Thursday, August 19, 2010

Predestination - What Made Calvin Famous

Here we are, finally to the topic which stirs the most controversy in theological circles. When many people think of Calvinism, this is what immediately springs to mind. Today's reading is really just and introduction and lays out some groundwork for later discussions.

This doctrine is scary for many people. It boils down to control. Who is in control of my final destiny? What can I do to ensure my salvation? We hate not being in control of our situations. I do not like to ride in the car with someone else driving because I am not in control. Working for a large corporation is sometimes difficult for me because I am not in control. In America we are told that we can achieve anything if we put our minds to it - nothing is out of reach, but salvation as presented here is not something to be achieved through our actions. We are utterly dependent on God's mercy. Arminians find this position baffling. "For they think nothing more inconsistent than that our of the common multitude of men some should be predestined to salvation, others to destruction." My thought on that is the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Were they not chosen by God out of all the people on earth to become a holy nation and God's people? Why do Arminians think that God changes? That would make God inconsistent. Paul writes, "Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work," (Romans 11:5-6, New King James Version). Calvin responds to this passage by writing, "Paul clearly testifies that, when the salvation of a remnant of the people is ascribed to the election of grace, then only is it acknowledged that God of his mere good pleasure preserves whom he will, and moreover that he pays no reward, since he can owe none." It is only through proper understanding of the doctrines of salvation and predestination that we can be adequately humbled before God, acknowledging our dependence on His grace.

"Human curiosity renders the discussion of predestination, already somewhat difficult of itself, very confusing and even dangerous." We must be careful in how we approach discussions and research into this topic. We should not be too anxious to rush into discussions with no restraints. Calvin says, "just as too much honey is not good, so for the curious the investigation of glory is not turned into glory, (cf Proverbs 25:27). Neither should we totally shy away from the topic to avoid confrontation.

There is an entire section which is Calvin's argument why the doctrine of predestination should be sought in Scripture only. As I was reading it and underlining important ideas, I found myself wanting to underline the entire section. Too often I have heard arguments against the doctrine of election using human logic rather than Scripture. People tend to use our own sense of right and wrong, or what is or is not fair, when arguing against predestination. If we limit the discussion to Scripture, it becomes clear that we are dependent on God's grace and mercy and not by any action on our own part for our salvation. Calvin writes, "If this thought prevails with us, that the Word of the Lord is the sole way that can lead to us in our search for all that it is lawful to hold concerning him, and is the sole light to illumine our vision of all that we should see of him, it will readily keep and restrain us from rashness. For we shall know that the moment we exceed the bounds of the Word, our course is outside the pathway and in darkness, and that there we must readily wander, slip, and stumble." Later he writes, " seek any other knowledge of predestination than what the Word of God discloses is not less insane than if one should purpose to walk in a pathless waste." As long as we limit our searching to Scripture, we will remain on the right path.

Just as being overly curious about this doctrine is dangerous, so is being silent about it. "There are others who, wishing to cure this evil, all but require that every mention of predestination be buried; indeed, they teach us to avoid any question of it, as we would a reef." Avoiding this doctrine eliminates the ability to read much of Paul's letters and keeps us from understanding our deep reliance on God's grace. "Let us, I say, permit the Christian man to open his mind and ears to every utterance of God directed to him, provided it be with such restraint that when the Lord closes his holy lips, he also shall at once close the way to inquiry."

Some "profane men" believe that much damage can be done to faith with the doctrine of election. If we allow these men to deter us, we would then be silent when it comes to this important doctrine to our faith. If we remain silent, then their blasphemies will overrun the doctrine. We must be prepared to defend this doctrine from a basis in Scripture. Only then can we and others gain a right understanding of God's love for His people. "I desire only to have them generally admit that we should not investigate what the Lord has left hidden in secret, that we should not neglect what he has brought into the open, so that we may not be convicted of excessive curiosity on the one hand, or of excessive ingratitude on the other." Calvin paraphrases Augustine, "we can safely follow Scripture, which proceeds at the pace of a mother stooping to her child, so to speak, so as not to leave us behind in our weakness." Calvin concludes this long introduction into the discussion of the doctrine of election by stating, "Whoever, then, heaps odium upon the doctrine of predestination openly reproaches God, as if he had unadvisedly let slip something hurtful to the church."

One final little side note: A couple of weeks ago I made a book suggestion about a literal interpretation of a six-day creation. Someone asked in the lively Facebook discussion of the book whether or not Calvin believed in a literal interpretation of the six days. I personally assumed that he would have, but had not yet read anything by Calvin indicating either way. In Calvin's discussion today of people who "profane men" who attack the doctrine of predestination he writes, "And they will not refrain from guffaws when they are informed that but little more than five thousand years have passed since the creation of the universe, for they ask why God's power was idle and asleep for so long." It certainly sounds here that Calvin was in the "young earth" camp.

Okay, this really is my final little side note this morning. There is nothing that spurs more debate when it comes to Calvinism than the doctrine of predestination. I have a feeling that there will be debate following my post, which I welcome and really enjoy. As Calvin requested, I also request: let us keep the debate based upon Scripture - not human logic or emotion. I think that will be most constructive for all who are here, whether or not you agree with Calvin.

Tomorrow's reading: 3.21.5-3.21.7


  1. Loved your writing today. Please note that among your readers are women. Women are quite theologically interested in Calvin as well! Thank you for such a lovely reflection. I think the concern is appointed damnation, moreso than appointed life. Do you think Calvin intended to infer appointed damnation, or was it just a lesser developed conclusion, a secondary consequence of the doctrine of election as some say?

  2. About 40% of the Coffee With Calvin readers on Facebook are women. I am glad to know that there are more here as well.

    I really think that the Arminian is overly focused on the damnation rather than salvation. What I believe that they are failing to realize is that we all deserve damnation, but God chooses to intervene and save some. None of us would choose Him voluntarily.

    I am not sure what Calvin's thoughts were on appointed damnation, but I bet this week we will find out. My personal thought is that some are elected to salvation and others are judged according to their works. We know that our works are not enough to attain salvation, but those outside of grace will have their chance to defend themselves.


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