Monday, November 01, 2010

Calvinism, Arminianism, and The Father's Heart

So, I'm studying Exodus ahead of delivering a somewhat ambitious two session overview to my team in a couple of weeks to get them going on some personal study of it. The more I look at it the more it seems to be a vital book for us to get hold of - with allusions and quotations all over the New Testament, and in various parts of the Old. Misread Exodus and we'll swerve off badly all over the place.

One of those key places it comes up is in Romans 9 where much ink has been spilled in the old Calvinism and Arminianism debate (whether in the Arminian Roger Forster & Paul Marsden God's Strategy in Human History or Calvinist John Piper's The Justification of God - which are both worth a look).

What I think I'm seeing in Exodus is a passionate attack by the LORD (particularly the Father) on a serpent-like Pharaoh who is determined to bruise the firstborn Son of God. The Father is fighting to have his son, and for a global cause of the spreading of his name (his love?) globally. It's narrow in focus but very broad in scope.

What this isn't is some battle of decrees over whether Pharaoh hardens his heart first or whether God hardens it. This is a sworn enemy of the LORD on a cosmic scale, and the LORD is taking him down to get his Son for himself. Exodus reads to me like Genesis 3:15 happening as the serpent & son bruise the offspring of the woman, God's firstborn who sets out to crush the head of his enemy.

But when I encounter the debate over God's sovereignty it seems to revolve around decrees by God and free will by man, neither of which seems to particularly be on the table in Exodus (or Genesis where the Jacob/Esau references in Romans 9 come from).

Then I read Mike Reeves showing me that post-Reformation there is some retaining of Calvin & Luther's warm-hearted legacy by Sibbes, Owen, Edwards etc, but much of it is swallowed up by a rising Reformed-Scholasticism which seems to hold a less-Triune view of God in which law and decree matter greatly. Not sure if the historical analysis holds, but I am sure that much of what passes for Reformed is no-where near as whole-hearted and attractive as the Reformers themselves. Calvin's Institutes show a wonderful portrait of God, and Luther's The Freedom of a Christian shows the gospel through the lense of the King making a prostitute his Queen to have as his beloved. Calvin died when Arminius was four years old so the whole thing doesn't have that much to do with Calvin anyways, but is more a response to his heir, Beza under whom Arminius studied.

And I can't help but thinking that the old Calvinism & Arminianism is a debate within the head of Reformed-Scholasticism that doesn't seem to come up too much in Calvin or Luther, who are more concerned to show the passionate love of God as he fights, in the gospel, to have his people for himself, personally and with the heart of a Father. In Exodus I see a richer picture of the Father's heart for his Son that is winning my heart afresh to the Son and his Father.