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Friday, October 19, 2012

The Calvinist's Dilemma


Here is a Calvinist's conflict. Reformed theology teaches that God can single-handedly convert anyone to Christ. This doctrine is called "monergism", from mono (one) + erg (work), one work as opposed to two or more working together. This implies that God could, if He chose to, convert the entire human race to Christ. But God has chosen not to do this. He does not convert everyone to Christ, thus leaving them in their state of condemnation. But then this means that God does not want everyone to be saved. This appears to contradict Scripture (e.g. John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:1-5.)

Calvinism has tried to reconcile this in a number of ways. One way has been to deny that any verses in which "all" or "world" appear mean "all/every person without exception", or that "world" doesn't mean, "all persons." A.W. Pink once infamously wrote that "world" in John 3:16 meant "world of the elect." I believe Baptist theologian John Gill once wrote the same idea. Pretty much everyone I have read, including Reformed theologians, consider that exegetically wrong.

Another way around the problem is to say that God has twin wills -- one will as stated in the Bible, and one will concealed in God's secret counsel. Calvinist authors (such as John Piper) promote this solution. Pharaoh is an illustration of this distinction. God told Pharaoh through Moses to let the Israelites go, but intended to harden Pharaoh's already wicked heart, in order to make an example out of him.

The Pharaoh example is a valid illustration of the principle. However, you might also be playing with fire, because this principle can raise doubts about God's sincerity. It would be necessary to limit this idea of two wills to God's dealings with reprobates -- sinners upon whom the Lord has already determined to vent his holy wrath. Also, in the case of Pharaoh, God was issuing a command, not making a promise.

A doctrine of two contradicting wills could run riot. For example, why not say that verses about God loving His people are also modified by two wills? Meaning, that the Bible might say that God loves us, but, because God has two wills, God does not love some of us? That would be horrible. It seems to me that an unlimited principle of two opposed wills in God solves a few issues, but could create more. It would undermine faith in the promises.

A third resolution is "paradox", which often seems to me to be a theological punt. I think of a paradox as a literary device, wordplay, not a thing that really exist.

I think I prefer a solution that a French theologian named Girardeau wrote many years ago, which is that God has a basic disposition to save, but that in regard to a wicked world God also chooses how and where to act on it. God's disposition is love, but we also know God judges (often very harshly, as you know if you have ever read the Old Testament). God is a loving, saving God and a choosing God at the same time.

So, rather than saying that God has two wills -- using a problematically ambiguous use of the word "will" -- isn't it better to say that God has a basic disposition to save? Then, at the same time, affirm that the Bible also says that God's basic disposition is righteous, and as a result He does not acquit the wicked. From that premise, one could equally argue that there is a "conflict" between verses that say God saves us, vs. verses that say that God does not acquit the wicked.

God, as Savior, issues a general call to everyone without exception that they should come to Christ. God, as chooser, foreknows and predestines a lesser number to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). This is not two equivalent wills, one saying "yes" and the other saying "no." Rather, this is how God, who already knows that the human race is wicked and won't listen to Him, vindicates His mercy by calling all to salvation.

His basic disposition to save is expressed in the Gospel call to everyone; His equally-real nature as the royal God of righteousness who chooses upon whom to bestow mercy is expressed through election. This is a distinction between God's different personal attributes, and how God as a voluntary being chooses to act, rather than a philosophical construct of two wills. Also, the Arminian still cannot explain how or why a world of evil people in bondage to their own wicked lusts can respond to the Gospel call apart from the effectual drawing work of the heavenly Father. This remains the Arminian's dilemma, regardless of how the Calvinist works to resolve tensions between different parts of his own beliefs

1 comment:

Pastor Ed Pomelear said...

As usual, well stated, Jack. I'm in agreement. It is never right to impose our thinking on God's Word. We must allow God to impose His Word on us.