One of the problems with the “Calvin against Calvinists” scholarship is that it is based on questionable theological premises. This includes the claim that there is conflict between the predominantly scriptural and Christocentric theology of Calvin and the theology of later Calvinists or Reformed Scholasticism whose application of Aristotelian philosophy and speculative formulation of the will of God resulted in a doctrine of God which is rationalistic and predestinarian.
However, while the orientations of the two theological approaches are different, they are not mutually exclusive. Neither are they homogeneous systems. Indeed, the intellectual currents of the Reformation era were diverse and complex. Recent scholarship exemplified by the eminent historian Heiko Oberman has brought into question the now superseded view that Reformation thought is sharply discontinuous with medieval scholasticism. A balance reading of the historical sources would give due recognition to the issues of continuity and discontinuity in development of Reformation thought. Without doubt, a new appraisal of the questionable premises of the “Calvin against Calvinists” scholarship is in order. Continue reading “Problematic Methodological Premises of “Calvin against Calvinists” Scholarship”
Recently, one scholar [William Craig] has proposed Molina’s concept of a divine foreknowledge of future contingents lying outside of or prior to the divine will as a possible point for dialogue between Arminians and Calvinists – as if the concept had never before been proposed by Arminianism, and as if the concept actually offered a middle ground between the Arminian and Calvinist theologies. For scientia media to become the basis for such rapprochement, however, the Reformed would need to concede virtually all of the issues in debate and adopt an Arminian perspective, because, in terms of the metaphysical foundations of the historical debate between Reformed and Arminian, the idea of a divine scientia media or middle knowledge is the heart and soul of the original Arminian position. Middle knowledge is not a middle ground. It was the Arminian, just as it was the Jesuit view, in the controversies over grace and predestination that took place in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Continue reading “Election and Middle Knowledge: Arminius’ Gambit and Reformed Response”
The frequent attacks on Calvinism by non-Calvinists in the Web gives the impression that Calvinism is a pernicious Christian sect. The attacks often highlight predestination as a major problem with Calvinism. The Calvinist’s doctrine of predestination is regarded as a rigid and legalistic doctrine that violates our sense of justice. It also robs the believer of his assurance of salvation.
Critics assert that the Calvinist teaching of predestination owes more to alien philosophical arguments rather than the bible itself. This is ironic as Calvinists are often accused of relying on proof-texting and contestable exegesis when they are challenged to demonstrate the coherence of the doctrine. The accusation that Calvinists rely more on philosophical arguments than the bible doesn’t quite match the observation that the majority of Christian philosophers are not Calvinists, but Arminians and Open Theists.
Calvinists are puzzled when critics charge them of relying more on philosophy than on biblical revelation. How can Calvinists be guilty of subordinating the bible to philosophy when they defend tenaciously two propositions which many philosophers instinctively regard as logically incompatible with one another – that God’s choice in predestination is unconditional but man is still held responsible for his decisions – because the bible says so. Obviously, Calvin’s conception of predestination is not defined within the limits of human rationality; in fact his doctrine is offensive to reason. Continue reading “John Calvin Against the Philosophers: Providence-Predestination vs Chance (Epicureanism) and Determinism (Stoicism)”
Calvin, not being a universalist, could be said to be committed to definite atonement, even though he does not commit himself to definite atonement. And, it could be added, there is a sound reason for this.
R. T. Kendall argues in his provocative book, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford UP, 1979), that the doctrine of salvation taught by the Puritans is cold, legalistic and introspective, in contrast to John Calvin’s warm and spiritually vibrant doctrine of salvation. In this regard, the Puritans who promoted a distorted form of Calvinism were influenced by Theodore Beza who succeeded Calvin in Geneva.
Kendall highlights two problems with Beza and his Puritan followers: First, Beza and his followers taught a novel doctrine of limited atonement, that is, the idea that Christ did not die for everyone in the world, but only for the elect. Kendall claims that this is a radical departure from Calvin who taught that Christ died for all but that he intercedes only for the elect. Second, Beza and the Puritans reduced the act of faith to an act of the will which contradicts Calvin’s view of faith as a persuasion of the mind. Kendall argues that the doctrine of limited atonement inevitably results in legalism and loss of assurance of salvation. Kendall presses his claim by arguing that assurance of salvation is possible only if it is grounded in Christ’s universal atonement. Continue reading “Calvin and Calvinists on the Extent of Christ’s Atonement”
Balaam and the Ass – Rembrant (1626)
The Ancient Near Eastern mythological texts may appear to be obscure and irrelevant to us today. In reality, these texts continue to be influential since the structures of these polytheistic myths are embedded in later forms of Arabic monotheism which emerged a few centuries after Christianity & which gained dominance over vast stretches of territories in Asia and Africa.
Since these later forms of “monotheistic” religion developed from polytheism,* they are undergirded by the same polytheistic structure which portrays humans to be helplessly subject to the control of Fate. Note that Fate in ancient polytheistic religion is note fatalism because in the ancient polytheism, Fate can be manipulated through rituals of divination, incantations and sorcery. The rituals have intrinsic efficacy, but their efficacy is enhanced under the guidance and empowerment of the gods. However, such relief from Fate is temporary and limited since ultimately, even the gods are subject to Fate. Nevertheless, in principle, misfortune or ill-fated events can be discovered through divination so that proper rituals and incantations may be implemented to nullify them.
However, when Arabic polytheism later evolved into “monotheism”, that is, when all the gods were merged into one God, divination and sorcery were rendered ineffective since their rituals became deprived of assistance from the gods who have vanished. Furthermore, in contrast to the gods of polytheism, the God of the later forms of monotheism are not involved with the daily struggles of believers because he is supremely transcendent and inaccessible to mere mortals. The consequence is that without recourse to divination and sorcery, Fate can no longer be manipulated so that ill-fated events may be nullified. The ironic outcome of these later forms of monotheism is an equivalent of “Fate is control”. This leads to a sense of fatalism. Continue reading “Christian Monotheism vs Fatalistic Monotheism”
By Dr. Leong Tien Fock
In my previous piece, where I shared the highlights of my journey through ANE studies, I mentioned that “the differences between Mesopotamian religion and OT religion are structural.” This is a profound statement with far-reaching implications. I will now elaborate on what the word “structural” means in this context and then show why it is unnecessary and inappropriate for William Lane Craig to label Genesis 1–11 as “mytho-history.”
The statement can be rephrased as, “The differences between Mesopotamian religion and OT religion are integral to their respective different structures.” It helps to see what this statement means by replacing “structures” with “paradigms.” Whether we say “structures” or “paradigms,” it means that the overall difference between OT religion (monotheism) and Mesopotamian religion (polytheism) is not in degree but in kind altogether. But as we shall see, “structures” captures the difference better than “paradigms.” Continue reading “Structural Differences Between Genesis 1–11 and Mesopotamian Mythology”
My Journey Through ANE Studies
by Leong Tien Fock
I was asked to share why the more I was exposed to the literature of the “ancient Near East” (ANE), the more I became convinced of the verbal plenary inspiration of the Old Testament (OT). This is a concise presentation of the highlights in my journey through ANE studies.
I did an MA in OT studies at Wheaton College before moving on to UCLA to do an MA and then PhD in ANE studies. One of my professors at Wheaton College, who did his PhD in ANE studies at a secular university, once said: “Those of us evangelicals [who did ANE studies in a non-evangelical institution] often moved away from our evangelical position when we were there. But when we returned to teach in an evangelical institution, we gradually returned to our evangelical position.” So I was forewarned. This must have affected how I approached ANE studies in a secular university. Continue reading “Studying the Ancient Near Eastern Texts Confirms My Belief in the Uniqueness of the Bible”
Former church turned into a bar
Recommended Read: ‘Jesus Has Left the Building’: Scotland’s Secular Slide—and Signs of Hope
The article offers some sober lessons for the church. Churches begin to decline when they they make compromises in the final and sufficient authority of the Bible in order to remain ‘relevant’ to wider culture and society. Some of us can remember how many Malaysian churches in the 1960s went into decline because they neglected the Great Commission due to the influence of liberal theology. Compromise in biblical inerrancy and biblical authority is an existential threat to the church.
1) Compromise in biblical inerrancy and final authority is the slippery slide which results in the death of a thousand cuts for the church. Continue reading “Compromise in Biblical Inerrancy and Authority of the Bible is an Existential Threat to the Church”
Reading Voltaire’s satire Candide as an impressionable young man led me to think lowly of Gottfried Leibniz as a philosopher. In this satire, Voltaire mercilessly ridiculed Leibniz’s philosophy of optimism embodied by Pangloss, the mentor of the protagonist of the tale, Candide. Pangloss’ mindless muttering of the mantra, “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds,” is plainly absurd when against the backdrop of an unrelenting series of gross injustices, cataclysmic natural disasters like the Lisbon earthquake (1755) and overwhelming personal tragedies that befall the naïve Candide and his love interest Cunegonde.
In Candide, Voltaire was reiterating an objection to theism which was first formulated as a trilemma by the ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus, which goes as follow:
1) “If God is willing to prevent evil but is unable to do so, then he is not omnipotent.”
2) “If God is able to prevent evil but unwilling to do so, then he is not perfectly good.”
3) “If God is both willing and able to prevent evil, then why is there evil in the world?” Continue reading “Leibniz On The Problem of Evil and the Best of all Possible Worlds”
The Augustinian view of election of believers outlined in the comments on Eph 1:4 in particular has come under challenge recently from scholars who defend a view they term “corporate election.” Brian J. Abasciano explains:
Most simply, corporate election refers to the choice of a group, which entails the choice of its individual members by virtue of their membership in the group. Thus, individuals are not elected as individuals directly, but secondarily as members of the elect group.… Individuals are elect as a consequence of their membership in the group.… On both the individual and the corporate level, election is contingent on faith in Christ.
This view is proposed over against the historic Augustinian/Calvinist view, which, we are told, “refers to the direct choice of individuals as autonomous entities” and leads to a “maverick Christianity” of isolated individuals rather than to a healthy, unified church.
Furthermore, we are told, the insights of the “new perspective on Paul” (NPP) have bolstered this corporate view of election as consistent with E. P. Sanders’s homogenized view of Second Temple Judaism, in which corporate Israel was elected gratuitously and individuals enjoyed this election and predestination only insofar as they maintained their status within the group through personal covenant fidelity, i.e., obedience to the law. It should be noted that not everyone agrees that the radically diverse groups in Second Temple Judaism can be homogenized quite so easily.
The argument for corporate election as it relates to Ephesians concentrates on Eph 1:4a (καθὼς ἐξελέξατο ἡμᾶς ἐν αὐτῷ, kathōs exelexato hēmas en autō, “insofar as he chose us in him”), where ἡμᾶς (hēmas) (“us”) is said to refer not to individuals but to “the church as a whole, especially as it was uttered in a collectivist cultural milieu in which the group was seen as primary and the individual as secondary, embedded in the group to which he belonged and referred to as a result of his membership in the group.” Continue reading “Paul Teaches that Election to Salvation is Individual, not Corporate. Ephesians 1:3-14”