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Caricatures that are Tiring

December 30, 2009

Tony Jones recently used this quote to describe why he rejects Calvinism and leans towards Universalism:

I reject Calvinism because I find the doctrine of election to be loathsome. I don’t find God worthy of worship, praise or service if he created people with the intention of torturing most of them forever. True, such actions would demonstrate his sovereignty and “justice” but it is hard to see those actions as loving and praise-worthy. Also, I don’t see how Calvinism allows for a dynamic and interactive relationship between God and humanity. We end up being mere puppets and playthings (Richard Beck).

Well, this sort of caricature of Calvinism is not new, but it is tiring.  This seems like an example of one who reads only material biased against Calvinism – pretty short-sighted.  There are so many wrong presuppositions behind this statement, where does one begin?  I wonder how you would respond to such a caricature?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 30, 2009 11:17 pm

    I think Richard needs to read the writings of folks like Jonathan Fraser of Brea or the Erskines (Scots) — Evangelical Calvinists. Election for them is grounded in Jesus Christ, not in a decree that Jesus submits to. Election is universal in this scheme, per the logic of the Incarnation (and the ‘kind’ of humanity that Jesus assumed in the Incarnation). According to the ‘Scots’ and TFT, there is a ‘caranl union’ with Christ; wherein all are united to Christ, and there is a ‘spiritual union’ — wherein the ‘elect’ are united to Christ. The reason why some aren’t is only to fall back on the mystery of evil.

    But I think Richard’s critique of Federal Calvinism is not wrong-headed. When we begin splitting God’s attributes into things that subsist out of Him as ‘qualities’ then we’ve quit talking about the Trinitarian dynamic of God’s life. We’ve depersonalized Him, and voluntarized Him to the point that God’s life is compartementalized into functions (as if His mercy is one God and His love is another God, etc.). We only get to thinking about God like this through Thomist categories, as William Perkins says: see this post, . The reason God’s “attributes” are split the way they are, in the Federal scheme, is because of the prior commitment to believing that God is an undivided substance w/o division; in other words, His attributes subsist under Him, and insofar as these attributes are associated with the different persons, the persons subsist under this hovering concept or substance known as “God.”

    I think Richard’s hangup need not lead to universalism; but to a reorientation to a proper understanding of God’s life, an Evangelical Trinitarian one!

  2. December 30, 2009 11:19 pm

    Woops, I meant Tony Jones, not Richard Beck; but both of them.

  3. John Starke permalink*
    December 31, 2009 6:02 pm

    I’m not really happy with you description of God’s simplicity. Simplicity actually preserves against his attributes being divided among the Persons and preserves a Nicene Trinitarianism.
    Maybe you could take a look at “The Binding of God” by Lillback for, what i think is, a better description of Perkins.

  4. December 31, 2009 6:19 pm

    There certainly is a way to “preserve Simplicity,” and even McCormack does a nice job of describing simplicity in Trintarian terms. But, I’m afraid we’ll have to disagree on Perkins. I haven’t read Lillback on him, but I have read Dever on Sibbes, and then I’ve read my former prof and mentor (Ron Frost) on Sibbes (his PhD diss on ref in that post). And I know that their are competing interpretations of some of these seminal characters (like Perkins), interpretations based upon how one sees this period (i.e. as a monolith or as a burgeoning fluid system[s] within what we know as Calvinism, historically). I follow, along with Frost, Janice Knight’s reading of this period, contra Muller, Trueman, et al. That there were The Spiritual Brethren and The Intellectual Fathers. I say all this let you know that even if I read Lillback, I am going to be critical of his interpretation of Perkins based upon prior commitments he might hold per interpreting the period itself.

    I realize simplicity “can” be construed very trinitarinly, but what I’ve read of Perkins (primarily) does not lead me to believe that all (there is nothing Nicean about his engagement and framing of soteriology through the absolutum decretum . . . in fact His christology tends to be Nestorian [you know where I’m coming from, John, you’ve read enough TFT to know where I’m at].

    Anyway, when I get the chance, I’ll read Lillback; but I’m already critical of him, if he is going to try and say that Perkins can be construed as ‘orthodox’.

    • John Starke permalink*
      December 31, 2009 6:45 pm

      “but I’m already critical of him, if he is going to try and say that Perkins can be construed as ‘orthodox’.”
      Breaks my heart to read that.

  5. December 31, 2009 9:31 pm

    I know, that was a little harsh.

    Maybe, I shouldn’t have used the word ‘orthodox’; maybe I should’ve just said “off.” I certainly believe Perkins had a view of God that fits within all the parameters of ‘orthodoxy’; it’s when He works out His soteriology that those parameters become constrained by a foreign orthodoxy that calls Perkins’ application of a doctrine of God into question. In other words, I think trying to think of God in terms that Aristotle laid out just won’t do; and I think this is where, not only Perkins, but many Post-Reformed erred. This is the critique of both Torrance and Barth upon some of that heritage. You know that, and I think their critique is correct. Do you like heterodox better 😉 ?

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