Friday, November 23, 2018

Calvinism in a nutshell

Sometimes when I talk to people in on line forums, I'll mention that I'm a Calvinist, and somebody will ask, "What's a Calvinist?" or "What is Calvinism?" Instead of explaining it over and over again, I thought I'd just leave this here for a quick reference so I can just find it and cut and paste from it whenever I need to. I'm lazy that way.

See also my post on "One point Calvinism."

Calvinism is a theological point of view that came out of the protestant reformation. Essentially, it boils down to the absolute sovereignty of God, especially when it comes to the subject of salvation. Calvinism is typically summarized by five points which all derive from the one principle of the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation. Here are the five points of Calvinism:

  • Total depravity--This is the view that apart from God's intervention, people have an inability to come to Christ for salvation. Our desires, character, hearts, etc. are in such a fallen state that we would never go to Christ for salvation willingly unless God changed us.
  • Unconditional election--This is the view that out of all the people who have existed, God elects some of them for salvation, and he does so purely for his own good pleasure and not because of anything any of them did to deserve it.
  • Limited atonement--This is the view that God only intended Christ's death on the cross to atone for the sins of those God elected to receive salvation. Most Calvinists prefer to call this "particular atonement" rather than "limited atonement" since even non-Calvinists limit the atonement in one way or another.
  • Irresistible grace--This is the idea that when God bestows his grace on his elect, those people will come to Christ for salvation. Having their hearts changed, they will not be able to resist the draw. In other words, they are unable to reject Christ.
  • Preservation of the saints--This is the view that all of those who God has caused to embrace Christ will continue to embrace Christ until they die. Of course they can backslide from time to time, but the over all effect is that they will remain in Christ.
There are some additional points that typically go along with Calvinist theology called "the five solas":
  • Sola scripture: This is the view that the Bible alone is God's infallible source of theological truth. This is not a denial that God can reveal things through prophets, though some Calvinists interpret it that way. Rather, it's the view that the Bible alone is the rule of faith for the Christian church. So any other supposed authority, whether a person claims it came from God or not, should be scrutinized in light of its consistency with scripture. Scripture is the ultimate test of theological truths.
  • Sola Fide: This is the view that it is through faith alone that we are justified. In other words, our good deeds do not contribute to our justification.
  • Sola gratia: This is the view that we are saved by the grace of God alone. In other words, salvation is a gift from God that is not based on any merit of our own.
  • Sola Christus: This is the view that Christ alone is our savior. This is something almost all Christians believe.
  • Soli Deo Gloria: This is the idea that God alone is glorified in salvation. The reason for it is because salvation is totally and completely the work of God alone. He gets the glory because he accomplishes it. Calvinists are monergists, as opposed to synergists. That means salvation isn't a cooperative effort between man and God where man does his part and God does his part; rather, God does it all. God takes people who are dead in sins and unable to repent or come to Christ for salvation, and he heals them, draws them to himself, and justifies them, giving them salvation, and he does it all for his glory.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

A difficulty with Calvinism and compatibilism

According to the doctrine of total depravity, we are determined by our sinful desires to reject Christ. We are unable to accept Christ for psychological reasons. Yet we are still responsible for our sinfulness. In fact, according to compatibilism, it's is because our actions are determined by our own desires and motives that we are responsible for them. We are responsible for our actions to the degree that we do them on purpose, and we do them on purpose do the degree that they are determined by our own antecedent psychological states, including our desires, plans, motives, inclinations, preferences, etc.

According to the doctrine of irresistible grace, once God changes our hearts, we are determined by our new desires to embrace Christ. We are unable to resist Christ, again, for psychological reasons. But here's the difficulty. Whereas we could be blamed for our sins and for our failure to come to Christ when we were totally depraved since we acted willfully, on purpose, out of our own sinful desires, etc., we cannot be praised for our decision to follow Christ, even though we do so willfully, on purpose, and because of our desire to do so. The reason is because it is God who changed our hearts.

Irresistible grace is supposed to remove all basis for boasting on our parts because it makes salvation a monergistic act of God. We cannot be praised for our decision to come to Christ because it is God who acted in us to produce that result. Since God brought about the change, he gets all the glory, and there is no room for boasting on our parts.

But surely something causes us to have the desire to reject Christ and to sin. Why should it matter what is doing the causing? Suppose the devil caused us to have sinful desires. Would that mean we're not blamable for sin? Or what if it's just that we inherited a sinful nature or sinful genes or whatever? Somehow or other, something outside of us ultimately caused us to have sinful desires. Yet we are morally responsible for giving into them.

So why is it that if God causes us to have good desires, and those desires cause us to follow Christ, that we are not just as praiseworthy for doing so as we were blameworthy for sinning? In both cases, we acted out of desires that were created in us by external causes.

Jonathan Edwards argued persuasively in his book on the freedom of the will that "The essence of the virtue and vice of dispositions of the heart, and acts of the will, lies not in their cause, but their nature." I wish I could ask Jonathan Edwards about this. I wonder what James White would say. I wonder what John Piper would say. John Piper would probably be a better person to ask since he's a big fan of Edwards like I am.

What do you think?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

What determines gender?

A while back, I wrote a post explaining how I didn't understand transgenderism. I think I have a better handle on it now, but I think there's an inconsistency in how people define gender.

A lot of us still think gender is determined by your biological sex (unless you're talking about words or pipe fittings). But there are two mutually exclusive definitions of gender being used by the transgendered community as well as people who are sympathetic to their redefinition. Here are the two definitions that I keep coming across:

1. Gender is determined by your behavior. If you look and behave in ways that are typically associated with the looks and behavior of people who have one sex organ or the other, then that's your gender.

2. Gender is determined by your self-identification. If you see yourself as being a man, then your gender is male, and if you see yourself as being a woman, then your gender is female.

This morning I saw a guy write this post on a discussion forum, and he vacillated between these two different definitions without even realizing he was doing it. But these are mutually exclusive definitions.

Imagine a person who sees themselves as a man but nevertheless behaves in ways typically associated with people who have vaginas. Is that person's gender male or female? Well, you get contradictory answers depending on whether you think gender is determined by your behavior or your self-identification.

How are the rest of us supposed to get behind the redefinition of "gender" if we can't even get a clear explanation of what it means by the people who are redefining it?