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Sunday, July 19, 2009


Pearls Before Swine
I've only been a Presbyterian for about seven years. So I know far less about John Calvin than I do about John Wesley, a founder of Methodism. Calvin, who founded a reformed movement that is represented in the United States by, among other denominations, the Presbyterian church, was born 500 years ago on July 10. One of the most difficult concepts for me is this:

John Calvin: On Double Predestination

In conformity, therefore, to the clear doctrine of the Scripture, we assert, that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom he would admit to salvation, and whom he would condemn to destruction. We affirm that this counsel, as far as concerns the elect, is founded on his gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit; but that to those whom he devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible, judgment. In the elect, we consider calling as an evidence of election, and justification as another token of its manifestation, till they arrive in glory, which constitutes its completion. As God seals his elect by vocation and justification, so by excluding the reprobate from the knowledge of his name and the sanctification of his Spirit, he affords an indication of the judgement that awaits them.

In other words, if I understand it correctly, some are born to be saints going to heaven, and others sinners going to hell. As one theologian friend of mine opined, "And you may THINK you have free will, but it was predestined that you think that."

This hurts my head.

Here's another take on double predestination.

Am I a bad Presbyterian because I'm a "free will guy? Where do you stand on this?

BTW, I went to the Pearls Before Swine website, having seen the strip in the newspaper, and the SITE provided the specific URL for the graphic. Cool.



Uthaclena said...

This sort of silliness is why, although I certainly value a spiritual component in life, I despise "organized" religion. Convoluted excuases to trying to determine who is "elect" and who is condemned, and how one can have "free-will" without actually having free-will. I suppose that if you're an All-Powerful Deity you can do whatever you want without my say-so, but it seems to me a ridiculous way to manage the human species.

Rebecca Hickman said...

Sounds a bit elitist to me, but I don't really know much about it. I love being a Roman Catholic, but I usually disagree with the church's position on political issues. I thought about converting to Judaism, but then I'd have to give up my rosary beads.

Anthony said...

Somehow the shadow of Calvin has longed loomed over my life. I am sure being raised Presbyterian has something to do with it, but I don't think it fully accounts for this matter.

Anyways, the doctrine of Predestination is a hard one that is disturbing on some instinctual level. However, I don't for that reason think it should be just dismissed, as I think that even our instincts have succumbed to the effects of the fall and are not, therefore, a sure guide in discerning the truth. This is not to say that I just accept this doctrine as Calvin articulates it.

One point of clarification that I would like to make is that predestination does not completely undermine freewill, rather it limits its possibilities. From what I have read of Calvin, he wouldn't have a problem saying that people are free to chose among a myriad of options and courses of action, but within all the possibilities they have, the path of genuine righteousness is not open to them. This path, according to Calvin, is beyond all the options available to humanity in its fallen state, and can only be opened by God, and made available to any particular person through direct intervention by God in that person's life.

Calvin is obviously giving priority to God's sovereignty in his interpretation of Scripture. (By the way, I don't think Scripture is quite as "clear" as he makes it out to be). And so, he has worked out a concept of grace that prevents anykind boasting since all grounds for such boasting is removed. What I wonder, however, but am not equipped to fully respond to, is why must sovereignty and responsibility be approached as two opposing realities, that must be somehow mediated. I certainly get the points of tension regarding how these ideas are commonly understood, but what I wonder is if these concepts can be reconceptualized such that the tensions are not diametric, and yet remain faithful to biblical witness.

Actually, when I do periodically get around to reading Calvin, I am always surprised by how pastoral he is. I mean, in my stereotype of him, I imagine a mechanical logician working out an air tight systematic theology, where an articulation on one point requires a particular conclusion on another, which is not an overall appealing perspective for me.

Alright, though I certainly can say more, I have certainly said enough for a comment on a blog. In the end, Predestination is a hard doctrine, because it offends our sense of fairplay and goodness, and yet I know that Calvin was deeply concerned to preserve the idea of God's goodness and glory. For him, however, it was a goodness and glory that was dimly perceived on this side of the veil.

thomwade said...

Truth be told...I always had this feeling that if Calvin was right... I am in the "going to hell camp". So, I found it to be a rather depressing theology.