Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Three Pillars of Calvinism

Calvinism is much bigger than the so-called “Five Points” – also known as TULIP. Calvinism should not be limited in definition to the “Five Points”: this is just its soteriology. Calvinists are a diverse group, but the Five Points represents their shared doctrine of Salvation. I personally prefer the term “Augustinianism” because it points to the fact that the Doctrines of Grace were not invented by Calvin and the Reformers. But even “Augustinianism” is a bit misleading. I like Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' remark: “We should not talk about ‘Calvinism’; it is Paul’s teaching.”1
Those familiar with the history of the Reformed Church know that the Five Points as we know them, were formally developed in response to the theological crisis of Arminianism.

In 1610, a group of Dutch Protestant followers of James Arminius, known as the “Remonstrants,” presented to the States General a “Remonstrance” that exposed their divergence from Calvinism. The matter was brought before the Synod of Dort (1618-1619), which was an international assembly called by the States General of The Netherlands in order to investigate the trouble. The Synod consisted of 35 pastors and elders from the Netherlands, five university professors from the Netherlands, 18 deputies from the States General and 27 foreign delegates. Besides Erastianism and anticonfessional humanism, the Synod had to deal with the fundamental Christian doctrine of Predestination. The Synod upheld the Augustinian doctrines of sin and grace and therefore declared the Remonstrants to be in doctrinal error. Arminianism was not tolerated in Europe until 1795. The “Five Points” were the Synod’s reply to the specific discrepancies of the Arminian theology.
But I would suggest that there are three foundational truths adhered to rigorously by all Calvinists worthy of the name – and these are the undergirding basis of the Five Points. They are: 1. God’s Sovereignty; 2.The Divine Decrees; and 3. Soli Deo Gloria. I see these three truths presented in this order in Job 23:13-15.2 Verse 13 tells us that no one can hinder God’s free exercise of His sovereign authority. Verse 14 informs us that God has decreed everything that happens. And Verse 15 tells of the fear and awe we should have in the presence of God’s glory. We discuss these three foundational truths in turn.
  • The Sovereignty of God:
Nothing irks Calvinists more than the way in which all other doctrinal systems appear to disregard, downplay or bring into disrepute the sovereignty of Almighty God. If we assume, as the Scriptures plainly do, that God is sovereign, we cannot remove any one of the Five Points without assailing God’s character and His very nature. This is why virtually all anti-Arminian polemic starts with a defense of God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty means that He is subject to no one and He is influenced by no one. God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases. No one can thwart Him and no one can hinder him. Scripture is replete with declarations to this effect.
Spurgeon preached, “There is no doctrine more hated by worldlings, no truth of which they have made such a football, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah.”4 By this, he meant the way in which Divine sovereignty and human responsibility are usually pitted against each other as if they were utterly and absolutely incompatible. Besides the fact that this impugns the intellect of God by assuming that He is not smart enough to create morally responsible rational beings without confuting His own plans, it ignores the plain fact that Scripture teaches that man’s responsibility is based on God’s sovereignty.5
Arminians accuse Calvinists of believing that men are merely robots who mindlessly do whatever is foreordained for them to do. They then proceed to argue that this makes God unjust if He punishes men for doing that which they have no choice about.
This argument is false on many counts. First of all, it is what philosophers call a ‘category mistake,’ viz., applying the features and limitations of one thing to an entirely different category, an unrelated subject or another order of being. One could not meaningful imply anything about UFOs by treating the qualities of leafy vegetables! They are unrelated subjects. Likewise, man and God are unrelated subjects – different orders of being: man is finite; God is infinite. It is a category mistake to apply to the infinite God the limitations of finite man and assume that He is unable of doing the same things we are unable to do.
Secondly, it is built upon the notion that Love is the central attribute of God’s nature. True, the Bible says that “God is love,6” but it tells us this once, while it tells us the God is holy countless times. This does not mean to suggest that God is holier than He is loving, but that in the grand scheme of things, God willed to theopneustically accentuate His holiness more often than His love. It is assumed that no one can meaningfully love God if they are not absolutely and unconditionally free from any Divine influence. This ignores the Biblical statement that we love God because He first loved us (i.e., His love is the cause of our love)7.
Finally, this is the same objection the Judaizers urged against St. Paul.8 This at least proves that Calvinist soteriology is the doctrine of St. Paul. We are not concerned with solving the issue here, but only with presenting the theological backdrop for the Five Points.
  • The Divine Decrees:
By the Divine Decrees we mean the Scriptural doctrine that God has foreordained everything that has or will ever take place in the entire course of the history of the universe. It is only natural that the God who created everything should have a definite plan for the things He created. This plan has many particulars and that is why we speak of decrees in the plural. There is really only one single decree in the mind of God that comprehends all things.
The doctrine of the Divine Decrees plays such a prominent place in Reformed theology that A.W. Pink deals with this subject even before he discusses Divine Sovereignty.9 Berkhof informs us, “Outside of Reformed circles the doctrine of the decrees meets with very little favour. Pelagians and Socinians reject it as un-Scriptural and unreasonable, and Arminians either ignore it altogether, or represent the decrees of God as based on His foreknowledge.”10 However, if we deny God’s decrees we have to explain away a great deal of Scripture.
We shall only note three specific traits of the decrees as revealed in Scripture.
1. They are all-comprehensive. By this we mean that nothing lies outside their scope. It includes men’s good actions,11 their wicked actions,12 contingent events,13 the extent of man’s life14 and the place of his habitation.15 In short, all things were planned and purposed by God in the exact way they occur. With regard to sin, God’s decree is permissive. This renders the future sinful act certain, but this does not mean that God will bring it to pass by His own act. God decreed not to hinder the sinful act of the creature’s self-determination. Nevertheless, He regulates and controls its results.16
2. It is immutable. He never has to give a ‘second thought’ to any of His decisions. He in ineffably wise and can therefore never make a decision that He will later consider injudicious. He is all-powerful; therefore He never lacks the ability to bring about that which He purposes. God is faithful and true.17
3. It is efficacious. Berkhof describes it this way: “The fact that God made a divine plan does not mean that He has decided to bring to pass by His own act all that is included in it; but it does mean that what He has decided will certainly come to pass, and nothing can thwart His purpose.18 19
This is the reason that Calvinism always places such strong emphasis on Predestination. God is sovereign and as sovereign, He has decreed the conversion and/or perdition of all men. He is sovereign over men’s perdition20 and He is sovereign over men’s conversion21. God’s decree rests upon His sovereignty, not, as the Arminians would have it, upon His foreknowledge. Scripture explicitly tells us that God’s foreknowledge is based upon His decree.22 He knows all things because He has decreed that they should be. All things occur by His “determinate council (i.e., His decree) and foreknowledge” – in that order.
  • Soli Deo Gloria:
Finally, Calvinism is committed to the glory of God. This does not merely mean that we are to consider God’s glory as our motivation for all that we do – though this is certainly correct, but it primarily means that His glory is God’s motivation for all the He does. Arminians often take offense at the above statement because it seems to them to insinuate that they are not interested in God’s glory. But it is true to say that their system does not strive to emphasize God’s commitment to His own glory in the same way that classic Calvinism does. Calvin says somewhere that it is unworthy of any theologian to permit people’s minds to be occupied with anything but God’s glory.

The Scriptures portray God’s zeal for His glory as the primary motivation behind all His acts.23 This is why I took issue with the very popular notion that God’s love is His central attribute. God’s holiness is His glory. How many times does the Bible speak of the “beauty of holiness.” By this we mean to say that whenever God acts in any way, His principal impetus is His commitment to His glory before anything else. When God decreed the plan of salvation for His elect, His glory was the first and foremost concern. He did it out of love, but He did it for His glory first! Consider Paul’s statement that “every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God.”24 This tells us that the ultimate purpose and plan of God in the salvation of the elect and damnation of the lost is the recognition of Christ’s glory – which, since the Son is of one essence with the Father (homoousion), brings glory to the Father as well.
God repeatedly calls Himself, “a jealous God.”25 If we ask for what is He jealous, the obvious answer is: His glory. In Exodus 20:5 when God first declares His jealousy, it is in connection with the ban against idolatry. Idolatry is demeaning to God’s character in that it suggests that the image is a suitable substitute for the Reality. We are accustomed to viewing jealousy as sinful, but it is because our jealousy is always misdirected. People very seldom are as zealous for God’s glory as they are for their own. The few times it has occurred, God has taken special notice of it.26
This is a difficult concept for some people because of the apparent selfishness on God’s part in being thus motivated. Human self-centeredness is sinful precisely because it puts self before God. It places the interest of an insignificant, finite worm of a man before the interests of the great, ineffable, inscrutable glory of God Pantokra5twr! In this, it is idolatrous. Likewise, it would be idolatrous (if such a blasphemy could be imagined!) for God to place any of interest before His own. It is an unsullied, utterly wholesome selfishness: it is a commitment to the Greatest, All-Perfect Self: the source of all inferior selves, indeed selfhood itself.
If God is so committed to the advancement and display of His glory, we are quite mistaken if we do not do the same thing. Calvin’s own words are, “For, if the glory of God is dear to us, as it ought to be, we ought to struggle with all our might against him who aims at the extinction of that glory.”27
In Psalm 19:1, David proclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” There are physical phenomena in the design of the universe that absolutely stagger the human imagination. Astrophysicists and cosmologists refer to these marvels as the “anthropic principle.” This is a sophisticated way of saying that all of the various design characteristics of the entire universe are so perfectly suited for human life, that this must be the reason behind them. In other words, whether the universe was created by God or simply evolved, it exists in order to support human life. Many non-Christian physicists unashamedly advocate this. One example would be the ratio of the mass of electrons to protons. The ratio is so finely tuned that a change in either direction of 1 in 10 to the 34th power would not permit sufficient chemical bonding.28 To understand these odds we would have to imagine covering a million continents the size of North America in piles of ten centavo coins that reached all the way to the moon. Among these 10 decillion coins, (i.e., 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) there is one with a red spot on it. To match these odds, you would have to draw the coin with the red spot the very first time! These numbers are literally astronomical – no pun intended.29
But it gets even more amazing. Physicists have determined 75 parameters in the universe, in our galaxy, in our solar system and in the earth/moon/sun relationship that are unbelievably complex. Mathematicians have determined the odds of these 75 parameters occurring naturalistically to be 1 in 10 to the 99th power!
In his book, Darwin's Black Box, microbiologist Michael Behe discusses the blood clotting “cascade,” which consists of a series of over 200 interconnected chemical reactions. Removing any single one of these would kill a human the moment he/she was ever wounded. A wounded person would either bleed to death or their blood would gel up inside their body. Either option would be fatal.30
The beauty and design of creation has always fascinated reverent minds. St Basil preached, “I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that everywhere, wherever you may be, the least plant may bring to you the clear remembrance of the Creator.”31 He goes on to say, “A single plant, a blade of grass is sufficient to occupy all your intelligence in the contemplation of the skill which produced it.”32 One is reminded of the line in Wordsworth:
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.33
Yet, even though Christian apologists are correct when they note that such meticulous attention to detail shows God’s unfathomable love for His creation, the Psalmist tells us that this is more an expression of God’s glory than His love. Jonathan Edwards puts it like this: “For it appears, that all that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as a ultimate end of God’s works, is included in that one phrase, the glory of God; which is the name by which the ultimate end of God’s works is most commonly called in Scripture; and seems most aptly to signify the thing.”34
It now remains to tie these three points together as the foundational underpinning of the Five Points. Let it first be noted that the Arminian scheme puts the cart before the horse by making God’s decree contingent upon His foreknowledge. In fact, this scheme really makes God’s knowledge contingent up on own creatures. There is a huge flaw in anyone’s theology when they make any of God’s attributes contingent. God alone is an absolute being. If we assume that God cannot decree our salvation unless He foresees that we will in fact believe, we are denying both the efficacy of His decrees and the reality of His sovereignty. What kind of sovereignty can be meaningfully spoken of when the clay hinders the Potter? What kind of Potter seeks the will of the clay before deciding what it will be made into? And what kind of glory can a Potter have when both His will and skill are frustrated by His pottery – the very objects of His craft?
It is for these blatant and palpable reasons that neither Arminianism nor any other anti-Calvinist system can hold water. The weight of Scriptural evidence regarding God’s sovereignty, His decrees and His commitment to His glory constrains us to the truth embodied in the Five Points.

1 D.M. Lloyd-Jones. The Puritans, Their Origins and Successors, pg 212.
2 Job 23:13-15 ASV: But he is in one [mind], and who can turn him? And what his soul desireth, even that he doeth. For he performeth that which is appointed for me: And many such things are with him. Therefore am I terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am afraid of him.
3 Ps. 115:3; Ps. 135:6; Isa. 46:10; Dan. 4:35; Eph. 1:11, etc
4 Sermon on Matthew 20:15
5 See “The Sovereignty of God” in A.W. Pink’s The Attributes of God
6 1 John 4:8
7 1 John 4:19
8 Romans 9:17-23
9 A.W. Pink, The Attributes of God
10 Louis Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine
11 Eph 2:10
12 Proverbs 16:4; Acts 2:23; 4:27, 28
13 Gen. 45:8; 50:20; Prov. 16:33
14 Job 14:5; Psalm 39:4
15 Acts 7:26
16 Psalm 78:29; 106:15; Acts 14:16; 17:30
17 Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23
18 Psalm 33:11; Prov. 19:21; Isa. 46:10
19 Louis Berkhof, Manual of Christian Doctrine
20 Ex. 4:21; 14:4, 17; Deut. 2:26; Josh. 11:20; 1 Sam. 2:25; 1 Kings 22:20-22; 2 Chron. 20:1, 22-23; Prov. 16:4; Eze. 14:9; Mark 4:11, 12; Luke 22:22; Acts 1:16; 2:23; 16:6, 7; Rom. 9:21-22
21 Romans 9:18; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3
22 Acts 2:23
23 Revelation 4:11
24 Phil. 2:9-11
25 Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Nahum 1:1
26 Numbers 25:10
27 John Calvin, Institutes 1.14.15
28 See the Evidences for Intelligent Design by Hugh Ross PhD at
29 Ibid.
30 Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box
31 Hexaemeron, Homily 5, NPNF, 2nd series, volume 8
32 Ibid.
33 Ode On Immortality
34 Jonathan Edwards, Dissertation on the End for Which God Created the World, Ch.2 Sect.7, Works, vol. 1

No comments:

Post a Comment

Visitor Counter

Flag Counter