A Conversation About Calvinism and ArminianismNovember 19, 2009
Here is a discussion I had with a Roman Catholic about the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. In this discussion the Catholic, or Nick, was the Arminian and I was the Calvinist. Now when I say he was Arminian I mean in the broad sense of Arminianism as it is equated with “synergism” or “semi-Pelagianism”. In other words, the notion that God’s grace is “prevenient”, or God is standing by waiting for an indifferent sinner to respond to God appropriately for salvation.
In fact, Roman Catholics are Arminian in this sense but are on the far left of the Arminian spectrum (close to Pelagianism) because a lot of cooperation with God is required for salvation. Life long works and sacraments are required for the Catholic’s salvation. On the other hand, non-Calvinistic Protestants would be on the far right of the Arminian spectrum whereby almost nothing is required for salvation. In this case, one only needs to cooperate a little with God and conjure some mental or emotional faith in order to be saved.
But once you cross over into Calvinism (it’s just terminology, don’t freak out) nothing is required of man for his salvation (however much is required after salvation).
Here is a chart I made. Hopefully it helps shed light on an ever so dark subject matter.
Here is the respectful discussion:
Hi again Solafide,
I’d like to try to discuss the last part of this with you a little, if you’re interested.
I take it from what you’ve just written that you are Calvinist and believe fully in total depravity. I wondered how you squared this with your own experience. Is it your experience that non-Christians (and perhaps you were one once) are totally depraved- i.e. they have not one shred of goodness, truth or compassion in them? Do you believe this means God looks upon them with utter revulsion and anger? Do you, believing in total depravity, look upon them in the same way?
I also wondered what you made of Luke 8:15- “As for the seed that fell in rich soil, this is people with a noble and generous heart who have heard the word and take it to themselves and yield a harvest through their perseverance.” Does this not suggest to you that those who respond with lasting faith and so produce good works are those whose hearts were noble and generous in the first place- i.e. not totally depraved?
I’m actually always interested in this topic. Thanks for bringing it up.
There’s always an important clarification that needs to be made with total depravity. It simply states that all of a man’s mind, intentions, and actions are tainted with sin (thus can never gain favor with God, Isa 64:6, Jer 13:23, 17:9, Ecc 9:3, Rom 8:6-8), not that man is as bad as he potentially could be. Most Calvinists agree that God is actually restraining mankind from being as bad as he otherwise would be, namely, if his hostile heart towards God were allowed to run its full fledge course.
Here’s another important thing about total depravity. It states that man’s depravity (being spiritually blind, deaf, and dead, along with no righteousness by which God would smile upon) mostly effects him vertically, NOT horizontally. A unregenerate child of the devil may help a sweet grandma cross the street, join the Peace Corps, show up for work on time, etc. All this shows that he does good horizontally, yet none of it benefits him vertically. God does not see “goodness” from man’s point of view, but through the lens of His own eternal holiness.
Well after all, since I am a Calvinist, I believe when Scripture uses the word predestination in Rom 8 and Eph 1 that it is referring to God predestining his bride (Eph 5:22-27). Thus, I do not believe God sees His bride whom He has eternally foreknown intimately with utter revulsion. As for those whom are not part of His bride, as Esau was hated (Rom 9), these are given general grace (Mat 5:45). That is why Jesus can tell us to love our enemies, because even God does this. But in the end, only God’s bride gets special grace, just as a wife gets special love from her husband that no one else gets. So this is one reason why I try to love even my enemies.
My interpretation is the same as many Calvinists (about Luke 8:15). Many people can be excited for spiritual truths, can partake of many of the blessings that the church can offer (ie. relationships, witnessing God’s power, being part of a larger purpose) yet they can experience all this and still have never been right with the Lord. Judas is a good example of this. He experienced miracles and was with Jesus for a long time, yet betrayed Him. Matt 7:15-23 is also a good example of this. In verse 23 the Lord says “I never knew you”, not “I once knew you, but now I don’t.” I would also argue that in Luke 8 the root could be referring to Christ (as He is the true Vine). None of the examples are fully attached to Him but the last one, hence why it produces a crop. It never gives the example that a crop is produced and then withers.
Let me know if this clarifies, or if I can try to clarify more. Thanks
Thanks for all your answers, Cameron. It’s good to understand better where you’re coming from and find out in more detail what Calvinists actually believe.
For me, the God I experience in prayer, in reading the Bible, and through the Church is not just the all-powerful, all-knowing, predestinator, judge and source and end of all good and salvation, that seems to be (and please correct me if I’m wrong) what Calvinists concentrate solely upon. He is ALSO (and, perhaps, MORE) our loving Father and Saviour who has always looked upon us with infinite tenderness and compassion however far we have (and still) wander from him (His lost sheep or prodigal sons- Luke 15); who called (and still calls us) to come to him (Matthew 11:28) and try to follow him (Matthew 10:38) by remaining in him (John 15:7); and who teaches us how to truly love- which means learning to give ourselves freely to him and others, as he gave (and still gives) himself freely to us (John 15:12-13).
Of course there are many Scriptures we could discuss in this context. The parable of the Sower, which we were already looking at, highlights one of these differences in how we see and relate to God. I think you’re right to say that the root is Christ dwelling in us by the Holy Spirit and the fruit we produce depends entirely on him, as you say- ‘the true vine’. But I think it’s interesting to note that Jesus also refers to the quality of the soil (it’s depth, richness and purity), which he equates with the disposition of our hearts.
He seems very much to be saying that it is not only his word and presence within us that produce true faith and good works but that our hearts must be right as well- we must be (like the soil) those of a deep, rich, pure heart (“Blesed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”- Matthew 5:8) or, as he says more directly, our hearts need to be those that “take [him] in” and that are “generous and noble” (Luke 8:15). It seems he is also saying that this disposition of our hearts to receive him fully was there before the Word ever came and took root. Again, does this not suggest to you that to believe in him in the first place and then to continue in our faith and produce good works we need not only his grace but a willingness of heart to recieve and co-operate with it?
Yours in Christ,
Thanks for the discussion. On a quick side note, I don’t really like the name “Calvinist”, not for my sake, but for other’s sake. People often have not studied Calvinism, yet think they know exactly what it is and what is wrong with it because they hear it attacked and mis-represented by others. So I usually don’t like to call myself a Calvinist (even though I am one) because others attach so many false ideas to me (and it).
We could actually simply call it “non-Semi-Pelagianism”! I think this depicts it rather perfectly.
I agree that God is not just just and not just loving, but perfectly both. The reason Cavinists emphasize God’s law, sin, depravity, and judgment, however, is not that those things would be an ends in and of themselves, but rather a means to making God’s grace make the most sense! Someone does not think they need a shot (nor do they love the shot), until they are proven ill. The more ill we are the more we will love the cure. So stressing the illness is most needed. Kind of like how Romans begins with the bad news before the good.
And just to be pedantic, I would argue that the parable of the prodigal son is more about the Father in the story, not the son. The Father breaks all the customary rules to embrace a son who acted toward the Father in a way deserving of death. This would have drove the Pharisees and the religious people nuts, when Jesus was explaining this story.
God commands us to do that which we can’t do (perhaps as with Mat 10 and 11). This is because 1. His commands are good and true and (hence why everyone is commanded to never sin, yet inevitably will (James 2:10, Gal 3:10, Rom 3) 2. God enables us to come to Him, thus commands us to do what He enables us to do. This is why Augustine said “Lord command what you will, and give what you command”. Nevertheless, I’m just explaining how Calvinism still considers all these things.
In John 15:7 we are to remain in Christ ‘just as’ Christ remains in the Father. Christ can never be taken out of the Father. This perfectly harmonizes with Calvinist theology.
Even as a Calvinist I say “amen” to Mat 5 and Luke 8. However, I don’t come to conclusions on the sinful state of the human soul because of those passages. Those were not intended to didactically explain that. However, in Romans, we do see didactic passages on this matter (Rom 8:5-8).
And specifically looking at verse 7 “because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be”. This last phrase “oud gar dainomai”, is “nor indeed capable”.
So the Calvinist would simply say that we are to co-operate with God, but then clarify that we can only do so because He first reconciles us to Himself, changes our hearts, and gives us His Spirit to live in us and change us. Not so that He’ll fully accept us eventually, but only because He already does in Christ.
Thanks for your reply, Cameron.
The problem I have with your position (notice I didn’t say Calvinism) is that it makes God out to be someone playing a game with himself, in which we are merely the pieces he moves; or makes him out to be somone who is putting on a show for himself, in which we are only the puppets whose strings he pulls. And so I think you are only paying lip service to God being our loving Father and not really believing it. I cannot prove intellectually that he is not this way, but, as I said before, this is not the God I experience in prayer, in the Scriptures and in the Church.
For me, God is, in essence, love and he expresses that love in a relationship- the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is a love and a relationship which he invites us to share in, both with him and between ourselves: “Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you.” (John 17:21); “God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in him. Love will come to perfection in us…when we have become as he is.”- i.e. able to love as he does, truly and freely.
Of course, this relationship is not an equal one and God is always, and continously, the first and prime mover in it- “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) But for it to be a true relationship it must be, in some real sense, reciprocal- we must be freely responding to his love by choosing to love him in return. Isn’t this exactly how the love between parent and child is (which Jesus was always using as an image of our relationship with God)?- I love my son more selflessly than he does me and, also, it is my love for him that inspires his love for me- but he does truly love me and he does so independently and freely. To say his love was all down to me and he was merely a vessel for it would be to deny the very existence or meaning of love. As it would to say it about our love for God. But is that not what you are doing by your theology?
Again, I don’t feel I can prove this intellectually- one has to be in the loving, reciprocal relationship in the first place to believe in it. To one who has not experienced it personally it makes no sense. This is not to cast aspersions on your own relationship with God, Cameron, which of course I know nothing about. I do know however, from my own journey, that it is perfectly possible for one to be in that kind of relationship with God and yet believe in theology which is contrary to it. Just as it is possible to believe in the theology of that relationship without having it’s substance. Our theology, crucial though it is, is secondary to our love: “If I know everything, but am without love, I am nothing at all.” (1 Corinthians 13:2)
I actually don’t mind you using the term Calvinist, but just so long as you know what I mean by that, which is the important thing. Many people assume that it means I’m a bully Christian, that is, until there is clarification. However, even the clarifications are a hard pill to swallow. They were for me. I didn’t wake up and become a Calvinist. In fact, virtually every testimony I’ve heard of those who are Calvinists (R.C. Sproul, James R White, John MacArthur, my closest friends, etc) all struggled with it at first, but now they sleep like babies.
Calvinists believe our love for God IS reciprocal, but clarify that it is only because while we were once hostile to Him (Rom 8:7), condemned Him (Rom 4:5), and were spiritual dead towards Him (Eph 2), He yet ‘enabled’ us to love Him back. And just to answer De Maria’s question real quick, Calvinists do not believe God forces hostile God hating sinners to love Him, but restores them to that which they were intended for, namely, to worship Him, know Him, experience Him. So really, as a Calvinist I believe all that you are saying Nick, I just believe more (if you know what I mean).
And only the Calvinist’s theology jives the most with God being a loving Father because He is the one adopting His children, not standing by wondering who is going to make His gospel and His work successful. He chooses His bride out of His eternal love. He does not have her invent herself, as though she could (if total depravity is true).
The Calvinist should understand God’s love the most. If I know I am deserving of God’s good and righteous eternal punishment for my infinite offenses against His holiness, once was deaf, blind, and dead to Him, and possessed no righteous of my own by which He would smile upon, yet He had intimately foreknown me from all eternity, predestined me, called me, justified me, and will forever glorify me (Rom 8:29), then I would be the most humbled by His love and well on my way to experience the greatest special love there is.
You seemed to imply that this would make God putting a show on for Himself. Well I would say “what is wrong with that?” The universe was created for His glory and we are the one’s (the objects of His special grace) who will reflect that glory the most out of this 7 days of God’s creation. We are the objects of Triune love – a gift from the Father to the Son. God’s joy is that we glorify Him for experiencing and knowing His great love. Our joy is that we get to glorify Him by experiencing and knowing His great love. Really, this is the heart of Calvinism. It’s just that there is too much side discussion on “predestination”. All those fancy Calvinist doctrines, however, ultimately terminate in that statement.
You brought up John 17. This prayer actually entails this very goal! John 17:24-26. And notice, Jesus is praying specifically for those whom the Father has given Him. All terminates in God’s glory. But it’s not enough to know that all terminates in God’s glory. How in this universe does all terminate in God’s glory? The Calvinist would say because God specially choses His children and restores them to the greatest thing, eternal life: to know Christ (just back in John 17:5). Namely, we will also know and experience His love against the backdrop of His deserving wrath, so that we will know His love all the more (Rom 9). If this is God’s prerogative, then who are we to argue? This is what Calvinism teaches anyways.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
It’s good to understand more clearly what you believe and not just assume I know. Funnily enough, I would say the same thing as you have, namely- I believe all you’re saying, I just believe more (after all, we’re both reading the same Scriptures) but I would go further and say that I believe all you do, I just also believe the essential part as well. Of course, as a Catholic I believe in predestination, sin, God’s righteous judgement, our inability to save ourselves, God’s free gift of salvation, our complete dependence on his grace, the humble and grateful attitude this produces in us, and our giving him glory throughout eternity. But I think only a true understanding of God’s love and our response to it makes all of this meaningful, glorious and true.
I wholeheartedly agree that because “he so loved the world” (John 3) he predestined us, he saved us from our sins, he adopted us as his children, and we will humbly, lovingly and thankfully glorify him throughout eternity. But is it love to choose for no other reason than your own will and glory (or even pleasure, as the image of the show suggests) some to be your children and others for eternal punishment? If it is not love as we know it, infact the opposite of love, then rather than say, as you do- “It’s his perogative and who I am to argue with him” it would surely be better to think (or at least question)- “As I know God is love, is it me who has got things wrong? Is it me who is mis-understanding the Scriptures? Infact, am I (perhaps inadvertantly) saying things about God that malign him in the worst possible way- that call evil his ‘goodness’ and coldness his ‘love’? Do I really know him as I should?”
I’ll try to illustrate what I think you are suggesting God is like and what I think he is really like: If I went to an orphanage and had the means to adopt all those there but chose not to do so, knowing that they would suffer terribly if I did not- would that be love? If I chose some simply because I wanted to for my own pleasure and so they would worship me- would that not be the act of someone evil? If, on the other hand, I went to that orphanage and tried to rescue them all so that they could share in the love of my family but left some behind because they didn’t want to be adopted and I knew, if I forced them, they would hate me and my other children and try to kill us- then would not I have done the most loving thing I could have? It would have been me who reached out to them, saved them and adopted them (out of pure selfless love) but them who would have chosen whether or not to accept and reciprocate my free gift of love and salvation. Just so, I think it is with God and us, though, of course, being outside of time, he knows who will hate and reject him and who will love and accept him right from the beginning- hence predestination.
You mentioned Romans 8:29. The verses which proceed it say “We know that by turning everything to their good God co-operates with all those who love him, with all those he has called according to his purpose. They are the ones he chose specially long ago and intended to become true images of his Son, so that the Son might be the eldest of many brothers.” They speak of God and us CO-operating in love, which we can only do if we are in some way an independent operator- otherwise it would say God ‘operates’ with those who love him. Then it says that we are to become images and, even, brothers of God (the Son) which, as I said before, must mean we are able to freely choose to love as he freely chooses to love us, as I mentioned before: “Love will come to its perfection in us when we can face the day of judgement without fear; because even in this world we have become as he is” (1 John 4:17). I think God’s love and our joining him in that love is infinitely beyond what you have described: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has understood, all that God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2:9)
Again, I guess it all comes down to our definition or, more importantly, our understanding and experience of love. The love you describe, both God’s and our own towards him, does not sound like love at all but something else claiming to be love (like I said- a game, or a show, or a decision involving us as inanimate objects). Nor does it correspond with anyone’s experience of human love (such as that between a father and child) by which God gives us images of his own love and even a name to call him by- “the Father from whom every family, whether spiritual or natural, takes it’s name.” (Eph 3:14). Does not God invite us into his family in which, as in a human family, all our equal and free in love?
Yours in Christ,
I think we are each arguing for the highest view of God’s love from different emphasis. Yours is a Semi-Palagian view of God to where God is prevenient, meaning, He offers His grace, yet stands back and anticipates those who will improve upon it. If the powerful sinner wants to frustrate God’s willingness to love them and chose Hell, they may do so. This is simply because God’s love in this view is evenly spread across the board to all. It is love distributed mostly in scope.
(You mentioned God predestines and knows all things. There are Scriptural and philosophical problems, if Calvinism is rejected. One, Rom 8:29 gives the golden chain of redemption. Those who are eternally foreknown are foreknown personally by God. It is not saying God foreknows one’s actions, thus predestines based on that. But predestines them out of foreknowing them intimately. In the Greek, verse 28-29 could be read this way, “God works all things together for good to those whom love Him, namely, whom He foreknows…” A pronoun (ous) is being foreknown, not a verb (or action). And all He foreknows in this way, He glorifies, as there is no break in the chain. Also, the word ‘foreknow’ is ‘proegno’ and is only used elsewhere in Rom 11 which says “God has not rejected Israel, whom He foreknew (proego).” Did the nation choose God, or did God choose the nation?
Second, God cannot truly be omniscient if He must learn who will believe (or be baptized, use the sacraments, etc) in Him and who will be saved. He can’t learn who will be saved until He first learns who will believe (or be baptized, use the sacraments, etc). This is partly why Rom 8:29 is interpreted as God being the one foreknowing whom He wills, not Him merely looking down the corridors of time at people’s actions.)
Getting back to the main topic. From the Calvinistic angle, we would emphasize God’s efficacious grace, namely, Him fully and completely bringing to pass what He intends and sets out to do in salvation, not merely tries to do. This is a special love that is particularly distributed. You say if God doesn’t save everyone when He could, then that makes Him “mean” perhaps. (Even though God is being perfectly loving towards Himself in doing so, which is most important). But I look at it a different way. I see God being incompetent to save if He only makes salvation possible because the success of the gospel depends upon us. It may have turned out that no one was saved, but God tried. So this view would mean that Jesus’ desire to save all will be frustrated by the powerful wills of sinners, who would want that anyways.
So, I would emphasize God’s full ability and power to save as that which reveals His love the most (which assumes man’s total inability), not His scope in wanting to save all (which assumes man’s somewhat ability). You would emphasize it the other way. These are the different lenses by which we are each viewing God’s glory revealed in the extent of His love and grace. But let me ask you, which scenario is more loving and glorious? 1. Someone is floating down stream in a river and a rescue worker throws a life line. That’s all the rescuer does and can do. The person in the river has to make sure they cooperate and pull themselves out now. 2. A person is dead and bloated at the bottom of a river. The rescuer walks up to the shore and says something like “Lazarus, come forth”, or maybe just “come forth”, and the dead body is now on the shore with the rescuer having done nothing to cooperate. And the only difference between the person on the shore and the other bodies that are sill dead and bloated on the bottom of the river is a five letter world called “grace”.
Would the person in scenario 1 or 2 be more thankful, humbled, and in awe of God? Calvinists believe the person in scenario 2.
Cameron, I’ll try to answer your question about the river.
I would say, firstly that the resurrecter of the drowned man would not have acted out of love as he didn’t resurrect the others, though it was in his power to do so. Secondly, the resurrected man would not love his resurrecter, because a) the decision was arbitary b) he has not learned how to love in the process and c) he will still have the free choice to reject his resurrecter.
As for the alternative image of the man throwing a lifeline, it is nearer to how God’s love is, though it would be more accurate to say God is pulling us in and we are merely keeping hold of the lifeline. But it is still unsatisfactory, because it is an image only of salvation not of love. The image of a Father and his adopted children is the one we have to look at most because it is the one most commonly used in the NT, the name we call God by, and the one that chimes most with our inward experience of God.
I was thinking of Luke 11:11-13 in this context today:
“What father among you would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or hand him a snake instead of a fish? Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg? If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
At first sight, the fact that Jesus says we are evil seems to confirm your understanding of Romans and total depravity. I too believe, as a Catholic and from my own experience, that we are all evil, fallen creatures but Jesus here tempers it with the fact that, despite that, we still have the capacity to love, as demonstrated in our natural relationships. Also, he goes further and says look at your love and you will see what God’s love is like only infinitely greater and without favourites (which, by the way, I think is another reason why his love precludes the kind of predestination you believe in). If we are totally depraved then we would have no capacity whatsoever to love AS HE DOES and to compare God to a human father would be at best a waste of time and at worst a terrible blasphemy- so why then does Jesus always do so?
The other thing about this passage which I think is relevant, is that Jesus says that God gives the Holy Spirit not to whoever he wills but to whoever asks him (which is not what a drowned man can do)- i.e. though it his love that inspires and enables us to ask, he still wants us to to freely come to him and do something ourselves- ask, seek, and knock. This is our experience of God not just in the first seeking of him and his revelation of himself to us but in the daily and continous looking to him for everything. By this we learn to completely depend on and love him above all else – which is his end and purpose in everything.
God bless you,
Because the rescuer didn’t resurrect the others shows that he is being most loving to himself. If Christ doesn’t pull out all corpses, then this only means He is remaining fully loving to Himself. Again, this is what is most important, otherwise Christ would not be holy, and would be more like… uh, Satan.
God is under no obligation to love any sinner. Withholding grace from a sinner who deserves eternal justice is an act of love for God. It is an act of love for Himself. This does not make God less loving in anyway.
Or I could argue from your Semi-Palagian worldview the same thing you are arguing against mine. “If God is omniscient then He would know what He would need to do to convince all sinners that He exists so that they’ll believe in Him.” “If He were really loving then He would do this so that no one would go to Hell and would believe in Him.”
From the Semi-Palagian view, God is hiding when He shouldn’t be. From the Calvinist worldview, God is completely sovereign and in control.
In the Calvinist view, it makes sense for God to “hide” because it’s not His intention to save all. For the elect, God remains both loving to Himself and us (because justice is carried out in Christ who doesn’t deserve it so that some who do deserve will get grace instead), and for some He just remains loving toward Himself (because justice is carried out in them that deserve it).
When all is said and done, each of our views is predicated on the doctrine of total depravity. I believe it is Biblical, you don’t. That’s fine. We’ll have to agree to disagree.
I think you’re right, we’ll have to agree to disagree.
This has been an interesting discussion for me and I do understand better why you believe what you do. But my experience (and I believe the Church’s experience) of God’s love is that it is universal, selfless and freely given and freely recieved: “He, the lord, is merciful, tenderhearted, slow to anger, very loving, and universally kind; the Lord’s tenderness embraces all his creatures…Upright in all that he does, the Lord acts only out of love. He is close to all who call upon him, all who call upon him from the heart.” (Psalm 145:8-9,17-18). I hope and pray that your experience of his love is, or will be, like this too.
Yours in Christ,
Again, when the Semi-Palagian view makes a charge against Calvinism for being less loving, hence not being universal, they are only running themselves through with their own arguments (without knowing it). Calvinists believe in universal general love, not universal special love. The Semi-Palagian lumps these two together and says God tries to love everyone equally, but it’s dependent upon us whether we will receive it. So again, the latter view here assumes that a sinner is indifferent to God, not hostile to Him. If the sinner is only indifferent to God then he has the capacity within himself to respond to God how he ought. If God were really universally loving as you are claiming He is, then He would do what He knows would convince indifferent sinners to believe in Him in these short lives, so they wouldn’t have to spend eternity under His own wrath. But for some reason the supposed omniscient and universally loving God in your view doesn’t do this.
You hope that I will love a God who is as loving as Psalm 145. The view of God I am proposing is that loving. If God saved one sinner, He would still be that loving. If He saved no sinner, He would still be that loving. God is immutable. The degree of His loving nature is not predicated on how equally He treats us but only His eternal holiness.
Cameron, I think this issue of God’s love is the essential one, so I’ll try to let you know a little more of what I believe and try to address your points, as best I can, in doing so.
Ultimately, I believe that God wants us to love him and one another as he loves us (John 15, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 John, Matthew 5-7, etc), which we will do perfectly in heaven. If his love for us is freely given on his part then, if we are to love as he does, we must recieve it from him, return it to him and share it with others freely too. This is true love, anything else is a mere simulation of love. Take away our free-will to recieve, return and share love and we are merely robots programmed to ‘love’ ; or pets who ‘love’ because of what they get out of it; or slaves who fearfully ‘love’ their masters.
For me, this answers your question about why God does not do something to convince sinners to believe in him. Essentially, he’s not trying to get people to believe in him, in the sense of merely acknowledging his existence (as James 2:19 says- “even the demons do that”). Rather, his plan, desire and will is for people to believe in his love and accept it into them and so learn to live in it. He knew the only thing that would convince us to do this was to show us the depths of his free, selfless love by sending his Son to us (“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him…may have eternal life.”- John 3:16) and to show it supremely in his sacrifice on the Cross- “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).
The “all” here I think refers to the fact that we are all given the opportunity, before his Cross, to believe in, accept and live in the love of God made visible there, or to reject it. “God our saviour wants all men to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
I understand this leaves us with a dillema- why did God create some people who he knew would reject him and therefore be destined to hell? Well, that’s something I’ve struggled with all my Christian life. I suppose, in a sense, the Calvinist position is an attempt to give an answer to that. Though, for all the reasons I’ve given on this thread, it’s not one I can subscribe too.
Personally, I have found two things that help me with this dillema. The first is a growing understanding that we are called to love and to trust and to hope but not to know everything: “The knowledge that I have now is imperfect….Only three things remain: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13) As I’ve said before, I have experienced God’s love in prayer, in the Scriptures, in the Church, and in trying to love others and I know it to be as I’ve described it above, so I simply have to trust that God has a loving reason why he created some who would freely choose to reject him forever- if that is the case.
The reason I say ‘if that is the case’ is because the Catholic Church has never declared specifically that anyone has finally rejected God and so gone to hell and that allows for the possibility that everyone, in those secret moments of death, chooses not to do so. Now, I don’t know that this is the case, and I never will for sure, but it gives me one possible way of understanding how things might work. Though, as I said, ultimately, I believe that what is important is to know God’s love, to trust in it, and to try to live in it by his grace.
Yours in Christ,
The Calvinist position does in fact hold that we receive God’s love and freely love Him back. The major clarification however is that we are not free to do this on our own, or if left to ourselves. So by the grace of God, we are enabled to freely love Him and be slaves to righteousness instead of hate Him and be slaves to sin (Rom 6). This is not a simulation of love, but an enabling of God hating sinners to be able to freely love Him back. In this sense, God does not violate our free-will but restores our wills to that which it was intended, namely, to know Him with.
The Semi-Palagian view would be a violation of freewill however. God forces people to go against their God-hating natures and to love Him otherwise there will be eternal wrath. God’s hands are tide with these people. This goes back to the point you struggle with. Why did God create these people whom He already knew would not will to love Him?
I would argue from Scripture that Romans 9 deals with this hard to swallow issue which portrays God… shall we say a bit more wild (Rom 9:18-24). Of course, this is a highly debated chapter, but I would suggest James R. White’s exegesis. I personally find it to be very consistent with the text. He seems a bit on edge in the teaching, but if you know Dr. White, you know that’s just how he is, very “matter of fact” about things.
And lastly, I would like to say that I fully share in your confidence that many will be saved! In fact, as a Calvinist I have great hope in this because God is in the business of saving and I know He actually created this universe for that sole purpose by which He will receive the most glory. Thus He will and can do it to the utter most because He wants to. I would argue that if Calvinism is true, then more will be saved in this scenario had Calvinism not been true and fallen God hating sinners were ultimately expected to make the gospel a success.
This is why I pray and evangelize like an Arminian, but sleep like a Calvinist. *laughter*
(With reference to 1 Tim 2:4 I would interpret ‘pas’ (all) as all kinds, hence why Paul says to pray for Kings and those in authority (he names different kinds of people). ‘Pas’ has to be used in context. Further, the book of John is one of the most predestinarian books in Scripture. I would say that John 12:32 doesn’t give enough in the context to know 1. what degree people are being drawn, and 2. how inclusive ‘pas’ is. Even if it is a general drawing to all existing men, then this fits in with Calvinist theology as well for God commands all to believe, even those He knows wont. Nevertheless, verse 33 clarifies the main reason for this statement was to show what kind of death He was going to die (crucifixion), not necessarily the scope of the atonement)
Thanks for your reply, Cameron. What you say is interesting and I think you’re right that our differences are not so great, on some of these particular issues, as at first seems. That’s something I keep on finding out in the few discussions I’ve had with Protestants recently.
Infact, I found this fascinating article: http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/1993/9309fea1.asp which shows that Catholics have two different schools of thought on this matter too. One lot, the Thomists (after St Thomas Aquinas), believe in very similar things to what you’ve been stating as a Calvinist, though there are still differences. The other lot (Molinists) stress free-will more, as I’ve been doing. Anyway, it gave me some food for thought.
Certainly I don’t believe, as you seem to be suggesting I might, that God forces people to go against their natural God-hating natures and love him. As I’ve said before, God doesn’t force anyone to do anything, let alone love him. Neither do I believe that our natures are all or completely God-hating. Infact, as I said when discussing the parable of the sower, I think many of our hearts, despite our sins, are predisposed to love him and welcome him. Once again, I think the best analogy of this is that of a father and son. I love my son and I show him that love (not least in my self-sacrifice for him) but I never try to force or manipulate him to love me in return. Rather, my love for him has inspired and encouraged him to choose to love me back. But this would not have been the case if his heart had not been ready to do so, despite his sometimes natural disobedience. Further, my love for him and what he sees of my love for others is helping him to learn to love others too ,though once again, this would not be happening if his heart was not predisposed to do so. This is how, essentially, I believe things are between God and us.
You mentioned Romans 9 and ,funnily enough, I was reading it yesterday and wondering and praying about how it fitted in with the things I believe. Well, I’ve not come to any firm conclusions about it, though, I would suggest that maybe it’s not talking about the final judgement but only about the way God judges individuals and nations in this life; permits their freely-willed evil actions; and uses them to bring about his will (which may even include their eventual salvation). However, Catholics who are Thomist in thought would read it more like you do! So I think these are all things I need to continue praying about.
Once again, I would say that, opening to and living in God’s love is infinitely more important than thinking one has the correct theology of it (whether one really has or not). I mentioned St Thomas Aquinas, and I love what he famously said at the end of his life after a rapturous experience of God: “All I have written is straw.” I don’t think he was saying that all he had written was nonsense only that compared to the experience of God it was worthless. Well, I’d be more than happy to say the same about all the things (right and wrong) I’ve ever said or written about God.
Yours in Christ,
“Certainly I don’t believe, as you seem to be suggesting I might, that God forces people to go against their natural God-hating natures and love him.”
I would probably clarify that in the Semi-Palagian view that God doesn’t force people necessarily but demands even those whom He knows wont accept Him to change their disposition towards Him. In that sense, the sinner would have to go against their own will, namely, a will that God already knows wont be changed.
“As I’ve said before, God doesn’t force anyone to do anything, let alone love him.”
And as a Calvinist I would say amen to this of course. Whereas I believe that God restores hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, thus frees them to love Him.
James R. White talks about the idea of Rom 9 referring to nations. He says that is not likely because it’s the decsendents of Israel (spiritual Israel) that are being addressed in the context. Further, even if it were nations, nations are still made up of individuals. And Acts 17 says that God determines the time and places we are born.
“Further, my love for him and what he sees of my love for others is helping him to learn to love others too ,though once again, this would not be happening if his heart was not predisposed to do so. This is how, essentially, I believe things are between God and us.”
And as a Calvinist I would agree with you that this can be done horizontally, but differ on it being done vertically (apart from grace that is).
“Once again, I would say that, opening to and living in God’s love is infinitely more important than thinking one has the correct theology of it (whether one really has or not).”
I fully agree and am humbled by this. I believe all of even our most correct theology will still be next to heresy once we no longer see Christ through the dim window but fully see Him and experience Him as He really is.
Talking to you has been very refreshing Nick. Thanks for having such a spirit of kindness in it all.
You’ve really blessed me by saying these things, Cameron- thank you and Amen to what you said about experiencing Christ as he really is. I hope and pray that we both will one day, and I look forward in hope to seeing you there.
I’ve enjoyed our discussion too and you have made me think and pray about these things more deeply and I will continue to do so. I don’t really have anything more to add presently so perhaps, on your gracious note, we can leave it there. Maybe we’ll return to it sometime or speak about something else on another thread.
God bless you.
Yours in Christ,