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Posts Tagged ‘calvinism’

On Pharisees and Evangelicals

April 5, 2011 5 comments

“”Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”
-Matthew 23:13, 15

Jesus seems to be saying that the Pharisees are doing two things:

  1. They are making very specific demands on who gets to be saved and who doesn’t, yet they themselves seem to miss the point of the faith they are trying to defend, and are thus leading themselves astray.
  2. They are trying hard to get someone to agree with their list of required beliefs, and when they do find someone who does agree with them, they turn even worse than their mentors.

The Pharisees tried to show outsiders that they were “among God’s chosen”, by showing off the rightness of their beliefs and life choices. Among those distinctive views that they emphasized in order to impress others were their rightness on issues of sexuality, on prayer/fasting and on water rituals, among other things. Their reaction against those who did not conform to their own standards was to call them “sinners” and shun them from their assembly of Pure, Chosen, True Covenant Members.

In a sense I wish these admonitions against the Pharisees applied only to those with the same theology, superficially speaking. Us Protestants have historically divided religious views in only two camps: those who hold to “salvation by works” and those who hold to “salvation by grace through faith”, i.e. the right view. Hence, Pharisees are merely seen as the example of people in the former camp, and Jesus is the person in the latter camp setting and example for those who would position themselves to be in this theological camp.

Something makes me think this is totally missing the point.

First of all, the criticism Jesus continuously gives the Pharisees has nothing to do with a specific theological system of how one is made righteous, but rather of the attitude of religious people trying to reduce the Kingdom of Heaven to a strict set of requirements and expelling and shunning everyone who don’t live up to their standards.

Second, as I already hinted at the start, the Pharisees were not really legalistic in the sense that they were trying to earn their righteousness by moral “actions” – they relied on “works of the Law” in the sense that they tried to show their Covenant membership by doing “Jewish stuff”, rather than by a faith in God and his Messiah.

What sneaks up on me is the realization that Christians who hold to a strict doctrine of Sola Gratia and Sola Fide, may sometimes be the most guilty of being “Pharisaical”. Jesus primarily warned of Hell to those pious religious people who excluded and shunned others, not to sinners.

Now, I’m sure he’d have a word or two to say in an environment that was overly “inclusive” in a way that ignores truth. But what I’m saying is merely that a lot of us conservative Christians should be afflicted by Jesus’ words to the Pharisees. Yes, Liberal theology can be very dangerous.

But the theology that Jesus confronted wasn’t liberal in any way, shape or form. They were in many ways the Evangelicals of 1st Century Judaism.

PS. I’d very much like to talk more about that last verse as well. What are the dangers of evangelism? Can the wrong kind of evangelism make a person into an EVEN WORSE child of Hell than before? Hmm…

Why I can’t get over Calvinism

March 3, 2011 16 comments

I have, over the last few years, tried to understand Calvinism as well as possible. I’ve looked for ways it could possibly give a picture of a loving God that is similar to the God I’ve found revealed in Jesus Christ. To my dismay, however, I’ve only kept failing at this task.

One defense that I’ve seen is basically that Calvinism does say that everyone who comes to Christ will be saved, that he turns away no one. That the “unregenerate” sinners can choose to repent if they “want” to. The problem is, of course, that their “Total depravity”, their “deadness” in original sin, prevents them from ever even being able to consider the thought of repenting. They apparently all “hate God”. And so, while all might have a “choice” to repent and come to Christ, only those who are irresistibly drawn by the Father to come to Jesus to be born again and regenerated by the Holy Spirit to be given a new heart, CAN ever repent. Basically, it’s as if Jesus is standing to the right, and all the sinners are tied up in strings to the left, and the Father from eternity had chosen to cut the strings of  only a few of the guys to the left, so they could ever come to Jesus.
In my eyes, this is just another way of saying we don’t have a choice in the matter. Regardless of what specific breed of Calvinist philosophy you adhere to regarding the logical order of election, all Calvinists seem to claim the following things about God:

  1. After the Fall of Man, all men are afflicted with total inability to repent as a result of original sin. Calvinists disagree on whether or not Man was free to obey God in Eden or not. Regardless, this is “Total Depravity“.
  2. God does not need to consider free will in saving human beings – He intervenes and forcibly transforms an unwilling heart into a willing heart.  (“Irresistible Grace“).
  3. Hence, God would be able to save all by doing this to all, if He wanted to.
  4. However, God chooses to only pick some people to be saved, entirely arbitrarily. (“Unconditional Election“)
  5. God does all of this for his glory. In fact, the ultimate point of Creation is to glorify God. Everything else is unimportant in comparison.

If this is incorrect in any sense, please correct me. From all my research, this seems to be a fully correct view of Calvinism, though.

I don’t really care if Calvinism affirms that we have a theoretical choice to repent if there is absolutely no actual choice. It’s not that I need to have a certain number of words attributed to God to be at ease. The point is that God sees our supposedly utterly and completely lost state, and chooses to only do something about it to some of his lost creation. Does he even truly love humanity, then? Does he love the person he didn’t elect as much as the person he does elect? The general Calvinist answer seems to be “not really”, which I guess answers my question. God arbitrarily chooses to love a few.

To get at my problem more clearly, this is the image I get from the (soft version!) Calvinist view of election:

God created creatures with a free will of some sort, which was built-in with a horrific backfire mechanism that came into effect the moment a sin was committed. Once they sinned, they were caught in God’s trap, where only those he arbitrarily chose to “love” would be saved, while he would angrily look at the ones he didn’t choose and say “Love me! Except you can’t. I can make you do what I want you do to do… BUT I WON’T! Because that wouldn’t glorify me as much. I’m still gonna tell you what you’ve ought to do, however!”

Then at the end, he judges these two groups entirely based on whether or not they were picked by him, sending those he didn’t pick into eternal, tormenting hellfire. All of this, essentially being based on the action Adam and Eve chose, ages before, with every sin subsequent to that only really being a chain reaction from that original backfiring mistake, that God knew they would make from all eternity.

Can you please, please, tell me what I’m getting wrong in this picture. Because I’ve tried and tried, but in fact, the picture is only getting clearer and more horrible. I know those sent to Hell are supposedly really punished for the sins they committed, rather than mainly for the original sin. However, I don’t see how punishment is ever due to someone who genuinely had no choice in the matter. In the end, it’s REALLY all based on whether or not they were elected by God.

So what am I to say? I cannot help but be disgusted by this. Calvinists claim that the reasons for God choosing not to save is “for his glory”. First of all, when was eternal suffering considered glorious? What messed up picture of God assumes that God considers eternal torment and punishment for sins committed by a person who had no choice in the matter to start with, displays His glory? And finally, how is that picture of God in any way, shape or form, related to the picture of God displayed in the character and life of Jesus Christ, dying on Calvary for the same people who crucified him?

Here’s a short case for Resistible Grace that has a great analogy 🙂