Thursday, July 09, 2015

Thoughts on Reformed Theology (Calvinism)

I've been interacting with heirs of the Restoration Movement who have opted for Reformed Theology (Calvinism). Most of those involved were educated in non-instrumental colleges and universities. There are a few in the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ who are adopting Reformation thinking, too. The Apache Junction Christian Church here in Arizona is a prime example. On January 1 that congregation became known as Reformation Bible Church and adopted the basics of Reformed theology. Many others in the Restoration Movement adopt Reformed thinking without realizing it. At least the Apache Junction church was honest enough to "boldly go" their own directions.

My discussion with those in the New Eclectic Society, a Facebook page open by invitation only, is forcing me to do a deeper study of Reformed and Arminian thinking. The more I read and the more I study, the more Calvinism and its concept of God repulses me. One good outcome of the discussion is the fact I finally came to understand why so many New England Puritans became Universalists. The opposite of Calvinism isn't Arminianism, the opposite of Calvinism is Universalism.

Let me try to explain why. 

As anyone who has studied Reformed theology understands, the essence of Calvinism can be summed up in the famous tulip acrostic:

T otal Hereditary Depravity 
U nconditional Election
L imited Atonement
I  rresistible Grace
P erseverance of the Saints/Preservation of the Saints (Once Saved, Always Saved)

Calvinism's fundamental principle is the belief in the absolute and unswerving sovereignty of God which requires God to absolutely control and direct every creature, event, decision made. The fundamental principle is God's sovereignty; God's fundamental value is his glory. Everything God does has repercussions regarding his glory. So much so that even those who are objects of his wrath fulfill the purpose of his glory. Bruce Ware says it this way, "The glory of God is the supreme value of God ... we his creatures must simply bow and accept what God in his infinite wisdom, holiness, goodness, and power has determined will bring to expression the greatest glory to his name."

Because of Total Hereditary Depravity mankind is now unable to respond to God in any way. So God, in his generosity and mercy, determined to choose out from the mass of humanity a people who would acknowledge his glory. Those whom he chose he regenerated and enlightened them so that they could understand what Christ did for them. To assure the elect would do so, God so ordered their circumstances and their lives to create a situation where they would want to choose to worship and adore God. The elect made their choice "freely" because they were inclined to do so and, to put it bluntly, God's eternal decree and sovereign power created a situation where that was all they could do. Those not elected were consigned to perdition, again to assure the glory of God. Their punishment would vindicate God's justice and both the elect and the lost fulfill the means to assure his glory.

Here's the rub. If a God of love could create circumstances where a person would freely choose God, and if all are invited to come to him as Calvinists claim, why did not simply create circumstances so that all men were inclined to receive him? The election of the few while consigning the rest to perdition when God determined all circumstances for both the elect and the lost does not jibe with any concept of love. If God truly loves, then all he needed to do was create the means by which all men would be inclined to acknowledge him. 

Colonial Puritans, wrestling with their own lack of certainty regarding their election, could only conclude that a good and loving God would not consign his creation to hell. Thus, ultimately all would be saved. 

Arminian thinking--and I disagree with some of the Arminian conclusions--is far more rational and expressive of God's nature. God's primary attribute is his holiness. From his holiness spring the attributes of love and justice. Adam's fall did not totally destroy him or render him totally depraved. Instead, it marred or damaged the image of God, darkened his mind, and left him depraved in all his parts. Yet although the mind is darkened it is so only until enlightened. The "lamp" is the Word of God. Each individual is free--truly free, the opposite of determined or controlled--to choose or reject God. There is no merit in the choice. There is no good work to perform, only submission to the God revealed in Scripture. 

I know this presentation is inadequate, but it is where I am at the moment. I must work on expressing my understanding more clearly and more completely...and more succinctly.