Calvinism: Word, logic and heart – and faith, of course

This is an elaboration of  Intelligence counts. Humanist and Christian practice.


In the previous post, I  mentioned that  Aristotle and Goethe covered three aspects of personality, namely, intellect (logic [how we think] and knowledge [what we think]), the will and behaviour. When we add the emotions/feelings to the pot, we have the basic ingredients of the Psychology of Personality (or Personality Psychology). Christian theology adds another ingredient, faith, which is the reason for the existence of the intellect, the will, the emotions and behaviour (works). The Reformers of the 16th Century divided true saving faith into three parts: notitia, assensus and fiducia. Notitia comprises knowledge, such as belief in one God, in the humanity (1 John 4:3) and deity of Christ (John 8:24), His crucifixion for sinners (1 Cor. 15:3), His bodily resurrection from the dead, and some understanding of God’s grace in salvation. Assensus is belief. This belief hasn’t yet penetrated the heart; it is still on the mental level – a mental assent. In his article, I examine in more detail the relationship between logic (how we think), knowledge (what we think), the will, and the heart.

The essence of Christianity and the limits of the mind

Abraham Joshua Heschel in his “God in search of man,” says that the God of the Prophets is the source of reason. Reason, however, according to Heschel, is not able to find God, let alone experience Him. The Prophets taught that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was also the source of everything, including experience of Him, and that the only right way to experience Him is through the Hebrew scriptures. Christianity is an extension of this belief: everything, both good and evil, are under God’s absolute control. The biblical position is this: the biblical position is this: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). So, all our own efforts to find the way the truth and the life are worthless. In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps (Proverbs 16:9).

The essence of Christianity is found in the summary of the the letter to the Romans found in the doxology (praise) at the end of Romans 11, where God reaffirms that he is the cause and end of all things, and all exists for his glory.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” 36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

These verses are also the springboard of Calvinism. Opponents of Calvinism (Arminians – Roman Catholics and most Protestants) love quoting “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). As an Arminian told me: “I’d suggest we continue to Humbly study the Word, and do what is commanded of us. That is to spread and teach the gospel; to continue to seek the Kingdom of God first; to ask Forgiveness and to repent of our sins… but all the time to remember that God sees and weighs up the heart – so whatever we do or say, may it be with an examined heart, or we could fall into a trap ourselves.” Good advice. My question is: How is one going to teach the Gospel to enemies of the Gospel, which all human beings are in their natural state? The writer asks: “Why try to analyze it all? God is not subject to any laws or rules.”

Obviously there is much sifting, demarcating, differentiating, categorising, analysing going on. Walking with Jesus will have to also involve thinking about Jesus and how to explain to non-believers how to think about Jesus and Jesus as the Son of God. “Analyse” means use your reason to give reasons for the faith that you have received, and defend the body of teachings (doctrines) that pertain to this faith. The Bible is clear: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” ( 1 Peter 3:15). There are many examples of Jesus and Paul reasoning (analysing, and synthesising) with their listeners. One important topic in this regard was the authenticity of the historical events in the scriptures. Paul was a master “apologist” (defender) of the Gospel. “Apologetics” is a very important part of learning and teaching the faith. (See Analysis of the Modern Evangelical Mind and the Lost Art of Boxing).

Philosophy, therefore, cannot bring the alienated from God to Christ, neither can mysticism do it, because, Christians, “you, who were once alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled, in the body of His flesh, through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreprovable in His sight” (Colossians 1:21-22).

“Calvinism, says James Packer, is not a rigid system of logic imposed on the simple testimony of scripture. There are many who regard Calvinism as a logical and philosophical speculation which adulterates the simple testimony of scripture.”

Indeed, Calvinists do have a sweet tooth for logic, How else are they going to chew through what the scripture says, and paint a clear picture of what’s on the menu (no à la carte, forgive). With the one hand, Calvinists get slapped for being too logical, and with other, for being wanting in the upstairs department.

Let me, as a Calvinist, try to apply my Jewish mind to the process of salvation and the related paradox of divine sovereignty and responsibility. Calvinists insist that God never fails, and so if a person is saved, it is because God decreed it to be so. The person being saved plays no part in his regeneration (he’s dead, for starters), yet those whom God does not regenerate are held responsible for rejecting God. The Calvinist says that God has not called them to reconcile the paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility; he has called them to reconcile themselves to Him and be an instrument in reconciling others to Him. Scripture drives a Calvinist to accept this supra-rational (beyond reason) doctrine. He is not embarrassed to call it a mystery (on a par with the incarnation and the trinity).

To affirm, says Charles Spurgeon, of any human production that it contained many great and instructive truths which it would be impossible to systematize without weakening each separate truth, and frustrating the design of the whole, would be a serious reflection upon the author’s wisdom and skill! How much more to affirm this of the Word of God! Systematic theology is to the Bible what science is to nature. To suppose that all the other works of God are orderly and systematic, and the greater the work the more perfect the system; and that the greatest of all His works, in which all His perfections are transcendently displayed, should have no plan or system, is altogether absurd. If faith in the Scriptures is to be positive, if consistent with itself, if operative, if abiding, it must have a fixed and well-defined creed. No one can say that the Bible is his creed, unless he can express it in his own words.” (Quoted by Iain Murray in his “The Forgotten Spurgeon”).

Calvinism is “the consistent endeavor to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of his will.” (James Packer’s introduction to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ). The Lord never fails, is never disappointed, is never frustrated. Not one drop of Christ’s blood is wasted because all three persons of the Godhead want it that way… Calvinism is a unified philosophy of history which sees the whole diversity of processes and events that take place in God’s world as no more, and no less, than the outworking of his great preordained plan for his creatures and his church. The five points assert no more than God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism, as such, is concerned with the much broader assertion that he is sovereign everywhere.”

Calvinism is an outworking of divine preordination; Arminianism is an inworming of human “post-ordination.”. “Post-ordination” is the Arminian idea that “Preordination” (predestination) means that only after (post) God sees whether a person is going to open the door of his heart to Christ, does God pre-destine the person to eternal life. This is the only case I know in the English language (and in logic) where pre means post. Pre in “predestination” means “that sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all, but that salvation, first and last, whole and entire, past, present and future, is of the Lord, to whom be glory for ever; amen!” (James Packer).

Many understand Calvinism to believe:

 1. Only that which God wills happens.

2. God doesn’t love all people.

3. Jesus didn’t die for all people.

And they are right. Let’s spend a little time on each:

1. Only that which God wills happens.

There are God’s decrees and God’s precepts. The first is concerned with what must and will happen with certainty. The second is concerned with what God morally requires of human beings, which has nothing to do with whether man will actually do what God  commands. God’s decree, in contrast, determines what actually happens. Neither God’s preceptive will nor his decretive will can every be frustrated.

In the Old Testament God prescribes to the Jews his commandments. Most disobey. God permits them to follow their reprobate hearts. He decrees  to have mercy on a remnant, and thus grants to them the desire for repentance leading to reconciliation with Him. Even repentance is a gift of God.

Acts 5:30-31 “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. 31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”

Acts 11:18 “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”

 2. God doesn’t love all people.

If God loves all unbelievers, there’s no need of a mediator.  Love means absence of enmity, thus there is no need for reconciliation, and so need for a mediator, Jesus. The Gospel message is the following progression: wrath of God, enmity, mediator, reconciliation and peace. Telling an unbeliever God loves them is a false Gospel. This is one of the reason for false conversions. The popular Arminian slogan, “God loves you [you vile worm] and has a wonderful plan for your life,” is not in scripture and (consequently) was never taught in the historical church. You might say that God loves all without exception but ceases to love them and sends them to hell if they thwart his desire to save them. There’s nothing like that in the Bible.  All mankind without Christ are under condemnation.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes [the ones believing – the Greek)]  in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:16-18). The “world,” not Mars or any other planer/star. If “world” meant every single individual then it would mean that he condemns (to hell) those who do not believe (“ but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God”). Romans fleshes out John 3:17-18:

[8:1] There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. [2] For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. [3] For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, [4] in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. [5] For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. [6] For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. [7] For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. [8] Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

[9] You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. [10] But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. [11] If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:1-11).

The Father (and the Son) only loves those he has given to the Son before the world began, and only those he loves will be saved. One proof that Jesus does not love everybody is that He prays for His “own,” not for the “world.”

[6] “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. [7] Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. [8] For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. [9] I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” (John 17:6-9).

The meaning of “world” in John 3:16 becomes clear in the light of John 17. “World” in John 3:16 means all kinds of people: rich, poor; Jew, Gentile. So, people without distinction (from every tribe and nation, every walk of life); not people without exception.

3. Jesus didn’t die for all people.

If he did die for all people then they would all be  reconciled to God. Why does God refuse to open blind eyes and deaf ears, as He says so clearly In John 12:40 (and isaiah 6:9) about the Jews: “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
    nor understand with their hearts,
    nor turn—and I would heal them.” The answer lies in another difficult-for-synergists verse: “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18).

“Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”

Both Isaiah and Paul saw God. Do they recoil and scream “but God, you’re not being fair. What are you doing!” What does Isaiah say to God on his throne (in Isaiah 6)? Simply, “How long?” Oh what an answer! What love is this? You need to understand His “terrible majesty.” “Out of the north cometh golden splendour, about God is terrible majesty” (Job 37:22). (Both the KJV and the Hebrew Mechon Mamre translations render the Hebrew נוֹרָא הוֹד

(Norah Hod) as “terrible (NORAH) majesty (HOD).” Terrible (terrifying) in modern English and Norah in modern Hebrew have lost their orignal meaning. (“Calvinism is terrible”). I return to Isaiah:

[11] Then I (Isaiah) said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, [12] and the LORD removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. [13] And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump. (Isaiah 6:11-13).  If I were God, that is not how I would have planned salvation. Thank God I’m not God – and thank Him more that you’re not either.

The main question in Calvinism, as it should be in Christianity, is not logical consistency but “Have you seen God?” Have you seen him lifted up on his throne? Has it made you fall down low? I’m no saying at all that you must stop thinking and start feeling, for how can you “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5 ). Also, logic (noggins) are useful for 1. “be[ing] all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10); 2. for “being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV) and for being able to distinguish between human tradition and the scriptures.

4. There is nothing that a person can do to be saved.

Al Martin (in his “What is Calvinism) says: “the question is not the sincerity of my resolve, not what I have done but “has God done something in me? Not have I accepted Christ but has Christ accepted me; not “have I found the lord?” but has he found me?

The natural condition of man is to love what he wants, not what God wants. That’s the pith of Original Sin. What he wants is NOT to be saved by God. So, in this sinful state, the last thing on his mind/heart is “I wish I could be saved but as there is nothing I can do about it, my hands are tied.” If he does show the desire to be saved, then it is God who had mercy on him. God regenerates him, that is, brings him back from spiritual death. He sees that he has offended a holy  God. He believes. He repents (repentance is necessary consequence of regeneration). he has become a child of God. In a word, he accepts Christ. He has been freed from his bondage.

Now, you might say it’s all so intellectual. True, If all it did was to grease your brain – and your palm if theology is your profession (means of livelihood). No one is a Calvinist – or truly biblical, or truly religious, or truly evangelical until the Bible, until theology, are “burnt into your soul” (Al Martin in part 2 of “What is Calvinism?”).

Here is Benjamin Warfield on John Calvin:

“As he contemplated the majesty of this sovereign Father, his whole being bowed in reverence before Him, and his whole heart burned with zeal for His glory. As he remembered that this great God has become in His own Son the redeemer of sinners, he passionately gave himself to the proclamation of the glory of His grace. Into His hands he committed himself without reserve . . . All that was good in him, all the good he hoped might be formed in him, he ascribed to the almighty working of the divine Spirit. The glory of God alone and the control of the Spirit became the twin principles of his whole thought and life.”

Arminians, generally, despise Calvin. That, of course, was not the reason for his  excruciating headaches for much of his adult life. Here is Warfield in his “Calvinism today“:

“Calvinism will not play fast and loose with the free grace of God. It is set upon giving to God, and to God alone, the glory and all the glory of salvation. There are others than Calvinists, no doubt, who would fain make the same great confession. But they make it with reserves, or they painfully justify the making of it by some tenuous theory which confuses nature and grace. They leave logical pitfalls on this side or that, and the difference between logical pitfalls and other pitfalls is that the wayfarer may fall into the others, but the plain man, just because his is a simple mind, must fall into those. Calvinism will leave no logical pitfalls and will make no reserves. It will have nothing to do with theories whose function it is to explain away facts. It confesses, with a heart full of adoring gratitude, that to God, and to God alone, belongs salvation and the whole of salvation; that He it is, and He alone, who works salvation in its whole reach. Any falling away in the slightest measure from this great confession is to fall away from Calvinism. Any intrusion of any human merit, or act, or disposition, or power, as ground or cause or occasion, into the process of divine salvation,—whether in the way of power to resist or of ability to improve grace, of the opening of the soul to the reception of grace, or of the employment of grace already received—is a breach with Calvinism.”

The Christian view of “faith” is summed up in Ephesians 2:8-10 [my square brackets and italics]:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith [in Christ]. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them [be faithful – Hebrew “emuna” – in them).

Put the above together with Romans 11:36 and you’re well on your way to talking, if not walking, scripture. (Talkies and walkies: John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Regress).

The Roman catholic is caught between the scylla of tradition and the Charybdis of scripture. In a similar vein, the “orthodox” Jew is caught between the Oral and the Written Torah. One `Jew will say the Written Torah is primary, another that the Oral Torah is primary. (The Written and Oral Torah: Which is Primary?). From the human standpoint, there’s the Word and there’s the heart, and the brain in between. One thing the Apostle did, and shewed us how, was “Use your loaf.” Not to forget that  light, supernatural as well as natural, comes from the Lord – except the fluffy kind.

word tradition brain new

 If you’re dying or dying to know the identities of the two people on the left, they are the Borgia Pope, Alexander VI and the Kabbalist, Isaac Luria (Arizal).

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