My friend Spencer commented on my previous post in Facebook. I quote it here because it is important to address this sort of objection to my dismissal of Calvinism.
Spencer Griffin: Isaac Watts Hymn, “How Sweet and awefull is this place, with Christ within the doors” in its entirety, as an expression of the best of evangelical Calvinism… enjoying the mystery of prayer, which is, after all, where God’s sovereignty and our participation in His Work somehow mix. “People should be converted though our prayers”……and the victorious word of the Gospel!!!! I have been praying to understand how God’s sovereignty infused Edwards and Whitfield to compel men to come to Christ…..The use of people to reach people, what a weak plan Lord! I do not understand God’s ways, its like asking why he let men fall— “there is none that seeks for God” Romans 3:11, and yet the Son of Man came… “in the fullness of time” to seek and to save the lost….through you and me??? how does that work….Good griief!!!! even St. Paul says what appear to be contradictory things on the same page!!!! A world in which contingency surrounds God leaves no room for the wonder of the Gospel any more than does a missapplied Calvinisim that does not pray. But why pray if ultimate contingency surrounds even Jesus…….we need an omnipotent Savior! And scripture says we have one!
I applaud the actions of our brothers and sisters who, inconsistent with TULIP make an effort to seek and save the lost. I have no argument with those who at first (theologically) refusing to do the master’s bidding at last go to do it. I have an argument with those who insincerely preach the love of God to those who they believe are lost by the determination of an almighty God. God to the TULIP is impassable, incapable of any movement in response to our prayers. Yet we know he does respond to prayer, and the best of us prays like they mean it.
I never suggested nor will I that God in Christ is surrounded with contingency. That is a straw man used to argue against any possibility of free will. It is a set of false alternatives: TULIP or absolute contingency. We know more today about the things of our lives that are materially out of our control, yet we are responsible for our behavior implying legitimate freedom. But that freedom is only partial. Jesus suggested we cannot change the color of our hair by willing it. So, being unable to choose in this fashion was never in our hands. TULIP denies that any expression of freedom will change the mind of God.
As I state here and elsewhere, I am not arguing with Calvin or any of his followers’ devotion, or obedience, but the theory he and his followers espoused is just a form of philosophical determinism. Sovereignty does not imply determinism. What a pitiful unqualified god that would have to make people be as he wanted them, and punish others to prove his power. That’s not what we understand as being human, or understand as the loving God.
The point of this exercise is to recognize that God’s purpose in hardening Pharaoh’s heart had everything to do with proving his power to national Israel,(and yes to Pharaoh and the Egyptians) and nothing to do with Pharaoh’s eternal destiny, which, by the way, is never mentioned in scriptures anywhere, even Roman’s 9, though it is assumed he is on his way or already is in hell.
But it wouldn’t even matter if God were surrounded with contingency. Can you imagine him wringing his hands at the infinite possibilities that are out of his control? Nonsense. The God I choose who manages the entire creation, (which, by the way is unimaginably larger than any tiny cosmology our forbears imagined) is capable of managing a few puny humans whom he gave freedom to reject him with. He also gave them freedom to accept, worship, love, and fellowship with him, even though we can’t do the simple magic of changing the color of our hair by our will alone. (Some people really look good in shocking pink or green hair.)
I think the argument about Calvinism as opposed to Arminianism is so over and done with, that some of us hold on to it like some hold to a young earth cosmology. There is better theology, better science, better philosophy available than Calvin or any of his modern cronies have imagined. I would be happy to abandon the project of proving or disproving TULIP as a shibboleth of our allegiance to the living God. But some are so convinced that preserving the debate ensures conservatism, that they fail to challenge the ugly presuppositions that hold it together.
Spencer suggested that the mystery of God using men to bring the good news to a lost and dying world is equal to the mystery of God letting men fall. Look at the assumptions that back this remark. First, God could have prevented us from the “fall.” OK, then we would not be the humans we are today. We would be smart animals, guiltless, cunning, capable. But I answer that the mystery lies in why we are convinced that God had no idea what we would do when he set us on the earth this way. The answer to that is that TULIP wants a vengeful God, a God who made Adam sin so he could punish him. That would be consistent.
The only other answer is that God knew all along that his creation would stray, and that, as Hebrews tells us, provided the savior from the foundation of the world not as a contingency, but as the preparation for salvation that would be required. Why would it be required if God set us up so we would sin? We would be blameless on that account. However, the acts in the garden were freely chosen, (even as ours are) irrespective of the lack of foresight they reveal, so Adam and Eve become morally culpable, and responsible, cannot pay for their sin, and require a savior, which God provides.
Either, the God of the Calvinist could not stop men from falling, making him less than omnipotent. Or, God, as Augustine suggests, gives people freedom as a legitimate, active cause in the world, for which each is responsible.
One of the reasons I reject Calvinism, which I mentioned above, is that the theoretical underpinnings of Calvin’s theology are medieval, scholastic, universalizing, absolute, and mistaken. We have more to work with today, better theology, better philosophy, better science.
We can get more by obeying what Jesus commanded us, than what results from a theologically sophisticated Calvinism. In fact, I argue that we could get the participation of a devoted Edwards or Whitfield without the screwy theology which renders their actions futile attempts at saving people God had already determined were going to hell.