Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Coherence of Calvinism

I was reading a bit about one internet apologist’s views on TULIP over the weekend, and much to my dismay, but not to my surprise, he described himself as a “one and a half point” adherent. This comes as no surprise to me, given this man’s views on other subjects. One of my previous pastors classified himself as a three-pointer. In fact, I have heard of everything from one-pointer all the way up to a four-pointer. The truth is, as my theology shifted from the Arminian/Semi-Pelagian position I once held to Calvinism, I was, for a brief moment, a four-pointer myself. Actually, what I really was, was someone that did not understand the scheme of reformed thinking just yet. Once I cleared up the confusion in my own mind, the final domino fell, and I became a Calvinist. I have a heavy degree of turbulence in my mind when someone says he is less than a five-point Calvinist. Logically speaking, you are either a Calvinist or you are not. There is nothing in between the two schools. There are those who hold to Calvinism in their soteriology and those who are something else. They may be Arminian, Semi-Pelagian, Pelagian, or whatever. Moreover, there is no such thing as a Calminian. A Calminian is something between a Calvinist and an Arminian. The purpose of this blog is to point out the logical necessity of either believing in the TULIP scheme or not. If you rightly understand any one of the points of TULIP, and you work through the others with logical consistency, you will hold to the entire scheme. What most often happens is that a person latches onto one point, but they misunderstand it or worse, redefine it, and then claim to be less than a five-point Calvinist. Such a practice at best reflects incoherence in a person’s theology and at worse, it demonstrates a lack of respect for the system and subjects it to complete revision, turning it into something that reformed scholars do not recognize as Calvinism at all.

Total Depravity

Total depravity is the assertion that sin has affected every part of man and that there is no part of man that has not been so affected by the fall. Man is “dead” in his trespasses and sin according to Scripture. Total depravity asserts there is nothing in any part of man that would commend him to God in any way. This would include man’s inability to cooperate with God in the offer of salvation. Such cooperation would serve as grounds for boasting which, according to Scripture, is excluded in a right view of salvation. This is the reformed and the Calvinistic understanding of total depravity. If your understanding of total depravity is different, it is not total depravity in the classic sense of the doctrine.

Unconditional Election

The doctrine of unconditional election contends that God chose men to salvation through faith in Christ before He created the first blade of grass. I other words, God had already decided in eternity past who would participate in the bliss of eternity future. Since man is totally depraved, being dead in his sin, God must be the one to choose the ones who will benefit from the work of redemption performed by Christ. Dead sinners will not choose Christ. Moreover, dead sinners cannot choose Christ because they are dead in sin. Not only this, but they are blind. They cannot see the glorious light of the gospel offered in Christ because they are blind. On this point, Scripture is clear. The reason election is unconditional is because dead men could never have met a single condition. We are dead. Sola Gratia!

Limited Atonement

Since men are totally depraved, being dead in this sin, God must choose those whom He will rescue. Moreover, since the work of God is always efficacious, it must accomplish that which God intends it accomplish. Otherwise, we have a frustrated deity on our hands. If God’s design in the atonement can be frustrated by the will of men, then it follows that the rest of His plan may be frustrated. Faith in a sovereign God would collapse. Jesus has atoned for the sin of man. To atone means to satisfy God’s demand for justice and to place one in His favor. Clearly men are dying and passing into eternal torment due to their sin. This can only mean that Christ did not atone for their sin. Otherwise, what basis does God have for subjecting them to eternal torment? The Arminian says Christ atoned for their sin, but they rejected it. This view should be called conditional atonement. However, atonement, by its very definition, cannot be conditional. If it is conditional, it is not atonement and Christ accomplished nothing actually. To atone is to do something with the sin of the objects for which atonement is made! It is sheer folly to argue that Christ atoned for sin and He did not atone for sin in reference to the same event: His death on Calvary. Since God’s work is always efficacious, and atonement actually means to atone, if follows that Christ actually atoned for the sin of those that God unconditionally elected from eternity past. Christ’s work was not wasted. It accomplished exactly what God intended it to accomplish. Dead men were elected by God from eternity past and Christ agreed to atone for their sins at Calvary.

Irresistible Grace

Following the work of Christ in redemption, we have the work of the application of that redemption by the Holy Spirit to the hearts of those whom God elected and for whom the Son made atonement. All men are dead in sin. God, in His mercy and by His grace, elected from among dead men those for whom Christ would die, and the Holy Spirit would bring to saving faith through irresistible grace. It is not as though God forces men to come to Christ. This is not the sense in which grace is irresistible. Suppose a woman was drowning and she realized that certain death was latching upon her. Further, suppose that someone threw her a life preserver. Do you suppose she would find that life preserver irresistible? I think we know the answer to this question. Suppose a man is in his home and he is being offered a route of escape from someone who has exclaimed to him that his house is on fire. The man refuses the offer, choosing not to believe he should take any action. But then suppose that the rescuer reveals to him the fire that is all around him. Do you suppose he would find the offer of safe passage irresistible? The Holy Spirit is the one who helps us make sense of the gospel, the person and work of Christ! When He does His work in regeneration, the grace that God offers at Calvary is most irresistible! Man, having been transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit receives the offer of Christ instantly because it is obviously the most incredibly gracious offer he has ever seen. The Holy Spirit removes the scales from the eyes and our hearts burn within us. Christ, to the regenerate, is the most irresistible offer we could ever imagine.

Perseverance of the Saints

Finally, the perseverance of the Saints is the most logical of all the points of the Calvinistic system. It was the decision of God to elect, the work of God to provide atonement, and the application of that work to the heart in regeneration to bring man to this place. Would it make any sense for that work to be negated by man after all the work God had done to make his salvation secure? God chose you in eternity past to be His own. He sent His Son to pay the debt for your sin, turning His judgment from you and placing you in His favor instead. In addition, He brought you the good news and applied the redemptive work of His Son to your heart by His Spirit. You have been justified eternally. You have a new heart. A heart of flesh. You are kept by the word of His power, not your own. Your conversion to Christ was not a simple act of your own will so that you can now by a similar act crudely walk away. What a reduction of salvation this is! What a flattening out of something so grand and glorious! There is no greater degradation of the doctrine of salvation and the precious work of redemption accomplished by Christ than the denial of the once for all price He paid and the eternal security that price provides for those who are in Christ.

TULIP must be taken en toto or not at all if one has any aspirations of holding to a rational theological grid. Each point of the Calvinistic system necessarily relies on the truthfulness of the others for their own validity. It any one of them is false, they are all false. If man is not totally depraved, then God cannot in and of Himself choose anyone. He can only invite and hope that man opts in. If grace is resistible, then it follows that the atonement may not actually atone for the one who “chooses” to resist. He will perish in a state subject to wrath, which is what the atonement is supposed to remove in the first place. If perseverance is dependent on man, then grace is resistible, the atonement really didn’t not accomplish anything, God could not have chosen men, and man cannot be viewed as dead in sin. The Calvinistic system stands or falls as a whole. Either you embrace all of it or none of it. In the end, you can say that you are inconsistent in your Calvinism. Many people are, although they refuse to admit it. You could say you are inconsistent in your Arminianism. A great number of people are. Intellectual integrity, in my opinion, would require you to embrace one or the other, or be honest about your incoherence. At a minimum, theological ethics would demand that you leave both systems intact and resist the urge to redefine them in a way that allows you to delude yourself into thinking you are something you clearly are not. In other words, if you are not a Calvinist, don’t pretend to be one. Do not redefine the T, the U, the L, the I, or the P in such a way as to pass yourself off as being something you really aren’t. Those of us who are Calvinists would really appreciate that and we would respect you even more for being honest about it.

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