Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tulips and Daisies

In my Systematic Theology class today, the topic was predestination. The professor began by explaining the Calvinist perspective, using the TULIP acrostic. He then joked that while the Calvinists have their TULIPS, the Arminians have their daisies. Then he gave the punchline: "Each petal alternates, 'He loves me,' 'He loves me not,' 'He loves me,' 'He loves me not.' The class laughed.

Maybe I should lighten up a little, but I didn't find it very funny. It seems to me that it is the Calvinist, not the Arminian, who is in a situation where he or she must ask, "Does He love me? Or does He not?" Arminians believe that God loves everyone and that Christ died for all. Calvinists, on the other hand, believe that it pleased God, prior to any human action, to create some people for the purpose of experiencing eternal joy (the elect) and some people for the purpose of experiencing eternal suffering (the reprobate). Therefore, for the Calvinist it is logically possible that he or she is reprobate ('He loves me not'), but this possibility does not exist for the Arminian. The Arminian doesn't have to guess. He or she knows: God loves me.

So the joke doesn't work. What I suspect my professor intended by the joke, however, was not that the Arminian has reason to doubt God's love, but rather reason to doubt his or her salvation. Since the Arminian believes that human will has a part to play in whether or not the grace of God is received, supposedly this leaves the Arminian in a state where assurance of salvation is impossible.

However, even if my professor had delivered the punchline as "He saved me...he saved me not...," I would still find the joke unfair. The truth is that both the Calvinist and the Arminian have logical reasons for doubting their salvation. The Calvinist may doubt that he or she is actually one of the elect, and the Arminian may doubt that he or she has actually chosen to receive God's grace. The truth is that so long as one does not believe that Christ's work on the cross is both universal and irresistible, then there is always a logical reason to wonder: "He saved me? He saved me not?" Arminians believe the former but not the latter. Calvinists do not believe the former but do the latter. Consequently, both have logical reasons to doubt.

Calvinists often like to appeal to the P in their acrostic - perseverance of the saints - as grounds for an assurance of salvation which Arminians supposedly lack. The doctrine of perseverance of the saints states that anyone who is truly one of the elect will persevere in their faith until the day they die. The problem with this assertion is that the doctrine of perseverance of the saints does not claim that everyone who currently believes (or *thinks* they believe) in Christ will persevere until the end. Rather, the doctrine of perseverance says that anyone who is truly elect will persevere until the end. Therefore, this doctrine may be of some assurance to a person who is still professing faith on his or her deathbed, but for those of us who are still alive and well, physically speaking, it doesn't provide any assurance because it has nothing to say about whether we ourselves are elect; only that the elect endure to the end.

The truth is that neither Calvinism or Arminianism in themselves can provide an individual with assurance of salvation, and the former can't even provide assurance that God actually loves you. The flower joke from class upset me because it both misrepresented Arminianism and ignored the similar problems raised by Calvinism.

This leaves us with the question: is it possible for a person to have assurance of salvation? I think it is possible, both for Calvinists and Arminians. But I do not think this assurance is a purely cognitive, rational thing. I think it has to do with the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, something that we experience through communion with him - spirit to spirit. I'm not saying we have to feel saved in order to actually be saved, but I am saying that the experience of feeling assured cannot rest on purely rational grounds. But that is an issue that deserves fuller attention in another post.

1 comment:

  1. "Arise, My Soul, Arise" words by Charles Wesley

    Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
    The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
    Before the throne my surety stands,
    My name is written on His hands.

    He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
    His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
    His blood atoned for all our race,
    And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

    Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary;
    They pour effectual prayers; they strongly plead for me:
    “Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
    “Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

    The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
    He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son;
    His Spirit answers to the blood,
    And tells me I am born of God.

    My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
    He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
    With confidence I now draw nigh,
    And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.