Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Seminarian Musings

From what I've noticed, Calvinists tend to affirm three ideas:

(1) God is loving and good
(2) Some people will go to Hell
(3) God is completely sovereign over salvation

In my opinion, Calvinists need to choose which one of these three ideas to get rid of. They try to affirm all three, but they can really only affirm two of them at once. If God is truly loving and yet some people will still go to Hell, then God must not be completely sovereign over salvation (in other words, He must allow human beings some say in the matter). If God is loving and completely sovereign over salvation, then no one should end up going to Hell (Calvinists really should be universalists, in my opinion). If some people will go to Hell and God is completely sovereign over salvation, then God must not be really be loving.

In other words...

If (1) and (2), then not (3).
If (1) and (3), then not (2).
If (2) and (3), then not (1).

I'd be interested in hearing any ideas anyone has as to how to reconcile all three, because at this point I can't do it.

It seems to me that the one Calvinists are most willing to jettison first is (1) – the idea that God actually loves everyone. That disturbs me. That is the LAST one I'd be willing to stop affirming. The one I think it makes the most sense to let go of – or at least the one that we need to have a more nuanced understanding of – is (3).



  1. Those are really fair questions! And I think, as a reformed thinker, they are honest questions for us to contend with and ask ourselves.

    To keep it simple (if that's possible at all), I'd say this:

    1. God is loving and good.
    God's love and goodness is shown in the fact that he is willing to show mercy on even one of us. We are sinful and under the legal standing of the law we deserve death. (Romans 3:10-18, 23-24). God's love and goodness (and mercy) are shown in that he saves even one of us, because we don't deserve it.

    2. Some people will go to Hell
    I think every Christian would affirm this, whether they are a calvinist or not. Since scripture points to this regardless of your view on salvation I don't think it's so important to address this issue and we can take it as a core belief.

    3. God is completely sovereign over salvation.
    This is the hardest to reconcile, because it feels wrong that a loving God would choose not to save some people when he is able. But I think if we look at ourselves in the proper perspective (as sinful and undeserving of salvation) then it is not as hard to reconcile why a loving God would not save everyone, even though he loves everyone. Romans 9:14-29 addresses the issue of God choosing who he will save and who he will not. He is God and he will do what brings him the most glory.

    I would add one last point that calvinists believe:
    4. God is loving, but also holy and just.
    His love is not diminished for allowing a people that deserve hell to go there. His love is shown in his having mercy on some and his holiness and justice are shown by allowing some to get what we all deserve.

    I guess the real difficult question is a personal one: Why did God choose to save me? I know I am sinful and I know I am the last to deserve his mercy, but he gave it anyways. Praise God for showing me mercy!

    All that to say.. there are much smarter men and women who believe different than me (and are not calvinists). This is the kind of issue we have to approach with open hands. I feel like scripture points to the reformed/calvinist worldview, but at the same time there are very smart, Godly people who believe differently. The best we can do is pray for wisdom, study scripture, and not let this issue separate us as believers. I still respect people who don't think the way I do because this is not a core issue for salvation.

    1. Hey Bill,

      Thanks very much for your thoughtful reply! Definitely a lot to think about. I have a lot to say, so I apologize for being lengthy. My responses to your responses on #1 are next to (1), my responses to your responses on #2 are next (2), and so on...

      (1) The Reformed position, as far as I understand it, says that God creates and predestines conscious beings to eternal suffering. He creates beings who have no capacity to choose the good and then punishes them eternally for doing what they had no choice but to do. Some of these people may include my family members and friends - people who I care about. So this is certainly hard to stomach. The Reformed position asserts that He does this because He is motivated by a desire for glory.

      At this point in my journey of faith, I can't understand how we can say that a God who creates and predestines beings (made in His image, no less) for the purpose of delighting in punishing them forever is loving in any meaningful sense. Whenever I say this to my Reformed friends, they tell me that it's because I have a "warped view of love." I really struggle with this. While I acknowledge that my view of love is probably a little skewed, I have a hard time believing that what looks to me like "hate" is actually "love."

      When I consider the life and sacrifice of Jesus (as you mention) and passages like 1st Corinthians 13, it seems clear to me that love is defined by sincere, others-centered concern. To love someone is to desire their blessing - not in a shallow, materialistic sense, but in the truest sense. When you love someone, their pain is painful for you. To love someone is to have your interests so bound up in THEIR interests that you can't even tell the difference.

      1st John tells us that God is love. His nature is love. But if love is anything like what I've described above (and what I think Jesus' sacrifice and 1st Corinthians 13 reveal) - then how can we reconcile that with the Reformed conception of God?

      (2) No extra thoughts necessary at this point.

    2. (3) I think we might be misunderstanding Romans 9. I don't think Romans 9 is talking about individuals and salvation, but rather about about Israel and the Gentiles and election in terms of the purposes God has for both of them in the unfolding of His plan of salvation.

      I agree that we need to recognize ourselves as sinners in need (and undeserving) of God's grace, but what I'm focusing on here is the nature of God. If God is completely sovereign over whether or not human beings turn to Him, I can't understand why He would will many human beings not to repent if He did in fact love them.

      Also, I've always been confused as to why the Reformed conception of God brings Him "more glory." A God who somehow bequeaths power of choice to human beings seems far more glorious to me than one who pulls all the strings and punishes people eternally for doing what He predestined them to do.

      (4) I agree that God is not just loving, but also holy and just. However, I don't think these qualities can be teased apart. God's justice is a loving justice, and His love is a just love.

      Also, is God's justice really adequately represented by punishing beings eternally for doing what they were predestined to do? Isn't it more just to punish beings for not doing something they were actually capable of doing?

      I realize that, with that last statement, I sounded a lot like Pelagius (the heretic, haha). I want to make one thing clear: I don't think that anyone is actually capable of not sinning. We are all sinners and none of us deserve redemption. However, I do think there is a case to be made for the idea that God has bequeathed to all of us - both through the drawing influence of his Holy Spirit and through the "image of God" that He has made us in - with the capacity to realize our need and to call on Him for help. It is this, I suspect, that we have some say in.

      Anyway, that's all I've got for now. Thanks very much for your humility, too. It's good to be able to engage with someone about this stuff.