Friday, April 30, 2010

Your Friday Phil

The guys over at Pyro continued their posting of the offense of Calvinism from last week so this week I will continue that same line.  However, your weekly Friday Phil will actually be a "Taste of Turk" (hey I try).  Turk, aka Centuri0n, operates "A Flame of Fire" site that is worth an afternoon's perusing.  Anyway Phil will be back next week with his concluding thoughts.  See you then.

So spring fever has apparently sprung amongst those who find Calvinism offensive -- Phil gave his perspective on the topic on Friday (bringing out the usual suspects and their kin to fuss against such a thing), and over atEvangel Anthony Sacramone (they will obviously let anyone contribute over there) shook a fist at the "weird or noxious ideas" that "a God this horrible just happens to explain why the world looks the way it does" (meaning: Calvinism is bad).

And it all comes down to one thing, really: election results.

Now, by that I don't mean, "the tally of all the votes so we can finally end the discussion by democratic consensus." By that I mean thinking about what it means to say that God saves men.

Listen: the argument over election is not over anything else. It is only over how intentional God was and is and shall be to save anybody. The Calvinist and the non-calvinists of all stripe all believe that man needs to be saved. The Calvinist and the non-calvinists of all stripe believe that Jesus is the Savior of men. These are not the questions. It is also not the question of whether or not God intends to save men: both the Calvinist and the non-calvinists believe that God wants to save men.

The question is only this: are those who are saved saved specifically and intentionally by God because it was His plan all along to save them personally by drawing them into the assembly of all believers, or does the phrase "whosoever will" guide our understanding theological so as to understand that the divine will is not in fact determinative for who specifically will be saved, but is rather an open invitation through which God will have a very pleasant surprise at the end of all things to find that many men have in fact taken him up on the offer?

"That's not very fair, cent," comes the sincere and irenic non-calvinist. "We believe that God has foreknowledge of whosoever will, so it's not a 'surprise' to him at all. God knows who will and will not come to faith, and that's how the elect are numbered, for example, in the Lamb's book of life."

Let me be honest: I admit that my formula there is not very fair and I agree that the non-calvinist formulas for defining God's foreknowledge leaves God unsurprised by what seems to us to be "the future". But it troubles me deeply to see the non-calvinist argue as if they themselves don't believe their own explanations -- and therefore I make my unfair arguments to cause them to retreat to their foundations in the hope of showing them their biblically-fatal flaws.

I'm not mean or stupid: I just want people to be honest with themselves.

Here's what I think -- I think that what we want as Christians is to show people that God can be understood and somehow inserted into the world we think we live in. We think that bringing people to God is like bringing people to meet a friend of ours whom they ought to know and like because we have so much in common -- or maybe they are just interesting folk. The problem is that God is not like anyone, and when we compare us to him, we are the pale imitation. We are the ones who come up lacking.

So when we say things like, "well, God sort of 'remembers the future' -- he doesn't cause it, but he 'knows' it because he can 'see' it, sort of like Sonny & Cher ..." we are making God like us. But here's what God says about His relationship to the future:
Remember the former things of old:
for I am God, and there is none else;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning,
and from ancient times the things
that are not yet done,
saying, My counsel shall stand,
and I will do all my pleasure:
Calling a ravenous bird from the east,
the man that executeth my counsel
from a far country:
yea, I have spoken it,
I will also bring it to pass;
I have purposed it, I will also do it.

Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted,
that are far from righteousness:

I bring near my righteousness;
it shall not be far off,
and my salvation shall not tarry:
and I will place salvation in Zion
for Israel my glory.
[Is 46:9-13, KJV]
There are a lot of things that you can say about that passage, I guess, but there are a few couple of things you have to admit about it:

[1] This is a passage where God speaks explicitly about two things at least: the inevitability of salvation, and the basis of the inevitability of salvation. Zion is going to receive salvation and righteousness -- and it's not because God can see how it comes together. It is because He is God, and there is none like him, and he declares the end of things from the beginning. This has to put to rest any talk of God passively knowing the future -- somehow taking it in. God doesn't get awareness of the future: He declares it -- that is, what he says, goes.

[2] God is not merely declaring the ends, but also the means. That part about the ravenous bird and the foreign agent -- that's saying that not only will God say, "here's what I'm going to do," but also, "this is how I am going to do it." This may be poetic language, but if it is, then as a metaphor is it using the lesser example to point to the greater reality -- and that if the metaphor is, "I will use either a bird or a man as I please," the reality is that God will use all thingsas he pleases, and He does please.

So when we start talking about election results -- that is, the consequences of God's choice to save -- we should be certain that we are somehow connecting to what God actually says about the consequences of His choice to save. He will certainly save "whosoever will" repent and believe -- from our human perspective, which is notprescriptive of the future but is in fact consequential to the passage of time. But God's relationship to the future is not like ours, and we shouldn't try to make it like ours -- because let's face it: we would screw up the future if it was up to us, and we have hope that the future is in fact not screwed up but eschatologically perfect.

And with that big theology word to satisfy the watchbloggers, I leave the discussion open. Play nice.

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