Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Calvinism as a Moderate Position

It is often said by Christians in the modern era that Calvinism is an extreme position. It is a system which takes God's sovereignty too far and denies man's responsibility to believe the gospel. I want to show that Calvinism is actually the mediate position which balances the truths that God is sovereign over His creation and that all men are responsible to believe the gospel. I will begin by discussing the systems that weigh man's responsibility heavier than they do the sovereignty of God.
To the far end of the spectrum is pelagianism. Peliagianism teaches that unregenerate man is free to choose between good and evil. All men are born into the world with a neutral will. Man is able to live a sinless life. The motto for this position is the famous statement of the British monk Pelagius "if I ought I can." God would not command us to keep the whole law if we could not do it. It denies original sin, the sovereignty of God and ultimately the Biblical gospel. This system which has universally been accepted by the Church both protestant and Roman as heretical is closer to humanism than Biblical Christianity. This is a man centered system which does not even discuss God's sovereignty as a necessity. It has lived on since then through the systems of Peter Abelard and more recently various forms of liberalism. Many doctrines came forth after this also promoting a synergistic view of salvation. They have been labeled as "semi pelagianism." Any system which denies that God is the sole worker in salvation (monergism) and sees salvation as a work between both God and man (synergism) is semi-pelagian.
The most extreme of these views is known as "open theism" or "openness of God theology." It has been popularized recently by the one time somewhat orthodox theologian Clark Pinnock. It limits the character of God to make room for total human freedom. It teaches that God does not see the future. He only sees what is in the present. He created a universe whose future is unknowable even for Himself. His decisions for the future are ultimately based on what man does. He makes his plans based on how men act and pray. This system, like Pelagianism, not only limits but denies the sovereignty of God. It is clearly outside of the bounds of orthodox Christian theology.
The most popular semi-pelagian position by far is Arminianism. Arminianism does recognize that God is sovereign in some sense and that man is a fallen creature. However, it limits God's sovereignty where it intrudes on man's will to freely choose God or the devil. Unregenerate man cannot perform good works which merit salvation before God, however he can repent and believe on his own. The system contradicts itself on this point by trying to put free will and justification by faith alone together. Sola fide (faith alone) and sola gratia (grace alone) can never be seperated without having an inconsistent system. Many Arminians such as Arminius himself and John Wesley did try to fix this contradiction by the doctrine of prevenient grace. God's grace goes out to all men and allows them to make the choice between God and the devil. They held to the fact that man cannot choose God on his own, nevertheless they believed that grace was resistible and ultimately it is man's choice in the end that saves him. This teaching originally came as a reaction of Arminius against his dealings with professors who had taught an extreme view of God's election of the reprobate. He sought to defend the responsibility of man to believe the gospel. I applaud his efforts but unfortunately he went too far in the other direction. His teachings were not heretical but unfortunately did stray from the Biblical teaching of the sovereignty of God in election. Many if not most Arminians today have strayed from classical Arminianism as taught by Arminius and Wesley by abandoning the teaching of prevenient grace. As we have seen, these doctrines err in stressing human responsibility to believe the gospel over the sovereignty of God in the salvation of men.
Now I will discuss a distortion on the other end of the spectrum which is hyper Calvinism. Hyper Calvinism is hard to define because it takes many forms. In it's simplest form I refer to it as any supralapsarian Calvinism which denies the free offer of the gospel. This extreme view teaches that since Christ died for the salvation of the elect alone, the gospel is not offered to all men. Since men do not have the ability to believe the gospel, they are not called to believe it. Men who are not elect should not be told to believe the gospel. Since we do not know who the elect are, the gospel is not to be offered to anyone. There are various degrees of hyper Calvinism, the most extreme denying the great commission, common grace, and that non five point Calvinists can be saved. This distortion of Biblical Calvinism denies human responsibility to uphold the sovereignty of God. It is the opposite error of Arminianism. Many say that it is better to uphold the sovereignty of God than the free will of man. This is true but they tend to confuse doctrines of free will and doctrines of human responsibility. They are not the same. I will touch on one other point of high Calvinism which is supralapsarianism. Not all supralapsarians are hyper Calvinists, but all hyper Calvinists are supralapsarian. Some of the greatest men of the faith have adopted this doctrine such as Abraham Kuyper and Cornelius Van Till, however I find it to be in error. Supralapsarianism states that in God's logical order of decrees His decree to elect some and pass over others was made before His decree to allow the fall. This does not mean that in time God decided one before the other, however it does mean that one logically precedes the other. There is a logical order in God's decrees. This is seen in Romans 8 when it states that "those whom He Foreknew, He predestined...those whom He predestined He also called... etc." God decreed the fall so that He could elect some and reprobate others. The problem with this view is that God was deciding to elect some when people were not yet seen as fallen. He would be unjust in doing this because only fallen people deserve to be reprobate. It also is wrong because it makes God's election primarily one of love and not of grace. Again it diminishes human responsibility to believe the gospel.
Now that we have seen the errors on both sides we can see that pure infralapsarian Calvinism as taught by Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Spurgeon alone emphasizes both human responsibility and God's sovereignty. Infralapsarianism teaches the opposite of supralapsarianism. In the logical order of decrees, God decreed to allow man to fall and out of that fallen depraved mass of mankind he decreed to elect some and pass over others. Calvinism teaches that God calls people in two different ways. There is the universal call for all men to believe the gospel. Everyone everywhere is responsible for believing the gospel whether he is elect or not. Romans 1 tells us that we are responsible from creation alone. Stephen said in his speach in Acts 7:51 that men resist the Holy Spirit. God wants His gospel preached everwhere as is obvious in the great commission of Matthew 28 and Romans 10:14-17. Jesus even weeps over Jerusalem because they had not believed. They were still outwardly called and in a sense God wanted them to believe the gospel. Ezekiel says repeatedly that God does not delight in the death of the wicked. The Bible tells us that Jesus loved the rich young ruler who rejected Him. In John 18 Jesus even tells Pontius Pilate why He came. He obviously did not believe Pontius Pilate would come to a saving faith but He preached to him anyway because he was responsible for believing the truth and in a sense Jesus wanted Him to believe it. The other call of God is His effectual call. His outward call is not enough because Paul tells us in Romans 3 that no man seeks for God. God must do a work in a man's heart to convert him. Ezekiel 36 talks of this as God takes a heart of stone and makes it into a heart of flesh. John 6:44 states that no man can come to faith unless the father draws him. Earlier in the same chapter Jesus says that all the Father gives to Him will come to Him. This calling is one that never fails. God is sovereign over His people. He has chosen some for eternal life and some He chooses to pass over. This is obvious in Romans 9, Ephesians 1, John 10, John 15, Acts 13:48 and several other passages. These two ideas may seem to contradict each other. Can God hold people responsible for not believing the gospel if they do not have the ability to believe it? Well the Bible seems to say yes. Luke 22:22 says that the betrayal of Jesus has been determined by God but Judas was still held responsible for what he would do. God also decreed that the fall would happen but that did not diminish Adam's responsibility not to sin. We may never understand exactly how these two truths of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility fit together but we must affirm that they both exist. Calvinism is the system which best reconciles these two truths.

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