Thursday, December 16, 2010

Calvinism vs. Arminianism: A debate in another country?

Two blogging church leaders in my family of churches have been pondering the question of God's sovereignty. I confess it was a debate that used to interest me, but I find myself cold to it today. Adrian Warnock lays out a spectrum of beliefs for Calvinists and Arminians and Phil Whittall has responded from another angle. This seems to be how the debate normally happens and what it's focuseed upon.

My problem is that it has begun to feel like a debate in another country, in which I used to live very happily.

What's happened? Years of relentlessly attractive Trinitarianism from Mike Reeves & others that have shaped my basic consideration of who God is.

Now I start by considering God as Father, Son and Spirit and the language is all of love and superabundant overflowing of that love. Previously I thought of God in terms of omni's and attributes and Trinity as important, necessary and impractical. I stand corrected substantially, and humbled and loved more than I'd imagined previously. I don't mean to say that those who love these debates lack such things - this is just my story.

I feel like I've been re-wired, or perhaps like the experience of moving from using dried herbs in your food to freshly cut - in some ways its just the same, but in others the effect is beyond compare.
On Saturday night a student who isn't a Christian asked me
"Is God omnipotent?"
To which the answer is: "kinda yeah but it's the wrong kind of question. Instead let me tell you about how he reveals himself to us, through his Son who was sent into this world in love to a people created in love, and who gave himself in love for us who have not loved..."

My old view of God was concerned with his divine decrees and the amount of sin in me and the amount of atonement in the cross. Now I find myself cut deeper by my spiritual adultery, blown away by the boundless love of God shown at the cross.

Am I less Calvinist? I've read more Calvin and more Sibbes to get to where I am today, but maybe I've stepped aside from the framework of some of the Systematics I'd run with previously. If Calvin was about articulating afresh God's concern for his glory (See "Piper" or gospel?) and the fundamental conviction that Jesus Saves then I'm not sure I care to ask about how much free will I have, by what mechanism I might have been chosen, and whether I can get away with not passionately pursuing my Father and still be saved and many other questions...

Maybe that's just a different kind of Calvinism, maybe I've lost the plot a bit, or maybe God is more good and more attractive and more loving that I'd seen before. Yet I don't feel like I've moved on to something clever, but gone back to something utterly basic, to the gospel and seen it filled out by the Triune God.


Mike Reeves: Enjoying the Trinity - A Delightfully Different God from TheologyNetwork.org

34 comments:

  1. Such debates are less interesting to me too, having been fed along similar Trinitarian lines. However, I wonder if that's partly due to being settled in opinion for a good deal of time.

    If God is this Trinitarian, loving creator, and we have stepped out of fellowship through sin, only his action can restore us. Arminianism agrees, Calvinism agrees; but only the Calvinist position is consistent all the way down.

    What does this mean? I'm free not to harp on about predestination all the time, desperate to convince others. However, if I were in a church where the saving action of my God were constantly belittled by misleading statements as they sometimes are (eg. If predestination is true, it would make God like a rapist); you'd see my fervour come back quickly.

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  2. Paul alludes to something very important in the Calvinist framework which is important in pastoral ministry. The issue is this - when bad things happen, where is God? Does He know about my situation fully and does He have a good purpose for it? The Calvinist answer to both these questions is yes which then encourages those undergoing great trial to keep trusting and obeying our gracious God. I'm reminded of something Sarah Edwards said upon the death of her husband "a holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud". This kind of Job-like perspective in the face of great suffering is properly fostered and nurtured within a Calvinist worldview.

    Kip' Chelashaw

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  3. From what I've seen in Calvin, his concern was to encourage a fear of God as Lord and a love for him as Father. There's a kind of systematics that's helps and encourages that and a kind that just leaves us cold and fed up of the debate. The traditional five points of Calvinism are things that Calvin believed and taught but not in the way that people like to debate them.
    I think we can just say "yes" to the question about God's omnipotence - I don't thi there's anything wrong with the question. We just need to make sure that the way we answer doesn't result in a label applied, a box ticked but in a heart that understands what that means and fears this loving trinitarian God.

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  4. Hi Bish

    Can the questions addressed in the CvA debate really be simply avoided?

    As Kip rightly points out, pastorally they matter.

    And I'd also argue that they are eventually necessary exegetically. What does it mean in Romans 8 that God will work all things together for my good, for example? All things, really? Can he promise that? Etc.

    They might not be your questions any longer, or your favourite ones, or even the bible's most important ones, but I have a feeling they can't be sufficiently avoided forever without that very avoidance starting to become unhelpful.

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  5. But isn't the question whether this particular spectrum exhausts the Christian response to sovereignty and salvation? And surely the answer is no. Where does Athanasius fit? Where does Luther fit? Can't they also answer 'sovereignty' questions satisfactorily? And for that matter, can't a Muslim answer positively to Kip's questions? It's not about whether 'sovereignty' matters it's about whether the tools provided by this particular spectrum are necessary / sufficient / warranted.

    On the 'pastoral' issue - How often I've heard fellow-Calvinist's say that only God's sovereignty can get them through suffering? Clinging to the 'Son' and clinging to 'sovereignty' aren't always the same thing. I'd suggest that centring on the Son gives a markedly different and much more fruitful pastoral focus.

    Glen

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  6. Glen,

    can you please spell out what you mean a bit more. Are you saying the Church Fathers and Reformation giants would answer the Sovereignty contrary to what passages like Romans 8 say or what?

    re the similarity with Muslims, that doesn't stop the Biblical answer being true. The same could be said to questions of God's existence, His eternality, judgement for the wicked, etc. Because the Muslim might have the same answers doesn't stop us from declaring them. In any case when we start sharing why and how we arrive at these convictions, major diversions will become apparent

    KC

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  7. Obviously, being a jolly Barthian fellow, I'd agree that Calvinism/Arminianism doesn't exhaust what has to be said on the topic of God's sovereignty, and that a more Trinitarian (I would probably prefer to say a more Christocentric) statement of the issues will help.

    However, I still want to align myself firmly with the Calvinists, and even with the Synod of Dordt, and firmly against the Arminians. Although I may not like the way classical Calvinism states things, I see and appreciate the real issues they were trying to safeguard and the gospel they were trying to proclaim. With the Arminians there, and given their cultural and philosophical background, I don't see how they could have avoid saying what was said at Dordt, and I applaud them for saying it. Behind Arminianism, I can only see Pelagianism, and in fact I suspect Arminianism of being the triumph of Pelagianism - triumph through moderation, through claiming the middle ground...

    So I guess I just want us to avoid taking up a patronising tone of superiority when it comes to our Calvinist forebears. (Not that I'm saying you were, Dave). They were contending for the gospel, and the fact that we may not be able to cross the ts and dot the is just as they did shouldn't keep us from warmly appreciating their efforts, and learning from them in terms of the general gospel direction in which they were pointing...

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  8. I'd echo what Daniel has said about opposing Arminianism too. That's crucial, but there's more than one way to skin a cat.

    Hi Kip, you asked:

    "Are you saying the Church Fathers and Reformation giants would answer the Sovereignty contrary to what passages like Romans 8 say or what?"

    I'll ask a clarifying question: Are you assuming that Romans 8 = Calvinism and that any departure from *Calvinism* automatically violates Romans 8? Is this the fruit of another assumption: that outside Calvinism there is only Arminianism? I can't make sense of why you would ask your question unless something like those kinds of assumption are going on. Am I wrong about those assumptions?

    Glen

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  9. Hi Daniel,

    Excellent points you make there. Apart from the bit about being a Barthian (though I like to think I'm a jolly fellow regardless).

    Hi Glen,

    I wasn't trying to make a point about exhaustiveness. I wasn't even trying to make a point about the tone, tenor, balance, emphasis etc. of scripture on these sort of issues.

    It's more about whether the questions can be avoided altogether. Can we forever tell the person who asks whether or not God ordained their suffering that he is asking the wrong question or will pastoral and biblical faithfulness eventually demand that we give him an answer?

    I agree we cling to the Son not to 'sovereignty' per se. but that's not the same as dichotomising the two (which I note you don't do in your comment). And at the end of the day, as we look to the Son for comfort it does matter whether or not we are to believe that his Father will work all things for our good (our being in his likeness) or whether that's an intention he has for us that can be thwarted.

    As an illustration of a similar point, we could just as equally criticise people for saying they find comfort in penal substitutionary atonement when they really should find that comfort in Christ, but it doesn't at the end of the day mean the whole question of where we stand on PSA is irrelevant or a red herring.

    [And, I can't speak re. Athanasius, but Luther was certainly a Calvinist ;)]

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  10. I wrote this when there were only 3 comments and now Dan and Pete have commented saying similar things to what I want to say I probably ought to sit on it, but now I’ve written it! I also wanted to focus on questions…

    I like the image of a different country. My ‘journey’ has been a little different to yours but, that is certainly how I feel about Calvinist/Arminian debates now.

    However, I like Paul’s comments as well. I’m in a different country now because I’m not getting challenged on those questions at the moment. If one country is a country where the culture means that the challenge to the Christian faith is on free will then perhaps I’ll start talking and thinking more about the slavery of sin and the freedom that can be found in Christ than I do now. If I’m in a country where the culture is asking questions about truth I’ll start talking about the deceitfulness of sin and the truth found in Jesus Christ. Etc.

    The danger is when we start thinking that one country is the only country we should live in. 16th century questions are different to 21st century questions, or more specifically Bob’s questions are different to Bill’s questions, or more personally the 21 year old Dave’s questions are different to the 28 year old Dave’s questions. There is a whole world of questions, and Christian theology is rich enough to respond to any of them. So we should seek to keep travelling to places with new questions, and encourage others to keep travelling to new places too.

    Yes there are questions which are bad questions because they contain false premises, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with the question “Is God omnipotent?” It is a problem if that is the only question that is being asked because that suggests you’re staying in one country and not exploring the whole world. But when you’re in Spain it would be a shame to insist on only visiting English themed pubs and enjoying fried breakfasts and similarly it would be a shame not to fully deal with a genuine question (am I pushing this metaphor too far yet?!!).

    Calvinist systematics can be dry and disconnected from our affections and our daily existence. But as Kip suggests it grew up to bring the Gospel to bear on particular weighty questions of real life so I have a huge amount of respect for it. And even in the heat of controversy there are moments to move your heart (see Rosemary Grier’s recent link to Carl Trueman mentioning the first question of the Heidelberg Cat). I even heard someone describe Luther’s brutal Bondage of the Will as a devotional book the other day!

    From my exposure to some “Trinity first” theology (for want of a better term) it can also have its own issues. I feel that (like bad examples of Trad Calvinism) the most significant problem is more with the method and application than with the content. For example it can become disconnected from the life of people, and evading questions that don’t fit your narrative is a good example of this. Rather than dealing with people where they are in their sin it deals with a disconnected God (Doctrine of Trinity before the creation!) who only secondarily is then applied to our lives. In contrast in the Gospel it is precisely in our questions and our sin we find the Triune God revealed in our suffering Messiah.

    On another point, you correctly point out that ‘glory’ needs defining, and I presume that you think ‘power’ also does given your answer to the student’s question. But so does ‘love’, so does ‘Father’ and so does everything else. Even “Trinitarian” theology may not be talking about the Triune God. The only place to find the Triune God is in the manger (as Luther would say), by engaging the Gospel narrative of God’s saving act in Jesus Christ, the king who identified with sinners and their “wrong” questions (“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) but was given an answer by the Father raising him from the dead by the power of his Spirit.

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  12. For what it's worth you could have answered the students question a bit like Hebrews 2:
    1. That is a good question – because it doesn’t look like God is omnipotent does it? We can’t kick the habit of sin, people kill each other, we get cancer, and earthquakes kill millions.
    2. But we know that he is omnipotent because the Father brought the Son back from the same death and suffering we experience deservedly, but which he chose to share, by the power of his Spirit.

    Of course at the time I’d have probably said to your student “Of course he is… So what are you doing for a degree?” and only later thought of what I should have said!

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  13. Glen,

    Yes in terms of God's Sovereignty over History, it broadly comes down to C v A and to the extent that the Calvinist framework affirms God's complete involvement in all the details of my life for good then it matches with the Romans 8 and other Biblical data.

    K

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  14. Hi Pete,

    I agree that the questions with which Adrian's spectrum concerns itself are vital. And - rightly - we're never very far from discussing them. But I just don't recognize that these camps are the only games in town in terms of answering them. And that to line up along *this* spectrum will set our answers in certain contexts that may end up being unfaithful to Scripture.

    I think the question of Luther shows that. To fit him into the spectrum in anything other than the most broad and sweeping way (i.e. he's an Augustinian) would be to do damage to the spectrum and/or to Luther. He approaches those same questions (which need answering) but does so from a different angle. To reduce him to a 'Calvinist' (no matter how many "moderate"/"hard"/"angry German" modifiers we add) stops him being able to offer us a fresh perspective on these things.

    The PSA example is good. I absolutely uphold PSA but it's not because I'm answering the question "Is PSA the central model of atonement or is it cosmic child abuse?" That's often the spectrum I'm presented with, but I want to be able to say a hearty yes to PSA without then buying into atonement being foundationally penal.

    And so I sit here in my PSA camp and can agree with my brothers and sisters about Isaiah 53 (which is my Romans 8 equivalent in this illustration).

    But, to stretch the illustration, imagine that I thought my position was so significantly different that it didn't just constitute a "nuance" to that side of the spectrum (e.g. "Moderate PSA" or something). (I'm not saying this is the case but...) imagine that I came to my conclusions about PSA from a different kind of doctrine of atonement - one that just cannot be reduced to the debates being held along the spectrum. Imagine that I saw my model of the atonement affirming much of what I saw the anti-PSA camps saying. Imagine that the pro-PSA camps were denying that stuff in their zeal to hammer Chalke. Imagine that the pro-PSA brothers were thereby distorting what I saw to be true perspectives on atonement in order to affirm PSA (which I also affirm). That's not beyond the realms of imagining is it?

    That's the sort of trouble I have with these spectrums. It's not even that I couldn't tick a box that's offered (and it would be firmly on the Calvinist end of things). It's that the spectrum itself might distort the way we ask and answer such vital questions.

    Glen

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  15. Dang - my comment was eaten.

    What was I saying? Oh yeah, I think Pete's PSA illustration is a microcosm of this spectrum. I can heartily affirm PSA but I can also imagine a spectrum being offered to me in which I must *either* believe that PSA was *the* central model of the atonement *or* believe that PSA was cosmic child abuse. And in that case, alright, I'm with the PSA boys. But I could also imagine (this is all an imagined state of affairs you understand), I could *imagine* that people on the Chalke side of things were saying great and Scriptural things that weren't always heard by the pro-PSA side. And I could imagine thinking to myself "I'm not sure either side have got to grips with the absolute centre of atonement. And maybe just maybe framing questions along *this* spectrum skews things." All a hypothetical situation you understand!

    So anyway - my objection to the spectrum is not that I couldn't find a spot to put myself (I'm sure I could and it would be decidedly on the Calvinist side of things). My objection is that anyone would think that the spectrum provides the only 'dimension' along which you can biblically answer these questions.

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  16. Oh - it wasn't eaten after all! Sorry :o

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  17. Well, I'm pretty confused! Would anyone like to get specific about how "Calvinism" at its best might distort things / what good stuff it might require you to deny?

    Sure we wouldn't want a Calvinism that somehow sidelines Christ but I'm not sure how having the Trinity more front and centre would qualify my Calvinism or put it in a different perspective?

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  18. Dave,

    I'm confused. In your post you talk about God being good, loving and beautiful (attractive is the word you used). So why the downer on God's attributes when we cannot speak of God without thinking in terms of attributes? Are there eternal decrees or does God adjust his plans on the hoof in history? Is his foreknowledge exhaustive or limited as the open theists say it is? In Isaiah omniscience is a proof of deity so how could it be unimportant? Why contrast attributes and decrees with the Trinity when the attribute of goodness is applied in Scripture to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the eternal decrees are set within the context of the pactum salutis?

    As for me and my household, we are resting our souls on Romans 8:28 and the kind and gracious purposes of the Triune God.

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  19. Speaking of countries, I can't remember ever having heard my African brothers, (in Africa that is - not the ones over here) frame the question of God's sovereignty in Calv/Arm terms, which is one of the reasons I like this post so much. In C. S. Lewis' words, we must beware the bumpkin mentality.

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  20. I agree with Glen's comments on Luther earlier, and to my mind this brought up one of a number of weaknesses of the spectrum as presented.

    When looking at the function and differentiation of some of the divisions on each of the extremes I did wonder, perhaps rather uncharitably, if it represented an unconscious attempt on the part of the author to present his view roughly in the middle. Of course, as his blog is now a broadcast only medium it's impossible to interact with his views there.

    The language used to differentiate the various subdivisions didn't always fit the language that people with those titles have chosen to self define themselves.

    Lastly, there are large numbers of people who don't fit into the spectrum (or any hypothetical extension of it at either end) and still remain orthodox Christians butfind the texts referenced pose questions and answers that are orthogonal to the direction of the spectrum. This is what Glen alludes to with his comments on Luther and others, for more on the topic see these posts on the three heirarchies blog:

    http://threehierarchies.blogspot.com/2006/10/florilegium-on-luthers-theodicy.html

    http://threehierarchies.blogspot.com/2006/04/theodicy-of-bondage-of-will-in-novel.html

    Of course, it could be a case of Luther against the Lutherans, but the first post at least shows that Luther had serious reserverations about the way Perseverance of the Saints was articulated by Calvinists.

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  21. Hi Glen, thanks for the replies.

    Yeah, I think I get you. I'm just not sure what I'm saying is really in conflict with that.

    My comments really are about whether we can resign the central questions in the CvA debate to the 'mostly irrelevant' bin - ie. Bish's original stuff in the post. I want to say, yeah you're not in that country anymore but can you really avoid the issues?

    When C'ism is so narrowly defined (as in TULIP, or as in contrast to A'ism) then we really aren't dealing with westminsterian orthodoxy or reformed orthodoxy or whatever, we're dealing with a bunch of very narrow answers to a bunch of very (in one sense) narrow questions. I sometimes hear the 'I want to frame it all differently' guys as simply trying to avoid those questions - to which I'm wanting to say 'well, can you?'

    [And when we narrow things down so much like that then I think it is possible to make fairly meaningful statements about where people who wouldn't take the label 'Calvinist' because of the broader picture of their whole theology do fit with respect to the CvA set of issues/ spectrum. Though I was kidding about Luther, you labelling him as Augustinian does still ultimately place him on the same basic map as that of the C'ists when it comes to certain specific answers to some certain specific questions.

    So, in short, I don't care that someone might say 'well I don't really want to say I'm a C or an A - they're not the only game in town' whereas I do care whether or not we avoid the questions of the CvA debate and pretend that because we've got a different paradigm now the questions fade away into oblivion. I don't buy that. [I note, again, that this isn't what you're arguing for anyway]

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  22. Dave K, you wrote;

    'Yes there are questions which are bad questions because they contain false premises, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with the question “Is God omnipotent?” It is a problem if that is the only question that is being asked because that suggests you’re staying in one country and not exploring the whole world. But when you’re in Spain it would be a shame to insist on only visiting English themed pubs and enjoying fried breakfasts and similarly it would be a shame not to fully deal with a genuine question (am I pushing this metaphor too far yet?!!).'

    Yeah I like that.

    'Calvinist systematics can be dry and disconnected from our affections and our daily existence.'

    Can be. But no more so than any other I'd say. And historically this hasn't really been the case, in fact the opposite has been true imo. As you point out, there's no reason the 'Trinity [i.e. a particular formulation of the Trinity] first' theology couldn't go this way too.

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  23. Arminianism says that we are able to choose God. The Bible shoots that theory to hell, as Jesus clearly tells Niccodemus, and his own disciples.

    And Calvinism believes that God didn't die for everyone. The Bible sends that doctrine to the nether regions, as well. "For God so loved the WORLD." "God does not wish that any should perish."

    As a confessional Lutheran, I am certainly glad that those aren't our only two choices.

    Thanks.

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  24. Marc - in terms of best of's there may be no conflict. I guess I'm suggesting that what I read of the debate leaves me somewhat cold - like Adrian's spectrum of beliefs on the issue.

    Martin - I guess there seems to be a difference between saying God is Omni-whatever and describing his beauty. As much as anything else I'm feeling a corrective towards what you might have already called Reformed but to which I'd perhaps previously not got to, and particularly appreciating being shown the wonder of who God is in his love at the moment.

    Pete - agreed that can be isn't need be, so as I say perhaps I'm less Calvinist, but perhaps I'm actually becoming more Calvinist - just sharpening up what that means for me.

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  25. Adam brings up an interesting angle. I wonder if whether the fact that we don't (in the UK) have a particularly visible confessional Lutheran church, plus the fact that in the absence of a confessional Reformed church being 'Reformed' becomes an a la carte option makes it more likely that we reduce things solely to systems like TULIP.

    In churches holding to the three forms of unity, the Canons of Dort are held alongside a catechism that starts with the question "What is your only comfort in life or death?".

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  26. Might it be a question of language that you feel you are reacting against Dave? As a 7-pointer I know only too well the temptation of describing my system in such a way as it makes God seem terribly dull and, well, theological.

    Perhaps the way round that is not to query the system (other than we should always query our systems), but to find ways to articulate our system that are attractively, beautifully biblical. "total depravity" is a phrase that communicates true and valuable things, but unless you wholeheartedly get what is meant by it, it scarcely comes over as beautiful truth to marvel at.

    To change the subject slightly (off-thread, I know), I often think that Bible training happens in systematic categories with systematic language, rather than in biblical categories. For example, the biggest hindrance to good exegesis is sin but I never hear preaching training that teaches about the preacher and repentance. I have taught in the past about observing and interpreting the text, when the biblical category would seem to be meditating on the word and hiding it in the heart. The latter is much more attractive and stimulating than the former.

    So my appeal is for Calvinist (and Arminian) friends to articulate our doctrine in ways that invite marvel. God wants to be marvelled at. He wants hearts that are thrilled with beautiful truth and thrilled at communicating it beautifully rather than merely ones that comprehend.

    Piper said something to the effect that if we aren't constantly trying to find words that are adequately beautiful to the object of our affections,it is probably sin. Why shouldn't that carry over to the way we express our doctrinal commitments?

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  27. Ditto to Marcus

    For theological beauty, rigour, and pastoral warmth the Heidelberg Catechism is the go to place. And the first Q & A is richly Trinitarian.

    Ditto to Chris E too. If someone talks in mnemonics but has never breathed the air of the Three Forms of Unity then they have a bit more learning to do.

    I also find it fascinating that Zacharias Ursinus, one of the authors of the HC, "Out of the church no attribute can be rightly and fully known. Even his mercy is not properly known by those who are out of the church, because the Son is not known, or the doctrine concerning him is corrupted." I think that comment is both true, and that it provides a different angle on thinking about God's attributes...if you don't know the Trinity you don't really know anything about the attributes of God, even if you use the same words. So, ditto to Ursinus!

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  28. What a lot of comments! Appreciating lots of the contributions from some intelligent and godly people.

    Dave B, you said:

    "Martin - I guess there seems to be a difference between saying God is Omni-whatever and describing his beauty. As much as anything else I'm feeling a corrective towards what you might have already called Reformed but to which I'd perhaps previously not got to, and particularly appreciating being shown the wonder of who God is in his love at the moment."

    Martin makes an excellent point, and the key word in your paragraph is “describing”. Martin was pointing out that you call God “good”, “attractive”, “loving” etc but that is no different from calling him “omnipotent”, etc. If it is used as a bare term/concept then “loving” is as dry as “omnipotent”. Both are good terms only so far as they refer to the narrative of the Gospel of the Triune God acting to save us sinners. We have to put flesh on the bones of those terms, not least to ensure they are defined by the Gospel and not the world. But there is no problem inherent in the traditional language of the attributes. As Marcus says most of the problem is in the application and articulation – and the best way to fix that is to go to the Biblcial texts and let their narrative articulate the meaning of “omnipotent”, “loving” etc.

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  29. Not sure that saying I find God attractive is quite the same as saying he's omnipotent.

    I guess what I'm really getting at is that something is missing for me in the classic debates I encounter on this issue, as with Adrian Warnock's recent blogging series on it.

    That might well not put me in any clash with my reformed heritage, but with some aspects of reformed present... likewise when I see our Relay intern guys studying Grudem & those who disagree with him on sovereignty, I find myself thinking there are bigger questions and different questions to consider.

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  30. Hi Dave

    In classical Reformed thinking about God's attributes each attribute is understood to possess all the other attributes. God's love is holy, wise, good, true etc.

    The WSC Q & A on this is good because the three adjectives (infinite, eternal and unchangeable) modify the seven nouns (being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth)

    Q. 4. What is God?
    A. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

    I think that if that gets missed then it is easy to isolate God's attributes or to try and arrange them hierarchically.

    God's omnipotence is always exercised in harmony with his wisdom and justice and goodness (thus he brings Egypt to its knees in justice and delivers his people with his mighty hand by substitutionary justice and grace.

    The omnipotence of God is, of course, a matter of high praise in Isaiah and Revelation -- indeed it is very attractively expressed by Handel in the Hallelujah chorus.

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  31. Which is all well and good, but not what many Christians I meet seem to have nuanced, hence raging debates ensue..

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  32. I know, that's the problem :-) And I'm sure that there are lots of reasons why clear thinking about God's attributes are at a low ebb. We need to think great thoughts about God.

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  33. Dear Sirs

    I don't usually contribute to discussions of this kind - because if I became too involved I feel I might neglect other more pressing duties.

    All I will say is that when I first saw Calvinism and Arminianism robustly defined (in 1995 when I read Packer's foreword to Owen's Death of Death) it was as though the scales had fallen from my eyes. What previously had been woolly and shapeless began to solidify - it was iron in my soul.

    Maybe for a few months the iron was a little too hard, and the arguments in which I engaged were carried out with insufficient sensitivity. But the Lord had begun a good work in me which I pray is continuing.

    As soon as we see that Calvin's theology is vastly more than the issues raised in the Remonstrance/Synod of Dordt debate - that it is a whole world-view with the Triune God at the centre, who displays his glory in all his attributes (there need be no philosophical conflict between classical attributes and Triunity; why introduce one?) then we are on the safest ground. Calvinism does not have five points, but about a thousand and five. Not because of Calvin, but because of Calvin's God.

    But I do not think that I will ever outgrow the Calvinist/Arminian debate with which this post started. As soon as I forget that I am a Debtor to Mercy Alone, the glory I render to God is dimmed - which undermines our chief end – I become an idolater.

    Sincerely yours

    Paul Yeulett

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  34. Yes to Calvin's God, and I guess that's my point - I want to speak of much more than the way this debate seems so often to be framed. And so, to speak more of the gospel, to speaker greater things of God.

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