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”
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 Canons of Dort (1618-1619), which is one of the foundational doctrinal documents of the Calvinist Reformation, resolutely rejects synergism in one of its affirmations. Continue reading “Sovereign Grace, Regeneration and Humble Calvinism”
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”