Self-Determination, Freedom, and Choice of the Will in Calvinist-Arminian Debate

Arminians (and Open Theists) argue for “libertarian freedom” in their debate against Calvinists. Clark Pinnock explains that “a free action as one in which a person is free to perform an action or refrain from performing it and is not completely determined in the matter by prior forces-nature, nurture or even God. Libertarian freedom recognizes the power of contrary choice. One acts freely in a situation if, and only if, one could have done otherwise…It is the freedom of self-determination, in which the various motives and influences informing the choice are not the sufficient cause of the choice itself. The person makes the choice in a self-determined way.” [Clark Pinnock, Most Moved Mover, A Theology of God’s Openness (Baker, 2001), p. 127]

Roger Olson contrasts the Arminian view of libertarian freedom with the Calvinist view of “compatibilist freedom”. “Most Calvinists, when pushed to explain why persons act in certain ways or choose certain things, appeal to the strongest motive as explanation and then add that motives are not self-determined but given to persons by someone or something. In this theory people are “free” when they act in accordance with their desires, when they do what they want to do, even if they could not do otherwise. This “free will” is compatible with determinism.” [Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (IVP, 2006), p. 129] However, Olson rejects compatibilist freedom because it is incompatible with responsibility, which the Calvinists affirm. Olson dismisses compatibilist freedom because “It is hardly the most common meaning of free will or the meaning of “the person on the street” who talks about being free. It is hardly the most common meaning of free will or the meaning of “the person on the street” who talks about being free.” [An Arminian Account of Free Will]

Olson is being simplistic and tendentious when he asserts that for Calvinists “motives are not self-determined but given to persons by someone or something.” Continue reading “Self-Determination, Freedom, and Choice of the Will in Calvinist-Arminian Debate”

Why Calvin Separated Providence from Predestination in the Institutes (1559)

In my earlier post, Problematic Methodological Premises of “Calvin against Calvinists” Scholarship, I noted that Calvin placed providence and predestination together in book 3 of the Institutes of 1539. Calvin’s decision arose from his preaching and pedagogical interests, as evidenced by his French Catechism (1537), but he was probably influenced by Paul’s teaching of the “ordo salutis”. Richard Muller explains: “In the 1539 Institutes, Calvin shifted the credal discussion forward and placed a revised order of repentance, justification, the testaments, and predestination (now juxtaposed with providence) after his exposition of the creed—and the best explanation for this arrangement remains his accommodation to the Pauline ordo modeled on Melanchthon.” [Richard Muller, The Unaccommodated Calvin (Oxford UP, 2000), p. 136] However, in the final edition of the Institutes (1559), Calvin separated providence from predestination by moving providence to book 1 while leaving predestination as it was in book 3. Continue reading “Why Calvin Separated Providence from Predestination in the Institutes (1559)”

Problematic Methodological Premises of “Calvin against Calvinists” Scholarship

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”

John Calvin Against the Philosophers: Providence-Predestination vs Chance (Epicureanism) and Determinism (Stoicism)

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)”

God’s Providence and the Limits of Revolutionary Activism: Calvin’s Social Theology. Part4/4

Calvinism & Spiritual Foundation of Society Earlier Posts: John Calvin’s Reformation in Context – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 1/4 John Calvin on the Necessity of Civil Government – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 2/4 John Calvin’s Response When Civil Government Turns Bad – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 3/4 As the full implications of Calvin’s social theology … Continue reading “God’s Providence and the Limits of Revolutionary Activism: Calvin’s Social Theology. Part4/4”

Calvinism & Spiritual Foundation of Society

Earlier Posts:
John Calvin’s Reformation in Context – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 1/4
John Calvin on the Necessity of Civil Government – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 2/4
John Calvin’s Response When Civil Government Turns Bad – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 3/4

As the full implications of Calvin’s social theology unfolded in later historical developments, the perception of Calvin changed: Calvin the social conservative and an enemy of social freedom became Calvin the constructive reformer. /1/ Michael Walzer goes further to characterize Calvin not as a theologian but as an ideologist. First, Calvin developed a new radical psychology which transforms traditionally passive private citizens into activists who saw themselves as divine instruments for social transformation. Walzer refers to the Calvinist puritans as the earliest form of political radicals who developed his social vision into a revolutionary ideology. /2/ Walzer elaborates, “Calvinism taught previously passive men the styles and methods of political activity and enabled them successfully to claim participation in that ongoing system of political action that is the modern state.” Continue reading “God’s Providence and the Limits of Revolutionary Activism: Calvin’s Social Theology. Part4/4”

John Calvin’s Response When Civil Government Turns Bad – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 3/4

Calvin Refusing The Lord’s Supper To The Libertines, In St. peter’s cathedral, Geneva. RELATED POSTS: John Calvin’s Reformation in Context – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 1/4 John Calvin on the Necessity of Civil Government – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 2/4 Inevitably, tension can arise between the church and the civil order, especially when kings and … Continue reading “John Calvin’s Response When Civil Government Turns Bad – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 3/4”

Calvin Refusing The Lord’s Supper To The Libertines, In St. peter’s cathedral, Geneva.

RELATED POSTS:
John Calvin’s Reformation in Context – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 1/4
John Calvin on the Necessity of Civil Government – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 2/4

Inevitably, tension can arise between the church and the civil order, especially when kings and magistrates abuse their power and the state poses obstacles to genuine holiness. How should the church respond? Should the church meekly comply, or engage in passive resistance or even actively rebel to overthrow an oppressive government? In response to such tension, Calvin’s political realism is evident.

But it is the example of all ages that some princes are careless about all those things to which they ought to have given heed, and, far from all care, lazily take their pleasure. Others, intent upon their own business, put up for sales laws, privileges, judgments, and letters of favor. Others drain the common people of their money, and afterward lavish it on insane largesse. Still others exercise sheer robbery, plundering houses, raping virgins and matrons, and slaughtering the innocent. Consequently, many cannot be persuaded that they ought to recognize these as princes and to obey their authority as far as possible. (Inst. 4.20.4)

Matters become worse when magistrates who are regarded as guardians of peace, protectors of righteousness and avengers of the innocence and who are appointed as minsters of God “to praise the good, and punish the evil regarded fail their duty to praise the good and punish the evil (1 Peter 2:14 Vg). Thus, they also do not recognize as ruler him whose dignity and authority Scripture commends to us. Indeed, this inborn feeling has always been in the minds of men to hate and curse tyrants as much as to love and venerate lawful kings.” (Inst. 4.20.4) Continue reading “John Calvin’s Response When Civil Government Turns Bad – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 3/4”

John Calvin on the Necessity of Civil Government – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 2/4

[At the heart of Calvin’s insight is his insistence that social life needs to be regulated by a social apparatus. Religious values are best maintained and transmitted through social institutions] Calvin upholds both the individual and society. He reminds Christians that they participate in the reign of Christ not as isolated individuals but as a … Continue reading “John Calvin on the Necessity of Civil Government – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 2/4”

[At the heart of Calvin’s insight is his insistence that social life needs to be regulated by a social apparatus. Religious values are best maintained and transmitted through social institutions]

Calvin upholds both the individual and society. He reminds Christians that they participate in the reign of Christ not as isolated individuals but as a new community in which the members mutually nourish one another’s faith with the variety of gifts they have received:

It is as if one said that the saints are gathered into the society of Christ on the principle that whatever benefits God confers upon them, they should in turn share with one another…it is truly convinced that God is the common Father of all and Christ the common Head, and being united in brotherly love, they cannot but share their benefits with one another. (Inst. 4.1.3).

It may be noted that Calvin’s concern remains within the framework of the orders that God has ordained for the human community. Thus, in contrast to much of contemporary Protestant individualism, Calvin constantly reminds his readers that reconciliation with God is inconceivable apart from the closest bonds of fellowship with the other members of Christ’s body: “For if we are split into different bodies, we also break away from Him. To glory in His name in the midst of disagreements and parties is to tear Him in pieces…For He reigns in our midst only when He is the means of binding us together in an inviolable union” (Commentary I Corinthians 1:13). Continue reading “John Calvin on the Necessity of Civil Government – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 2/4”

Was John Calvin a Brutal Persecutor Against Freedom? The Pighius and Servetus Controversies

John Calvin can come across as a severe person because of his austere lifestyle and his zeal in defending doctrine and promoting discipline and godliness in church. Calvin literally worked himself to death. Calvin with his serious demeanor could never match the charms of Luther with his wit and gaiety. However, it is slanderous when … Continue reading “Was John Calvin a Brutal Persecutor Against Freedom? The Pighius and Servetus Controversies”

John Calvin can come across as a severe person because of his austere lifestyle and his zeal in defending doctrine and promoting discipline and godliness in church. Calvin literally worked himself to death. Calvin with his serious demeanor could never match the charms of Luther with his wit and gaiety. However, it is slanderous when his adversaries portrayed him as the cold, calculating and brutal tyrant of Geneva. It is hoped that the following cameos taken from Calvin’s life would dispel the mischievous charges of his adversaries.

1) In reality Calvin was a meek and shy person who only wanted to live as a quiet and obscure scholar. He reluctantly joined the Reformation only after he was ‘blackmailed’ by William Farel who threatened him with a curse. When Farel found out that Calvin was planning to go to Strasbourg to study in privacy in some obscure place, Continue reading “Was John Calvin a Brutal Persecutor Against Freedom? The Pighius and Servetus Controversies”

John Calvin’s Reformation in Context – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 1/4

John Calvin Speaking at the Council of Geneva 1549 A Maligned Social Reformer John Calvin’s theology was forged in the cauldron of social conflict. Although Calvin as an exile in Geneva would have cherished his new found freedom from the tyranny of the king of France and from deadly attacks launched by militant Catholics, no … Continue reading “John Calvin’s Reformation in Context – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 1/4”

John Calvin Speaking at the Council of Geneva 1549

A Maligned Social Reformer
John Calvin’s theology was forged in the cauldron of social conflict. Although Calvin as an exile in Geneva would have cherished his new found freedom from the tyranny of the king of France and from deadly attacks launched by militant Catholics, no one can downplay the trauma of his social dislocation after fleeing from France. For Calvin, theological reflection in exile became a desperate intellectual mechanism to secure a sense of harmony and well-being for one who was now a stranger in a strange land. Calvin’s plight was exacerbated by the fact that Geneva, his new ‘home,’ was a city of contentious factions competing for power as the city groped for ways to maintain order and security after breaking away from the Duke of Savoy in 1535. One may say that for both Calvin as an alienated exile and for the Genevans, finding the right balance between their precious freedom and preserving their precarious social order assumed an existential intensity.

Calvin had to contend with Genevan citizens who jealously guarded their newfound freedom (the Libertines) and resolutely rejected any semblance of social regulation which they regarded as a regress to the old oppressive order. He forcefully opposed the Anabaptists to prevent irresponsible libertarianism which would result in lawlessness and endless disputes. Finally, Calvin had running battles with the civil authorities of Geneva – the elected Council and its liaison committee working with the pastors (the Consistory) – to limit the jurisdiction of civil authorities in the ordering of church life. Continue reading “John Calvin’s Reformation in Context – Calvin’s Social Theology. Part 1/4”