Calvin’s doctrine of predestination (election and reprobation) is not a product of philosophical deduction. It is a result of Calvin’s exegesis of Scripture. Calvin gives two concise definitions of predestination:
We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he determined with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others. Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or death.” [Inst. 3.21.5]
As Scripture, then, clearly shows, we say that God once established by his eternal and unchangeable plan those whom he long before determined once for all to receive into salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, he would devote to destruction. We assert that, with respect to the elect, this plan was founded upon his freely given mercy, without regard to human worth; but by his just and irreprehensible but incomprehensible judgment he has barred the door of life to those whom he has given over to damnation. Now among the elect we regard the call as a testimony of election. Then we hold justification another sign of its manifestation, until they come into the glory in which the fulfillment of that election lies. But as the Lord seals his elect by call and justification, so, by shutting off the reprobate from knowledge of his name or from the sanctification of his Spirit, he, as it were, reveals by these marks what sort of judgment awaits them.[Inst. 3.21.7]
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”
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”
Salvation is Solely the Work of God
One of the hallmarks of Calvinism is monergism, that is, the biblical conviction that we are born again by God working alone (mono = one). God is the only active agent in our rebirth because the depravity of sin has rendered fallen man totally unable to believe in Christ. God’s sovereign grace actualizes salvation, beginning with effectual calling and regeneration, the process whereby the gracious sovereign action of the Holy Spirit recreates fallen human nature and enables sinners to believe in Christ. In this regard, regeneration precedes faith. In contrast, synergism (Arminianism) teaches that we are born again by divine-human cooperation, each contributing its part to accomplish regeneration (syn = together). Synergism is possible because sinners retain sufficient ability to believe in Christ. Effectively, this mean that God offers potential salvation which is actualized only when a sinner believes.
The expiatory work of Christ which is sufficient for, adapted to and freely offered to all men, being presupposed, the question of questions is, How, by what agencies and on what conditions, is it effectually applied to any individual? The Scriptures make it plain that the condition of its effectual application is an act of faith, involving real spiritual repentance and the turning from sin and the acceptance and selfappropriation of Christ and of his redemption as the only remedy. But what will prompt a sinner in love with his sin, spiritually blind and callous, thus to repent and accept Christ as the cure of the sin he loves? The first movement cannot begin with man. The sinner of himself cannot really desire deliverance from sin; of himself he cannot appreciate the attractive beauty, loveliness or saving power of Christ. The dead man cannot spontaneously originate his own quickening, nor the creature his own creating, nor the infant his own begetting. Whatever man may do after regeneration, the first quickening of the dead must originate in the first instance with God. All Christians feel this as the most intimate conviction of their souls. Yet it involves necessarily this very doctrine of eternal predestination or election. If God begins the work, if our believing follows his quickening, then it is God, not man, who makes the difference between the quickened and the unquickened. If we believe, it is because we have been first quickened. If any man does not believe, it is because he is yet dead in his natural sin. God’s eternal choice therefore cannot depend upon foreseen faith, but, on the contrary, faith must depend upon God’s eternal choice. Continue reading “Predestination and the Beginning of New Birth – Pelagianism-Arminianism-Calvinism”
The nature of the atonement [Atonement as “satisfaction” (compensation, reparation) was first used by Anselm (1033-1109) to stress that the death of Christ was a satisfaction rendered to God’s justice and honor. Subsequently, 17th century Reformed theologians taught that Christ (1) satisfies the demands of the law by his active obedience or perfect obedience to the full requirements of the law (2) satisfies the curse and condemnation of the law by his passive obedience or submission to the penalty of death on the cross].
A.A. Hodge draws out the deeper dimensions of Christ’s work of atonement by setting it in the context of the covenant God made with Adam in which God promised them blessedness contingent upon their obedience to His command: [The word “satisfaction”] accurately and adequately expresses what Christ did. As the Second Adam he satisfied all the conditions of the broken covenant of works, as left by the first Adam. (a.) He suffered the penalty of transgression. (b.) He rendered that obedience which was the condition of “life.”
5.State the true doctrine of Christ’s Satisfaction 1st.Negatively. (1.) The sufferings of Christ were not a substitute for the infliction of the penalty of the law upon sinners in person, but they are the penalty itself executed on their Substitute. (2.) It was not of the nature of a pecuniary payment, an exact quid pro quo. But it was a strict penal satisfaction, the person suffering being a substitute. (3.) It was not a mere example of a punishment. (4.) It was not a mere exhibition of love, or of heroic consecration. Continue reading “Christ’s Penal Substitutionary Atonement as God’s Act of Righteousness and Grace”
In this sermon given at the SS Gospel Centre, Petaling Jaya, on 21 March 2021, I discussed whether the baptism in the Holy Spirit is an event that (1) is simultaneous with conversion or new birth (John Stott and Richard Gaffin), or (2) is distinct and subsequent to the new birth, accompanied by the initial physical sign of speaking in tongues (Pentecostals and Charismatics), or (3 ) follows a fixed pattern that is universal and normative for all believers?
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Cor. 12:13
And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Cor. 1:21-22)
Classical Evangelicalism has always affirmed that the power of the gospel lies in the proclamation that Christ died for the ungodly and made atonement for their sins. “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins…But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 9:22; 10:12-14) The truth that underlies this proclamation is encapsulated in the phrase, “the penal substitutionary death of Christ.”
However, this glorious truth has been challenged by some modern theologians who deny that Christ’s death is a penal substitutionary sacrifice for sin. Similarly, the teaching of Christ’s atonement becomes distorted when some Charismatics claim that partaking the Lord’s Supper brings physical healing because of the blood of Christ shed on the cross.
You are invited to read the careful reading of Isaiah 53 (the locus classical of the doctrine of penal substitutionary death of Christ in the Old Testament) written by Dr. Leong Tien Fock. It will help you gain a better understanding and a grateful appreciation of the glory of Christ’s atonement. Continue reading “The Atonement in Isaiah 53”