) despite the atonement of Christ being for the elect only. [8] How can a Calvinist believer tell non-believers that Christ died for their sins and can save them without having his fingers crossed behind his back? For if Christ’s death was for the elect, and he happens to be speaking to someone God did not choose, then he is lying to their face! A parable: a man threw a big party. A wedding party, let’s say. He wrote up a specific, strict guest list; only those on this list would be allowed into the party. Not only that, he even arranged for private limousines to pick up each person on his guest list. Then he wrote up invitations for everybody in the world, and had his servants deliver every last invitation, so that everybody received one. When a servant gave out an invitation, he always said, “my master would love for you to be there! he’ll even send a private car to pick you up.” Since the servants hadn’t seen the guest list, they had no way of knowing whether or not the person would really be picked up and allowed to come in. On the day of the party, the man sent out his limousine fleet to pick up his guests; everyone on his guest list got in their ride and came to the party. And, amazingly, none of the people who weren’t on the guest list even wanted to come.

I think I’ve been pretty fair in painting the Calvinist idea of salvation there. So tell me – why did the master send invitations to the people who weren’t on the guest list? In doing so, he made himself and his servants liars – albeit with no noticeable consequence. But really, doesn’t that just seem totally bizarre?

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Raleigh
    Mar 13, 2012 @ 16:26:56

    I agree with you in that it really is quite arrogant to claim that this or that is THE theology of the Bible. This line of thinking is extremely dangerous and must be challenged.

    And like you said, one should not claim that there is a single unifying theology that runs throughout the bible. I cannot think of one unifying theme that runs through the Bible. I see the Bible as a collection of stories written by different people. You depict this well in the commission of the artist metaphor.

    Reply

  2. Trackback: On the Absurdity of Calvinism, part 4: Scriptural Inconsistencies « Not By Hands
  3. Peter
    May 22, 2012 @ 17:03:19

    It’s undesirable to say that it is arrogant to believe you have the correct answer. If that was the case, then all of Christianity would be arrogant for thinking that they were right and atheists, hindus, muslims, etc. were wrong. The only people who wouldn’t be arrogant on such a definition would be those who claim complete and utter ignorance on all matters.

    Arrogance has less to do with what you believe is true; and more to do with your attitude toward those who don’t share your belief. In the case of many Calvinists; the arrogance is in their complete rejection of all other theologies. It’s not just that the Calvinist holds that the soteriology of other theologies is incorrect, but that they are unsaved heretics for not being Calvinists. It’s a completely disproportionate position to think that having a correct understanding of the mechanics of salvation is itself a pre-requisite for salvation.

    Reply

    • Matt
      May 22, 2012 @ 17:24:00

      I appreciate and respect your “softening” of my statement. On the one hand, what I said definitely applies more strongly to those hyper-Calvinists who believe you’re actually not saved unless you specifically accept Calvinism (which I have to think is the minority). On the other hand, I do still think that there is an arrogance to Christianity in general whenever its followers restrict aspects of it. I believe that I am saved, I believe that God loves me, I believe in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus; but my point is, I don’t claim to have a perfect (or THE perfect) understanding of any of those things. My faith is as living and breathing as I am, and while I don’t expect to give up those core beliefs, I am humble enough to refine them if God moves me to understand Him in a different way. The “arrogance” of which I speak applies to any Christian, Calvinist or otherwise, who settles in their doctrine to such a strong degree that they refuse to allow it to be changed. I don’t believe any human has a perfect understand of God, and as such, we should all be open to refining our beliefs as we move into deeper relationship with Him.

      Reply

  4. Raleigh
    May 22, 2012 @ 17:25:33

    I don’t believe I have the correct answer in regard to many things (especially philosophy and theology), and I still consider myself a Christian. I certainly don’t see atheists, hindus, muslims, as being wrong. I see them as knowing a certain truth, but missing out on Christ as the ultimate truth.

    I certainly find a Christianity that views the beliefs of other cultures and ethnic groups to be wrong as arrogant.

    Reply

    • Peter
      May 22, 2012 @ 17:57:39

      I’ll have to disagree with you here because these different world views believe mutually exclusive things. Atheists believe there is no God and/or that we have no justification for believing in God. But Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Christians all believe that there is a God and that we can justifiably believe in this God. Both sides can’t be right here because these beliefs are mutually exclusive.

      Likewise there are mutually exclusive beliefs separating Hindus from Muslims/Jews/Christians; and mutually exclusive beliefs separating Muslims, Jews, and Christians. It’s possible that all of these world views might be wrong–maybe the correct world view hasn’t even been discovered yet–but it is impossible for none of them to be wrong. They each might contain some beliefs that are true; but there can only be one true world view of reality given that there is only one reality.

      Reply

      • Matt
        May 23, 2012 @ 13:19:13

        I don’t think you guys are in as much disagreement as it looks like. Raleigh says “I see them as knowing a certain truth, but missing out on Christ as the ultimate truth”, and Peter says “They each might contain some beliefs that are true”. I agree with both of you. There is truth and beauty in many different worldviews, in such a way that Christians can and should learn from them. Raleigh just takes a non-absolutist approach where everything isn’t black-or-white, right-or-wrong.

  5. Trackback: On The Absurdity Of Calvinism, part 1 of 7: Introduction | Not By Hands

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