Naked Calvinism: my series on Calvinism

Calvinism is a theology according to which God controls everything which occurs in advance, including evil.

In the following series, I explain what Calvinism is and examine its philosophical as well as theological consequences.

A short introduction to Calvinism

Naked Calvinism: motivation and methodology

Naked Calvinism: on the sinful nature of man and Genesis

Naked Calvinism: the secret will of God

Why the difference between single and double predestination does not matter

A reformed preacher at the doors of heaven and hell.

The sad testimony of the daughter of a Calvinist apologist

Fostering communion and unity with committed Calvinists?

Predestined to eternally suffer? An interview with philosopher Jerry Walls

 

 

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

 

Predestined to eternally suffer? An interview with philosopher Jerry Walls

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Calvinism (also known as reformed theology) is on the rise in the Conservative Protestant world and I am not the only one who finds that deeply preoccupying. In what follows, I had the immense privilege to interview Dr. Jerry Walls, who is an outstanding philosopher of religion defending a view called Arminianism.

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Lotharson: Thank you Jerry for having accepting my interview. Could you please sum up your personal background for my readers?
Jerry Walls: I was born and raised in Knockemstiff, a small village in southern Ohio. I attended a small revivalist church where I accepted Jesus as my savior in a revival when I was 11 years old. I preached my first sermon at age 13. After high school, I attended a Wesleyan Bible college for a couple years, where I seriously engaged Wesleyan theology. I graduated from Houghton College, also a Wesleyan school before attending Princeton theological seminary. I also took a degree from Yale divinity school and then pastored a church for three years. Then I went to Notre Dame where I did a PhD in philosophy, writing a dissertation defending the doctrine of hell. So I have a pretty diverse educational background.Bild
Lotharson: Yep! What version of hell did you defense back then?
Jerry Walls: I defended the view that hell is eternal because some people freely choose to remain there forever. I also pointed out that universalism and Calvinism share the assumption that God can save anyone he will. The difference is that for Calvinism, God does not choose to save everyone, whereas for the universalists he does. I argue that God truly desires to save all, but some are lost because we are free and some choose to reject God forever.

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Lotharson: Thanks, this is truly fascinating 🙂 Would you say that annihilationism (the destruction of the lost) is perpendicular to the debates between Calvinists and free-will Arminians such as yourself?

A calvinist and an Arminian can (possibly) be either an annhilationist or believe in eternal torment. Do you think this is the case?
Jerry Walls: Yes, those are views that can be combined. But either way, whether God determines people to eternal misery or (mere!) annihilation, either way the Calvinist God does not truly love all persons.

Lotharson: I agree with this! Why do you believe that your view of hell is the right one as opposed to other options? Could you please put it in a nutshell?
Jerry Walls: Well, God’s very nature is love and he created us in his image for relationships of love, both with himself and other persons. For us to truly love God, we have to be free. If God determined our “love” for himself, he would be loving himself rather than receiving genuine love from us. So for genuine love and worship to be possible, it must be possible that we can refuse to love God, to worship and obey him and so on. If that happens, we are necessarily unhappy for we are missing out on the very thing for which we were created–loving relationship with God and other persons. Hell is the natural misery that results when we choose not to love and obey God.

Lotharson: I largely agree with this though I think it begs some questions concerning eternal torment. But right now, I’d like to talk about reformed theology. What is, to your mind, the most concise way for summing up Calvinism?

Jerry Walls: Well, the famous TULIP, particular what I call “ULI in the middle.” God unconditionally chooses to save some, but not all, Christ died only for the elect that God unconditionally chooses to save, and God gives irresistible grace to the fortunate elect.
Jerry Walls: Particularly…

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Lotharson: And what about four-point Calvinists rejecting limited atonement?
Jerry Walls: That is only because it is rather embarrassing to admit you don’t really believe “God so loved the (whole) world” and gave his Son for all. But that is only a feeble attempt to mask the hard reality that the Calvinist God does not truly love all persons. So long as you have unconditional election and irresistible grace only for the elect, it does not help to play down limited atonement. You still have limited salvation. It is limited strictly to the elect God unconditionally chooses to save, but no one else.

Lotharson: Yeah, I also think that this distinction between single and double predestination is an illusion. What are now your main arguments against reformed theology?

Jerry Walls: Well, the heart of the issue is the character of God. Is he truly a God of love who is perfectly good? You cannot claim this with any plausibility if you believe God determines people to damnation, people he could just as easily determine to salvation. He could determine all persons FREELY to accept the Gospel (as Calvinists define freedom) but choose not to. God is more glorified by unconditionally choosing to save some and damning others than he would be by determining all to accept salvation. Such claims make shambles of the claim that God is love.
Jerry Walls: Calvinists are skillful at employing the rhetoric of love and most people do not really understand what Calvinists are saying. So Calvinism maintains credibility by way of misleading rhetoric about the love of God that their theology does not really support.

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Lotharson: Many Calvinists I told that answered me that God is a JUST judge. We are not free to chose good, but when we sin we are freely sinning, so that we deserve a punishment. What’s your take on this?
Jerry Walls: Freely only means doing “willingly” what God has determined you to do. He determines your will in such a way that you “willingly” choose sin. However, you cannot do otherwise. That flies in the face of how we understand justice. A person is considered culpable only for things over which he has control. And what would we think of a judge who determined a criminal to “willingly” murder someone and then sentenced him to death for murder? We would hardly think such a judge was just. Yet, that is just how Calvinists see God.

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Lotharson: Precisely. But then Calvinists say that we have NO RIGHT to judge God’s morality. He is the potter, we are the clay and we have to abide by HIS rules, however repugnant they might seem us to be. Do you often have heard such a reply in your own debates with Calvinists?
Jerry Walls: Well, that is a very compliacated question. Can God make anything right, just by willing it? Can he make lying right? Blasphemy? I believe whatever God wills is right, but I DO NOT think it follows that God can will just anything and make it right. He is necessarily good and loving in his nature, and can only will things that are compatible with his perfect goodness. So it is not a matter of us judging God by OUR standards, but rather that our moral intuitions are part of the image of God in us. To judge the Calvinist account of God to be morally abhorrent is not to judge God, but only the Calvinist account of him. For a fuller discussion of the relationship between God and morality, see the book David Baggett and I co-authored, “Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality” that was published in 2011.

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Lotharson: Thanks for the link! What I don’t understand is how Calvinists manage to live. They profess that God predetermined Hitler, the Shoah and predetermined most victims to eternally suffer. How is it possible to keep living without sinking into a dark depression?

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Jerry Walls: Great question! I think the answer again goes back to the inconsistency of Calvinism. They affirm the love of God for all persons, that he is perfectly good, and so on, but fail to see how these claims are utterly incompatible with their theology. They do not consistently work out the implications of determinism and compatibilism, and often think and say things that only make sense on a libertarian view of freedom. And of course, they often resort to “mystery” under the guise that it is true piety to believe things they do not understand or that do not make rational sense. But again, if people really understood compatibilism and the true implications of Calvinism, many could not believe it.
Many however, do sink into depression if they really understand Calvinism and its implications. I recently got an email from a guy who had been watching my videos and said he was moving to embrace Arminianism after being a Calvinist his whole life. He admitted the Calvinist view of God was at odds with the biblical picture of Jesus, and that he had little joy in his Christian life. The strain between what Calvinism teaches and what he truly believed was too great, and he finally realized he needed to give up Calvinism.

Lotharson: I am glad to hear about this happy ending 🙂

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Jeremiah 32:35 is extremely embarrassing for all divine determinists holding fast to Biblical inerrancy.
“35 They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.”
How do Calvinists interpret this passage?

Jerry Walls: I’m not sure, but this may be good candidate for the infamous distinction between the revealed and the decretive will of God. He reveals one thing to be his will, and commands it, but decrees something altogther different! Talk about internal conflict!

Lotharson: If a human being spoke and acted in this way, would we not universally call him or her an infamous deceiver?
Jerry Walls: Or worse. For the Calvinist, God’s ways that are “higher” than ours are actually lower than the standards we expect for a decent human being.

Lotharson: Yeah, and this is truly frightening. Is Neo-Calvinism on the rise in modern Evangelicalism?
Jerry Walls: Well, if you mean by Neo-Calvinism, just classic Calvinism, then yes, very much so.
Lotharson: Are there countless Arminian Churches who are being taken over?

Jerry Walls: I’m not sure of the number, but yes, some Arminian churches are being taken over by Calvinists.
Lotharson: Does it have regrettable consequences, especially in the way non-Christians view the Church?
Jerry Walls: I doubt that non-Christians know the difference. But it does cause conflict and division in some churches.
Jerry Walls: And again, Calvinists are not usually forthright in their views to unbelievers. Calvinists often say God loves everyone.

Lotharson: Is it morally praiseworthy to worship a deity having condemned one’s own son to an eternity of suffering BEFORE he was ever born? (I’m thinking on John Piper)

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Jerry Walls: The idea of unconditional election to salvation and damnation is morally abhorrent, and applying it to your own children only makes it more graphic. But that is Calvinist piety at its best. You sacrifice not only your child but also your moral intuitions in the name of worshiping a God whose “goodness” is utterly at odds with the normal meaning of that term.

Lotharson: I wholeheartedly agree with you! But it seems to me that Conservative Arminians have also many troubles.
For (the overwhelming majority of) Conservative Evangelical Arminians, if a non-Christian goes onto the other side of the grave, he can AUTOMATICALLY count on an eternity of terrifying distress. Do you agree with this?

Jerry Walls: I believe God’s mercy endures forever and his nature of perfect love does not change the minute we die. I agree with CS Lewis that the doors of hell are locked on the inside and that God is always willing to welcome the prodigal home.

Lotharson: So, do you expect post-mortem conversions?
Jerry Walls: Yes. I believe God truly desires to save all persons, and that many persons have not had a full opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel in this life. You do not go to hell for lack of opportunity to be saved, but for steadfastly resisting the opportunity to do so. If this is true, it makes sense that persons who have not had opportunity to receive the gospel in this life will do so after death.

Could you put your views on purgatory in a nutshell and mention useful resources?

Jerry Walls: Well, in a nutshell, purgatory is about completing the sanctification process begun in this life. For a full defense of this claim, see my book “Purgatory: The Logic of Total Transformation.” For a shorter account see my article “Purgatory for Everyone” that appeared in “First Things” several years ago. I also have a couple of videos on You Tube. One is CS Lewis on Why our Souls Demand Purgatory and the other is CS Lewis and Mere Purgatory. Thanks for the interview.

Lotharson: I was delighted to have had you!

 

Intelligent design, eternal torment and the restoration of everything: an interview with Kevin Miller

I had the immense privilege to interview the great and incredibly gifted movie maker Kevin Miller. He is a unique person in many respects and an outstanding Christian having left behind a great part of his conservative Evangelical baggage.

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Leaving Conservative Evangelicalism

Lotharson: Hello Kevin, I’m very glad you accepted to give me this interview. Could you please sum up your personal and religious background for the benefit of our readers?

Kevin Miller: I was raised in a theologically liberal but morally conservative home. My grandfather was actually a minister in the United Church of Canada, which is probably one of the most liberal Christian denominations in the country. However, at age 9, I had a “born again” experience at an evangelical Christian Bible camp. I pretty much kept that experience a secret though b/c my parents were pretty antagonistic toward that way of thinking. In my teens though, both of my parents underwent a similar experience, and we wound up attending an evangelical Mennonite Church. From there, I attended a Bible College, eventually earning a degree in youth ministry. After college, I spent 8 months in Kenya doing missionary work. Then I came back to Canada and went to university. That’s when my life and faith sort of imploded. I didn’t have any real Christian community around me, and all of the stuff I had been suppressing all those years came out. So I spent a few years wrestling with a lot of demons before finally emerging from the wilderness due to a reencounter with some friend from Bible college–and also a powerful reencounter with God. I felt like the prodigal son who had finally come home. But I still only had one foot inside the circle, so to speak, b/c I felt that somehow I’d been brainwashed or indoctrinated during my time spent in the evangelical world, and I didn’t know how to move forward. Thankfully, some good mentors came into my life around that time and started to provide me with a framework in which to analyze my experience.
Kevin Miller: I’ve always been a pretty analytical person, constantly questioning things. It’s probably some sort of unhealthy coping mechanism, b/c it makes it pretty difficult to buy into a particular theological system or faith community. I always tend to find myself on the boundary. I think that’s where I feel most comfortable.

Academic persecutions against intelligent design?

Lotharson: This is quite a fascinating story and helps better understanding your works and creations. My next question would be about your thoughts on intelligent design (ID). You wrote the script for the movie “Expelled” describing the academic intolerance towards ID. What did motivate you to do this?

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Kevin Miller: I was recruited for that project following the release of my first film, “After…,” a psychological thriller that takes place in the subterranean world beneath Moscow. How that goes together with the battle between Darwinian evolution and Intelligent Design I’ll never know. Originally, I was called in to attend some development meetings about what was then a hypothetical film about Intelligent design starring Ben Stein. I was really passionate about the topic (it appeals to the frustrated academic in me). But I actually told the producers not to hire me, b/c I didn’t think I had the sense of humor the project required. However, a few days later I got the call, and I was on the job. I had never worked on a documentary before and I had no idea what I was doing. Thankfully some of the other people around me did. So what motivated me? An intense interest in the topic as well as the opportunity to work on another film and to stretch myself creatively. Oddly enough, that set me on a path I had never anticipated in terms of documentary films, to the point where that’s what I’m best known for now.

Lotharson: Okay. Do you personally believe there’s a real academic persecution against ID?

Kevin Miller: I would call it more of a bias against Intelligent Design as a viable explanation for the origin, complexity and diversity of life and the origin of the universe. One one level, many people see ID as merely a Trojan Horse for some form of biblical creationism. I disagree. While most proponents of ID are people of faith, the brightest lights amongst them are truly seeking to engage in a scientific enterprise, particularly in the area of information theory, for example. The question is, what is the best explanation for the information we find in DNA? Ideally, scientists will always infer to the best explanation, follow the evidence wherever it leads. However, how do we define “best”? This is where the rule of parsimony kicks in. The best explanation is always the simplest explanation, the one that requires the fewest number of unverifiable assumptions. As Richard Dawkins likes to point out, God is pretty must the most complicated explanation someone can offer, because now you have to explain where God comes from. Even so, as Dawkins admits in the film, the idea that some form of intelligence may be responsible for the universe and everything in it is neither inherently religious nor unscientific, even though it may be friendly to a theistic worldview. But scientists are not philosophers. They are observing, measuring, experimenting, etc. If you watch Sean Carroll ‘s recent debate with William Lane Craig, for example, you can see that many non-scientist ID proponents are simply speaking a completely different language than cosmologists, biologists, and other scientists who are on the front lines running the numbers. They’re trying to solve complex equations, to explain mechanisms according to physical laws, not philosophize about how those mechanisms and laws came to be.
All that to say, I don’t think there is any more persecution against ID than there is against astrology or leprechauns. If anyone from any of these communities came to the table with a viable model to explain a natural phenomenon, people would pay attention.
I remember asking Michael Behe how science would be different if ID was the prevalent theoretical model. He had no answer. That troubled me. No surprise his interview didn’t make it into the film.

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Universal salvation

Lotharson: Thanks! I agree to a large extent with what you’ve said. Ironically enough, you were yourself “expelled” by the same conservative Evangelicals complaining about this alleged state of affairs. Could you please tell us more about this?

Kevin Miller: I wasn’t exactly expelled. I was just prohibited from teaching a course on documentary filmmaking at Trinity Western University (located in Langley, BC, Canada) due to my views on hell. Ironically, I was allowed to screen “Hellbound?” there several months earlier, and a few months after being barred from teaching on campus, I was invited to present a paper at a philosophy event DEFENDING my views on hell. So go figure. It’s a strange world. I will say, however, that my views on many subjects have shifted substantially over the past decade, thanks in large part to my extensive interaction with the atheist community re: “Expelled.”

Lotharson: How did your views evolve?

Kevin Miller: Well, you can’t undergo the sort of scathing criticism I faced as a result of “Expelled” without it affecting you. I made a point of trying to engage our critics in a meaningful way, and I took their criticisms of our film and my own views seriously. Through discussion and debate, you get to see things from a number of different sides. And I came to see many of the things I felt quite certain about didn’t quite merit that level of certainty. I guess you could say that’s when the serious deconstruction of my belief system began, and it’s been an ongoing project ever since. My departure from traditional evangelical beliefs about hell is just a small part of that process.

Culture war and bigotry

Lotharson: I guess that criticism from atheists and other non-Christians can be quite a help for reaching more reasonable views. The problem I have with ANTI-atheists is that they constantly resort to mockery and emotional bullying, in an useless and oftentimes counter-productive way. Did you experience that too?

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Kevin Miller: Mockery and bullying is present on all sides. That’s something that disillusioned me during “Expelled.” I found that many people on all sides were more concerned with scoring points against their opponents than seeking the truth through meaningful dialogue. It’s an understandable occupational hazard though, b/c you can only go around the Mulberry bush so many times before you get frustrated at your opponents’ seeming inability to grasp the obvious truth to which you have committed your life. However, as Jonathan Haidt points out in “The Righteous Mind,” most of us arrive at our philosophical/theological positions via an emotional rather than a rational process. So until we have some kind of transformational emotional experience, we remain rather impervious to rational arguments launched against our views. So we shouldn’t be surprised to see emotions running high. Emotion is at the heart of everything. So is identity. We don’t respond well when our identity is threatened.

Lotharson: Precisely! Jon Haidt is quite an outstanding scholar and I greatly appreciate his efforts to overcome the culture war. Now I’d be interested to know more about your views of hell.
Who were the authors who influenced you the most as you were considering the possibility of universal reconciliation?

Defense of Christian universalism

Kevin Miller: It all started with Brad Jersak, author of “Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hope, Hell and the New Jerusalem.” I edited the book for him back in the fall of 2008. That experience is what convinced me I had to make a documentary on this topic, although I wasn’t in a position to begin pursuing it until nearly three years later.

The thing that struck me about Brad’s book was how little what I was taught about hell was actually in the Bible. He also introduced me to the various streams of interpretation regarding final things throughout the history of the church. I should have known this stuff (I’d been to seminary after all) but it was all new to me. I should also note that I was well prepped for this mind-shift due to another book I had edited for Wayne Northey. It’s a novel called “Chrysalis Crucible.” It really got me questioning the connection between God and violence.

Another book, coedited by Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin, called “Stricken by God?” faced this question head-on, arguing that the atonement and nothing to do with God punishing Jesus for our sins. Once you start to think along those lines, the idea of hell as a place of eternal, conscious torment pretty much falls to the wayside. In terms of universalism, some key influences were Thomas Talbott, Robin Parry, Richard Beck, Brian McLaren, Eric Reitan, Sharon Baker and Julie Ferwerda. They showed me that a viable case could be made for a non-retributive view of God and hell. Of course, Michael Hardin is also front and center throughout. So is his “rabbi,” Rene Girard.

Lotharson: The following passage is widely seen as extremely problematic for universal reconciliation. Matthew 25:46 (NET) “And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Most Conservative Evangelicals use the following syllogism:
1. We know that the saved will live eternally in bliss
2. The damned will be punished in the same way the elects are rewarded
3. Thus the damned will suffer eternally.
What’s your take on this text?

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Kevin Miller: This isn’t nearly as problematic as it appears. It all comes down to the word translated as “eternal.” In Greek, the term is “aionios,” an adjective that means “of an age” or “age-long” rather than “never-ending.” So it can be interpreted as either qualitative or quantitative, or perhaps both. At any rate, in this parable, the righteous will receive a reward in keeping with the age to come and the wicked will receive a punishment in keeping with the age to come.

There is no reason to assume the reward or punishment will last forever. Furthermore, the intent of this parable isn’t to provide a systematic theology of the afterlife but to emphasize how strongly Jesus identifies with “the least of these.”

The other thing I chuckle at when people try to use this to establish a belief in hell as eternal torment is that the qualification for avoiding hell has nothing to do with faith. In fact, the sheep had no idea they were doing anything that merited a reward. Works is the deciding factor here, in particular how we treat the poor. So if proponents of eternal torment want to use this parable to bolster their case, they’ll also have to concede that faith doesn’t enter the equation.

The only thing that matters is righteous action–at least if you read this parable in isolation. And if you want to combine it with other parables and verses that emphasize faith, you’re sort of stuck in a contradiction. Unless, of course, you want to say the good works are the fruit of faith. But then I’ll remind you that the sheep had no idea they were serving God by helping the poor. So once again, it’s problematic.

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On inerrancy and picking and choosing

Lotharson: These are good points! I also find it quite stunning that Evangelicals PICK and CHOOSE which parts of the passage they take at face value and which parts they allegorize for avoiding “salvation by work”. Do you agree with me that there are conflicting voices in the Bible, so that inerrantists INEVITABLY have to cherry-pick things?

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Kevin Miller: Everyone cherry-picks. You have to. Even Paul and, dare I say it, Jesus cherry-picked! If you look at how Paul uses the Old Testament, for example, he pays virtually no attention to the original context of many of the verses he quotes.

Peter Enns does a great job in “The Evolution of Adam” of explaining how Paul’s view of Adam’s role in human sinfulness is completely absent from the Old Testament. He adapts Scriptures and theological ideas for his own purposes. In doing so, he was merely in keeping with his times. Many of his contemporaries did exactly the same thing. And how often does Jesus pluck a verse here or there and then completely revolutionize the traditional interpretation?

All that to say, circumstances shift constantly. Therefore, so does our perspective on the Bible. All of us suffer from confirmation bias–the tendency or perhaps the temptation to pick and choose passage of Scripture that support what we already believe. That’s the thing that struck me about Jersak’s book when I edited it. Speaking back to the evangelical world in which he had spent most of his career, he said if we are going to be biblical about hell, let’s be biblical.

That is, let’s listen to everything the Bible says about final things, not just the parts that support what we already believe. That’s a highly problematic approach for someone who desires a hermetically sealed theology, but it’s the only approach that is in keeping with integrity. All that to say, we all tend to take parts of the Bible literally and allegorize other parts as it suits us. The key is to be aware of this tendency and to work consciously against it. This is where peer review can play a key role–as long as the entire peer review process isn’t biased in the same direction!
Speaking of which, I have a bit of a pet peeve re: peer review. Academics like to hold it up as the golden standard, an almost infallible means of achieving truth. The thing we often fail to consider is how the entire peer review process can be just as biased–perhaps more heavily invested in a bias–than individual academics. So if the peer review process holds individuals in check, what holds the process in check? I’m sure you wouldn’t put much stock in an astrologist’s insistence that his or her conclusions were correct because they had been peer-reviewed by other astrologists. 🙂

 

Hell and cognitive dissonances

Lotharson: Yeah, this is why Conservative Evangelicals and militant atheists peer-reviewing their own community are truly laughable 🙂
Conservative Evangelicals often argue that atheists cannot live consistently with their assumption that they and their loved ones are insignificant molecular machines. While I largely agree with this, I am convinced that the cognitive dissonances they are facing are FAR WORSE.
For they believe that most people will eternally suffer as a punishment for sins they could not have avoided, having been cursed with a sinful nature by the almighty Himself. Do you agree with this assessment?

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Kevin Miller: Here’s the thing: Theists argue that unless there’s a creator, everything is meaningless, and our attempts to create meaning absurd, because if God or some sort of equivalent being (or race of beings) doesn’t exist, the only determining factors in the universe (or multiverse) are chance and necessity. We are nothing but stardust come to life for a brief moment, so to speak. Atheists counter this assertion by saying we don’t need an ultimate being to give our lives mean. We can assign our own proximate meaning to other people, objects, events, locations, rituals, etc. If theists are completely honest, they’ll have to admit that’s pretty much what they’re doing anyway.

As Richard Dawkins points out, challenge a Christian with horrific commands from the Old Testament (such as the stoning of adulterers), and they’ll say those rules don’t apply anymore. As we noted above, we all pick and choose which parts of the Bible to take literally and which to ignore. So as Dawkins points out, even though people like to say the Bible or God is the ultimate authority, we are still applying some sort of standard that actually supersedes the Bible. In fact, the only reason we believe the Bible has any authority in our lives is because we have become convinced of his validity or inspiration. And even in this case, it’s the arguments in favour of the Bible’s authenticity that are our true authority. So when it comes to ultimate meaning versus proximate meaning, I think the atheists are onto something.
As for cognitive dissonance, this is certainly one of the key problems facing Christians who believe in a God who violently punished his son on the cross and then threatens to punish the wicked forever in hell. This runs smack into cherished beliefs about God loving his enemies, love keeping no record of wrongs, etc.

Think about it: If God is perfectly loving, and if our own love is perfected in heaven, how could we possibly tolerate people suffering forever in hell? Our compassion would grow in proportion to our awareness of their suffering. Therefore, if anyone winds up in hell, I can’t see how we all wouldn’t be there, with the “righteous” ministering to those who are suffering. The only way around this is for God to either render us unaware of the suffering of our loved ones or for God’s love to be revealed as something completely different than what Christ taught.

 

Fundamentalism and child abuse?

Lotharson: I once stated that folks STRESSING the doctrine of eternal torment too much to their kids are abusing them. This made many of my readers angry and I regretted having written the sentence since it gives the impression that all people teaching Eternal Conscious Torment are abusive. This is not what I meant since my secular Catholic parents taught me that (concerning evildoers) and I never felt abused at all.
That said, I still believe that fundamentalists terrorizing their children in the hope they will “make a decision for Christ” are abusing them. Do you think this is the case and that this can really cause them deep psychological wounds?

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Kevin Miller: If it’s abuse, it’s unintentional. I was “saved” through a gospel presentation that included a threat of hell. And I believe it affected me psychologically in such a way that it essentially derailed the next two decades of my life. But the people who presented that version of the gospel to me were some of the most loving people you will ever meet. Years later I was at a function where I witnessed a kindly old Mennonite lady making a similar presentation to my own young children–who had never heard of hell–and I was horrified. I didn’t want to see them inflicted with such a horrific view of God. There’s a meme going around where God or Jesus says, “Let me save you… from what I’m going to do if you don’t let me save you.” I think that gets right to the bedrock on this one. Think of a parent saying that about him or herself to a young child. It would be considered abusive or at the very least highly coercive.

Calvinism and predestination to eternal torment

Lotharson: I agree it is almost always unintentional. Calvinists are arguably the most vocal opponents of universalism. They believe that God created evil and caused Adam and Eve to fall because He needs to SHOW OFF his punitive wrath. Without eternal torments, he would be unable to maximize his glory and his undeserved grace. What’s your opinion on this?
Kevin Miller: I have to quote Michael Hardin here and say that Calvinism or Reformed Christianity is nothing but paganism dressed up in Christian clothing. The God who would do such a think in no way resembles the Jesus of the gospels, who was a friend–not an enemy–of sinners.
When I say “paganism,” BTW, I mean no affront to modern day pagans. What I mean is they have basically taken the old, sacrificial view of God of pre-Christian religions and made him the center of the Christian faith–which I see as an apologetic against exactly this sort of God. Jesus never demanded sacrifice. Rather, he sacrificed himself. So I would say Calvinism is 180 degrees away from Christ.
At least my interpretation of Jesus. 🙂

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Lotharson: 🙂 Some Calvinists I talked too agree that (according to all criterion of human justice and love) the god they worship is a fiend. But they went on saying that we cannot judge God by our own morality and that He defines what is good and bad. What is your response to this?
Kevin Miller: I would agree. God does define morality. And, playing by their own rules, if Jesus is God, he defines morality in ways that utterly defy their theological system. So it seems to me they have two choices:

1) admit that Jesus was lying or

2) admit that God has a double standard–one form of morality for humans, another for himself. Either way, the results aren’t pretty. Either love never fails, never keeps a record of wrongs, always hopes, always perseveres (cf. 1 Corinthians 13) or it doesn’t. Calvinists are saying it doesn’t. So not only are they contradicting Jesus’ teaching that what makes us perfect like God is love of enemy (Matthew 5), they are also contradicting the clear teaching of Paul.
Lotharson: Most Calvinists I know are nice people. But what could occur if they began imitating the behavior and attitude of the God they profess to believe and trust upon?
Kevin Miller: Exactly. As Frank Schaeffer likes to point out, most people who believe in such a punitive view of God live above their theology. They’re far nicer than the God they worship. And thank God for that! But on a meta-level, I believe our entire society reflects a version of the Calvinist God, b/c our entire justice system is based primarily on retribution. Not only our justice system but our prison system, our economic system, our theological systems, our war machines, even the way many people discipline their children is a shadow version of the punitive God who demands sacrifice in order to achieve peace. This is one of the key insights of Rene Girard and Michael Hardin, who have had a huge influence on me over the past few years. Our entire society is based on scapegoating and sacrifice. It’s how we create culture. This is why Michael says toward the end of “Hellbound?” that the entire church is missing the gospel. That’s because the gospel isn’t divine sanctification of our sacrificial machinery; it’s the antidote to it, it’s the foundation for a new kind of community–call it he Kingdom of God–based on self-sacrifice instead. In this regard, I think we have completely missed the radically subversive message of Christ. It undercuts everything.

 

Libertarian free will?

Lotharson: It seems to me that you agree with Calvinists that there is no such thing as libertarian free will, am I right? Is everything determined by God?
Kevin Miller: Wrong. I believe we are co-determining–at our core, humans are imitators. We look to others to see what we should desire. And then we compete with each other for these objects of desire or states of being, thinking it will give us the sense of identity or immortality we seek, anything to transcend the fear of death that gnaws at our insides, the feeling that we are insignificant. I tend not to look at people as individuals but as members of a herd. The “self illusion” is one of the most problematic illusions we face right now. Alongside it is the notion of free will. We are pack animals for the most part, and our powers of volition are much weaker than we imagine. I’ll go back to Jonathan Haidt (“The Righteous Mind“) on this one. Also Bruce Hood (“The Self Illusion”), Ernest Becker (“The Denial of Death”), Richard Beck (“The Slaver of Death”) and Rene Girard (“Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World”) on this one. All of these writers and many others point to a similar conclusion.
Lotharson: Okay, thanks for the correction. I didn’t know you believe in libertarian freedom. You once said that freedom is just a mean to the end of our salvation. But what if freedom is an end in itself? What if God’s main purpose in creating us was that we develop a good personality naturally desiring Him, so that those lacking it won’t inherit eternal life but BE NO MORE? Is it not conceivable as well?
Kevin Miller: I would hope the end game is self-actualization, that we all become the ultimate fulfillment of our potential. Exactly how that is achieved doesn’t concern me all that much.

 

Palestine and Christian sionism

Lotharson: Okay. I have a last question. Many Evangelicals support unconditionally the state of Israel. A young pastor once told me that the modern Palestinians are the descendants of a people that Israel refused to annihilate during Joshua’s conquest, and that the struggles of modern Israelis can be traced back to this ancestral “sin”: they should have left nothing which breathes alive. What are your thoughts on this issue?

PalestiniansKids
Kevin Miller: Despite having co-written “With God on Our Side,” which criticizes extreme forms of Christian Zionism, I’m not sure if I know enough about the situation to comment on it. However, I will say this: I don’t believe God ever told the Israelites to annihilate anyone in the Old Testament. Second, many evangelicals fail to distinguish between the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Israel is a secular state created in 1948. Within that state are Jews, Palestinians and all sorts of other people. No Christian should ever support any secular state uncritically. So how the State of Israel treats the Palestinians living within its territory (as well as the Gaza Strip and the West Bank) is a completely separate issue in my mind from historical/theological concerns going back to Joshua’s purported conquests of Canaan.
What we can say for sure is that treating anyone as a second-class citizen is wrong. So are acts of terrorism. Whenever theological ideas are used to justify either action, they go against the clear teachings of Christ.

Lotharson: Okay Kevin, this marks the end of our discussion.Thank you for all the time you’ve granted me! I wish you all the best for your ongoing projects.

 

 

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

 

Fostering communion and unity with committed Calvinists?

 

Zack Hunt (The American Jesus) just wrote a thought-provoking article about the implications of Calvinism (also called Reformed Theology). It is a fictional letter to John Calvin.

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Dear John,

Ok, first off I know, “Dear John” letters are usually written between former lovers and we were never even friends. But, John, I tried. I really, really did.

I’ve heard for so long that my frustrations with Calvinism were really due to your Neo-Calvinist followers giving you a bad name. That made sense to me. After all, I couldn’t believe some of the rephrensible and callous things being said and taught today would be derived directly from someone of your theological prowess. So, I wanted to give you a chance at redemption in my eyes.

Since you’ve been, um, not present in the body for the past 450 years, I thought the best way to get acquainted with the real Calvin would be to read the work you are most famous for. I’m talking, of course, about your Institutes of the Christian Religion.

In my effort to get to know you better I spent my last semester at Yale in a class devoted entirely to the reading and discussion of your epic work. I admit we didn’t make it through every single chapter (forgive us John, but the book is nearly 1,000 pages long and we needed time to discuss what we read each week), but we did make it through almost all of it (we mostly skipped a few chapter at the end about church polity). And even with those handful of overlooked chapters, I’m still willing to bet we made it through more of the Institutes than many of your followers today have read. (I say this as a Wesleyan, who has read far far too little of what Wesley actually wrote.)

I have to admit, John, you’re a brilliant guy and a great writer. Your passion and honesty were obvious from page one and at times refreshing given the way we so often dance around what we really think in the church today. I really admire your conviction and willingness to say what you believe to be true even if it wasn’t the popular thing to say. Without a doubt, you had some great things to say and, at times, I even found myself close to shouting “Amen!” Like the time you called out those who want to believe in the absurd notion that God can predestine some to heaven while not necessarily also predestined everyone else to hell, ”This they do so ignorantly and childishly since there could be no election without its opposite reprobation.” (3.23.1)

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Ok, maybe, that amen wasn’t exactly for the reason you would like, but still, it counts for something, right?

Anyway, class is now over, our reading of your monumental achievement complete, and I’ve had some time to process everything you said.

So, can I be totally honest with you, John?

You crushed my hope for reconciliation.

I found your theology to be every bit as appalling – and maybe even more so – than your followers.

To be blunt, as a Christian, I don’t recognize your God and I have no clue what the good news is in the Institutes. That some people are saved no matter what? I guess that’s good for them. But you’re clear that God also creates people for eternal damnation,

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, other to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death. (3.21.5)

And you also say that God tricks some of those same people he dooms to hell into thinking He loves them by “instilling into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption” simply so he “better convince them.” (3.2.11) John, what kind of perverse and manipulative God would do that?

But it gets worse.

Much worse.

For, according to you, God ordains every single horrific act of evil that has or ever will occur.

As you explain over,

Scripture, moreover, the better to show that every thing done in the world is according to his decree, declares that the things which seem most fortuitous are subject to him. For what seems more attributable to chance than the branch which falls from a tree, and kills the passing traveler? But the Lord sees very differently, and declares that he delivered him into the hand of the slayer. (1.16.6)

And over,

As all contingencies whatsoever depend on it, therefore, neither thefts, nor adulteries, nor murders, are perpetrated without an interposition of the divine will. (1.17.1)

And over,

Let us suppose, for example, that a merchant, after entering a forest in company with trust-worthy individuals, imprudently strays from his companions and wanders bewildered till he falls into a den of robbers and is murdered. His death was not only foreseen by the eye of God, but had been fixed by his decree. (1.16.9)

And over again, God is behind every act of evil that ever takes places,

I concede more – that thieves and murderers, and other evil-doers, are instruments of divine providence, being employed by the Lord himself to execute the judgments which he has resolved to inflict. (1.17.5)

In other words, if a child is raped, a family murdered in their sleep, or an entire population of people sent off to the gas chambers, that wasn’t just the act of evil men. It was the will of God.

And, of course, God doesn’t just have it out for us in this life; God has it out for some people for eternity too because as you say, “Those whom the Lord favors not with the direction of his Spirit, he, by a righteous judgment, consigns to the agency of Satan.” (2.4.1)

You say all of this wrath is due to our depravity. Ignoring Paul’s words affirming the complete opposite, you say ”wherever sin is, there also are the wrath and vengeance of God” (3.11.2) And as if to drive your point home at just how much God hates us, you claim that it’s not just adults that God despises, but infants too because they ”cannot but be odious and abominable to God.” (2.1.8) John, you go to great lengths to establish the total depravity of man, and I agree that we are indeed sinful people. But in the end, based on your own argument, the one looking the most depraved is God. For it is God, not humanity, who ordains evil and institutes eternal torture regardless of act or decision.

Yes, John, you’re right. All of these quotes and points are lacking in their immediate context, but they’re not random thoughts. They are, as you demonstrate so well, the logical conclusions of your theology of divine sovereignty and, therefore, at the very heart of what you believe about God. Worse, this isn’t a case of you overstating without thinking through the conclusions. You’re clear that this sort of God who ordains genocide, murder, rape, children abuse, and every other conceivable horrendous act is the God you worship.

Not surprisingly, you say that we should fear this God, not just honor and revere Him, but actually be terrified of Him. (3.2.26) I suppose on that point we are in at least partial agreement. If this is a God who arbitrarily ordains the death of children and the torment of people before they’re even born, then of course we should fear this God.

Which is why, John, I’ve got to be brutally honest with you.

I think your God is a monster.

I don’t say that casually or based on a handful of random one liners. I say it based on the foundation of your theological project and your insitence on a God who both ordains evil and creates people simply to torment them for eternity. John, this is not the God I find in the Bible, nor is it a God I think is worthy of worship. It’s a God who can only be feared for His arbitrary, callous, and evil ways, and pitied for his enslavement to wrath.

To me, John, your God looks nothing like Jesus of Nazareth. And, for me, that’s a big problem.

Now, John, it wouldn’t be a good breakup letter if I wasn’t clear about why I don’t like you like that anymore (or I guess ever did). I’m know a lot of those reasons are obvious already, but in the spirit of your Institutes, I don’t want to leave any room for doubt as to why we need to go our separate ways.

First, John, as awed as I am by your intellect, you’re way way way overcommitted to your theological system. I know your methodology and meticulousness are derivative of your training as a lawyer, and while those can be great qualities in a person, in your Institutes your utter devotion to your theological system creates an unbelievable callousness that is totally foreign to the Jesus I meet in the gospels. Experience, reason, compassion, and even huge chunks of scripture are sacrificed on the altar of your theological system. Relationships require compassion, humility, and at a times a bit of flexibility. John, we’ve all got some work to do in those areas, but that’s especially true for you.

You also have a tendency to talk about of both sides of your mouth. This isn’t good for a relationship because it means I can never really trust what you’re saying. F0r instance, in order to acknowledge the obvious reality of freewill while defending your hardcore understanding of divine sovereignty, you try to create a make believe difference between compulsion and necessity, as if just because we necessarily have to act in a certain way because God has ordained it so, we’re not actually compelled to do that. (2.3.5) John, that makes no sense. Likewise, you argue that even though everything is determined by God long before we even exist, we’re still responsible for out actions. (1.17.5)

Look, I get it, you’ve got a system to maintain and you need to make sense of sin and guilt. But, John, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Either we freely choose to sin and are therefore responsible, or God causes us by divine decree to sin and, therefore God is ultimately responsible. Which leads us to the worst doublespeak of all in your book. You make is clear that God ordains evil, but isn’t the author of it. John, buddy, as you heard throughout your lifetime, if God is the source of and the one who ordains evil acts, then God is the author of evil. Which means your God isn’t really as loving and good as you would have us believe. In fact, your God is pretty stinking evil.

Which is why, John, it’s hard not to conclude that Calvinism is a sustained exercise in the defense against the obvious. By which I mean you’re constantly on the defense against the obvious conclusions of your claims. To your credit you offer up an exhaustive defense, it just runs counter to basic logic. There’s just no way around the fact that you’ve simultaneously created a God who is the author of evil while rendering the Christian life irrelevant because if our eternal fate is already sealed, there is absolutely no point in bothering to live in any particular way.

Also, John, and I’m not trying to be mean here, but your use of Scripture is just awful. I know, I know, I know. Who am I to criticize the great John Calvin’s exegesis? But buddy you cherry pick scripture like it’s your spiritual gift. You completely ignore the context of the verses you pick. And, with only a few exceptions, either ignore or dismiss out of hand any and all passages that contradict your position. But, John, I’m not sure that’s the even the worst part of it for me.

As a fellow Christian I know this might be a little hard to hear, but you deal surprisingly little with what Jesus himself actually had to say. Sure, you talk about his role in salvation plenty, but when it comes to supporting your various claims, you seem to quote everybody but Jesus. In fact, I’m pretty sure you quoted the entire book of Romans. And yet the words of Jesus himself were few and far between. Knowing your bravado, I’m sure this wasn’t the case but it was almost as if you intentionally ignored him because some of the things he threw a huge wrench your system that could bring the whole thing crashing down on itself, like that pesky John 3:16-17 loving the whole world and not just the elect nonsense or that stuff in Matthew 25 or James 2 where salvation by faith alone seems to be an unwelcome guest.

But, John, I think the ultimate problem between you and me is the starting point in your grand theological endeavor. For you, everything begins and ends with the glory of God. I wholeheartedly agree that giving glory to God is an important thing. But John, I don’t know what Bible you’re reading if you think that receiving glory is God’s primary interest in and purpose for mankind. If anything, the Bible is a sustained account of God’s disinterest in glory. It’s the story of a God who desires above all to be in a loving relationship with His people and God’s willingness to do anything to make that happen, including abandoning all sense of glory even to that point of death on a cross.

But perhaps the most ironic point in your emphasis on glory is that in your attempt to glorify God you destroy that very glory through your understanding of divine sovereignty and election. For if God ordains murder, rape, and abuse, while creating some people – maybe most people – for eternal torment, then that God is not worthy of glory. Period.

Now, I know your followers today will tell me I’m “misreading” you and don’t understand what you’re “really” trying to say. I heard a lot of that this semester as we tried to reconcile the words on the page with their practical implications. But this letter isn’t about the 450 years of interpretation and reinterpretation that have followed in your wake. I’m responding to the words you yourself wrote. And, for me, what you wrote was far too often abhorrent.

And can I tell you something else, John? I don’t think your followers today are nearly as comfortable with your theology as you are. At least, not a lot of them. Don’t get me wrong. You’re on an incredibly high pedestal for them, but time and time again I see them jumping through hoops and doing mental gymnastics to avoid or at least soften the very clear claims you’re making. And I see others rejecting out of hand some of the things you said, while trying to hold on to the rest.

But I get that. We all want to defend our heroes. The bigger issue I have, John, is that you have a tendency (cause I’ll be the first to admit they’re not all like this) to create incredibly arrogant and sometimes hateful followers who are just a cold, calculating, and callous in their theology and selective in their use of scripture as you are. Just like you, too many of your prominent followers today denounce their critics as heretics while praising God for a whole host of evil things that happen in the world from earthquakes and tornadoes to the marginalization, oppression, and destruction of people made in the image of God.

John, I don’t know how to say it any other way – you’ve got a bad habit of making disciples that aren’t very christlike in their love, mercy, compassion, and grace towards others.

Now, I know if you were still around to respond, you would probably tell me like you did so many of your opponents, that I’m “virulent dog” (3.23.2) or maybe a satellite of Satan (3.17.1) because in my “rebellious spirit” (3.21.4) I have the audacity to question your understanding of God, God’s sovereignty, and election which I should never do (3.21.1-2) because by doing so I ”assail the justice of God.” (3.21.7)

Maybe you’re right.

Maybe I am an agent of Satan lost in my own heresy and sin and I just don’t realize it.

But John, I don’t think I am. Like the millions of Christians that came before you and billions that have come after, I believe in a God who confronts sin with grace, defeats evil with love, and offers redemption to all.

Which is why, John, it’s not going to work out between the two of us.

Maybe when I see you in heaven and we both see things a bit clearer, we can try this relationship thing again.

But for now, I think you would agree, we need to go our separate ways.

It’s what’s best for the both of us.

 

Grace and Peace,

Zack Hunt

 

Here follows my answer.
This is truly a wonderful post which expresses what many people think silently.

My first experiences with Calvinists (link) were kind of traumatic. There is one thing I didn’t mention in the above link: I also read a German reformed pastor stating that Hitler was God’s tool for punishing the Jewish people for having rejecting His son (forgetting to mention they rejected Him because God Himself predetermined it) and that this should be a strong reason for us to warn this sinful world, because God is going to do something far worse at the end of times.

holocaust

I (try to) love my Calvinists as fellow human beings, but I cannot view consistent ones as my fellow believers because they worship an evil demon they call God.

They uphold their belief system by resorting to countless fallacies and absurdities, and if you expose their errors, they will inevitably quote:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55.8)

But there is a big irony here. Reading the verse in its immediate context shows it is all about reconciliation, that God invites all evildoers to give up their wicked ways and come back to Him. This verse seems rather to indicate that God is much more loving, much more forgiving than any man can be and even than any man could ever imagine to be.
For reformed theologians, this verse means than God is probably more vicious than the worst criminal who has ever lived.

They say that people deserve to be eternally tortured because they constantly commit misdeeds. But they almost never mention (at least in public) that:

1) God predetermined the fall of Adam and Eve and cursed us with a sinful nature (link)

2) God predetermined every one of our evil actions (link)

calvinistfreewill

The most crazy aspect is that God does all these things for SHOWING OFF His glory by pouring off his unquenchable wrath on those who were not elected before their birth .

Consistent Calvinism is a horrendous blasphemy and a very sophisticated form of devil’s worship . I’m sorry but I cannot be honest to God without putting it this way. I don’t find it pleasant at all to have to say this, and it is my hope that these people will moderate their views in such a way I’ll no longer have to see them in that manner. I don’t like conflicts for the own sake of feeling right and would largely prefer to peacefully coexist with them, were their mistakes not so egregious.

calvinistgod

I don’t seek communion with (consistent) Calvinists, only confrontation but always in a spirit of love (at least that’s what I’m aiming at), reminding myself that they are valuable, wonderful creatures, their horrible ideas notwithstanding.

Finally, you say that Calvinists misinterpret many Biblical verses. I agree that it’s the case, but for honesty’s sake we should recognize that the Bible itself also contains odious stuff (link), such as praying God to dash the children of one’s foes to the ground.
The Bible (along books of C.S. Lewis, Ellen White, John Wesley…) contains the human experiences of people with God, perhaps even the reports of genuine miracles but a careful and intellectually honest study of its content and context forbids us to view it as the voice of the Almighty directly talking down to us.

Unlike the opinion of militant atheists (link), you can find lots of wonderful things within its pages (when properly interpreted in their historical and cultural context) but unlike the convictions of Conservative Evangelicals, it also encompasses heinous things (link).
The basis of our theology cannot be a composite document speaking with conflicting voices but God’s perfect love and justice (as exemplified in Christ), which is necessarily far greater than that of the best (purely) human being having ever lived.

 

Edit: I’ve been harshly criticized for having said that consistent Calvinists worship an evil demon. Should I perhaps not become more moderate and consider them as Christians who are really wrong in some respects? The fact is: I don’t know and my views will perhaps evolve in the future. I don’t hate these folks and would be glad to view them as siblings in Christ. But (at least in the cases mentioned in this post and in the links) it seems really hard.

 

 

Cosmos reborn (happy theology on the new creation) by John Crowder

The question of heaven, hell, election and predestination are hot topics troubling many unbelievers for the answer to it has heavy repercussions for God’s moral perfection.

I was therefore extremely interested as I received a free copy of this book through the Speakeasy ministry of Mike Morell.

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The author is a revival pastor having “a passion to spread the exuberant love and joy of the supernatural gospel of Jesus Christ.”

In what follows, I am going to offer my critical thoughts on the content of the book.

Christian mysticism, logic and contradictions

The author made it clear that he belongs to the strongly charismatic and mystic wing of the Church. While it does not correspond to my psychological makeup, I don’t think there is necessarily something wrong with that.

Crowder rightly points out that “American revival religion has a very low threshold for mystery” which I would add is by and large true for the entire modern Western society.

I agree with him that “Eastern and Western thought need one another, just as you need a right and left side to your brain.”

He shares the view of the great reformed apologist Francis Schaeffer that having made the laws of nature independent of God is the cause of modern Western materialism.

“Newton took deism, viewed the laws of nature as independent. “

“Kruger says, “It seems to me that we are giving ourselves far too much credit, assuming that ‘ordinary’ things like laughter, fellowship, caring, working, giving ourselves for others, being parents, making music, creating things are simply ‘human’ and have no Jesus or any Holy Spirit in them. Our dualisms have blinded us, and we don’t even know it.””

They are in good company in believing this since no less of an atheistic philosopher as Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that “the whole worldview of modernism is grounded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are an explanation of the phenomena of nature”.

Crowder went on quoting Albert Einstein: “the most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men.”

I think that caution is required here. Unlike many village atheists, Einstein believed that there is an unfathomable mystery underlying the whole Cosmos, but he was by no means a atheist, believing instead in a form of pantheism.

I started out disagreeing with Crowder as he wrote that

“Just like Calvinism and Arminianism, Universalism as a theological model ultimately relies on human logic to resolve mystery. It says that everyone will definitely, automatically, eventually make it out of hell with utmost certainty – if hell even exists at all. It is dogmatic in areas where scripture is fluid and open ended.”

I think there is a real danger that our embrace of mystery can lead to an embrace of logical contradictions as well.

I found the following passage deeply problematic:

“though it may seem mystical and hidden to you – you have even transcended the laws of time, physics, gravity and more in Christ! We no longer have the excuse of the seasons … I’m not prepared. I don’t have enough money. I don’t have enough education. He has fully filled you, equipped you and given you everything – whether you know it or not.”

This reflects an irrational tendency within the Charismatic community which has serious consequences as we shall see in an other section.

Biblical inerrancy and belief in contradictions

While he did not clearly speak out in that respect, I glean from his writings that Crowder holds fast to the Chicago statement of inerrancy, according to which every writer of the Bible made no mistake as he wrote his part(s) of Scripture.

To his credit, he clearly emphasizes that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God.

“True Knowledge is more than data – He is a Person. “
“In the world of theological complexity, we can rest in two things for sure … that God is Love and that Jesus Christ is the Word of God.”
He also pointed out that inerrantists all too often confuse the message of Scripture with their own interpretation:

“How often do you hear someone militantly say, “I don’t need theology. I only believe what’s in the Bible.” What they are really saying is that they only believe their interpretation of the Bible.”

However his commitment to inerrancy leads him to quite  a few contradictions.

Biblical atrocities

“We are not dealing with two different gods between Old and New Testament. We’re dealing with two separate ways of God dealing with mankind”

“When Christ is given His place, then the scriptures fall into place. Otherwise, you’re looking at an impossible, conflicted and illogical rulebook of haircut patterns and genital mutilations.”

“In every instance I must see His love – even in the most difficult, traumatic, genocidal passages.”

Well the most likely interpretation is that theological ideas evolve with time and that neither Ezechiel nor Jesus shared a belief in the justice of collective punishment and genocides.

The nature of salvation: grace or work?

The same can be said about his analysis of the part of the Bible pointing towards the importance of good works for one’s salvation.

“The apostle James tells us that faith without works is dead. This is a beautiful truth, and one that is often misunderstood and distorted. Always read James through the lens of Paul, not in addition to Paul.”

How so? Why could we not as well read Paul’s writings through the lens of James?

Or why could we not use the historical method to conclude that both authors most likely did not share the same view of salvation?

It is kind of misleading for Crowder to confidently write that

“In fact, the average Sunday Bible Belt Christian flips open to the Sermon on the Mount and assumes he has to accomplish the whole thing to be saved! He doesn’t realize that Jesus was still preaching law, prior to the cross (preaching it hotter than Moses).”

since this is only one possible interpretation among others.

The victory of the Christian

Crowder takes the view of Evangelical theologian and pastor Neil Anderson according to which Christians no longer have a sinful nature and therefore possess the ability to overcome to a large extent sin in their life.

Rejecting the penal substitution theory of the atonement, he wrote that

“The Bible never says that the death of Christ was to reconcile God to us. The death of Christ was to turn us back to God.”
“On the cross, Jesus was not changing God; He was changing you.”

“We are not in a time-process of becoming holy; we are in a process of discovering how holy we’ve been all along.”

He wrote a particularly interesting sentence which parallels the practice of mindfulness meditation:

“We are not in a time-process of becoming holy; we are in a process of discovering how holy we’ve been all along.”

Apotheosis or how to become divine beings

He went on writing about a theory considered as a blasphemy by most conservative Evangelicals, namely our becoming gods through our union with Christ, quoting different Biblical and Christian writers.
For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.
– Athanasius
“I  said, ‘You are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High.’”

Psalm 82:6
“Augustine said, “If we have been made sons of God, we have also been made gods.”96”  

“And again we see Thomas Aquinas write, “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us share in His divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”

He concluded with an amazing quote of C.S.Lewis:

“It is a serious thing,” says C.S. Lewis, “to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”

Prosperity Gospel and manifestation of the spirit

One of the most troubling aspect of the book was its conveyance of prosperity teachings.

“”In our own ministry, we have seen a most extraordinary display of miracles … hundreds healed of tumors, cancers, deafness and blindness. And the more phenomenal displays such as people floating off the ground, rain falling inside buildings, huge sums of money appearing in pockets or supernatural weight loss of twenty, forty, even eighty pounds!”

At other places he defends the so-called Toronto blessings involving “being drunk in the spirit”. There is a huge danger here for it clearly conveys the ideas to unbelievers (and other believers as well) that they belong to a crazy cult.

His promises of well being are really dangerous.

“Power, right living, good marriages, healthy children, liberation from poverty … it’s all your inheritance available now, as we discover what’s already ours. ”
“The admission of hunger is an admission of lack. A hungry child is a sign of bad parenting. It is an assertion that Christ’s sacrifice was not a good enough meal for you. “

This can all too easily lead countless Christians living in poverty to think that the problem lies in them.

Calvinism, Arminianism and Universalism

This finally leads me to what I take to be the central question handled in this book, namely the nature of salvation. I want to show the main problem with Crowder’s line of thinking.

The universal character of salvation

Crowder made it clear that he rejects the theory of limited atonement and believe that Christ died for everyone, writing that it leads to “a god of our own making who is conveniently less moral than we are”.

“there is a very real universal aspect to the atonement that Western evangelicals frightfully deny.”

“There is no limited atonement any more than there is a limited incarnation. Fully man for all of humanity.”

“As death came through one man, so also the resurrection came through one man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive”

“Paul does not limit his context to Christ’s relationship to believers but gives fundamentally the same account of His relationship to all men,” adds Barth. “

“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor. 15:21-22).”
How many died in Adam? Ummm … all? Well we’re talking about the exact same all here made alive in Jesus Christ. How quick we are to have faith in the one man Adam to bring death to all … yet how fearful is the suggestion that the one man Christ could bring life to those same dead men! Some rabid evangelical may call you a Universalist!”

He however is not a “dogmatic universalist” because he apparently also believes in the possibility of rejecting God.

“As C.S. Lewis said, “The doors of hell are locked on the inside.”
“All that are in hell choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”
“Heaven and hell are both full of forgiven sinners. It’s just that those in hell refuse to accept their already given gift of acceptance.”

Faith as God’s gift

Nevertheless he also embraces the notion that we cannot ourselves generate faith but that this can only stem from God, approvingly quoting John Calvin:

“The reality of our adoption is not one we can force. For those of us who would charge into claiming our ‘adoption’ as yet another thing to accomplish, the good news is that adoption is under the Holy Spirit’s jurisdiction,” said John Calvin. “Our adoption—God welcoming us into His relationship with His Son—is brought about by the Spirit, ‘without whom no one can taste either the fatherly favor of God or the beneficence of Christ.’

Crowder further wrote:

“When you tell people they have to believe in Christ, you’re actually preaching law, not Gospel.”

“When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:25-26).
This is the whole point! Salvation is God’s business. You can’t do anything to be saved.”

“His command to believe, like every other command, highlighted our inability to do it. The guys He most instructed to “believe” (the disciples) were also the guys He clearly said did not believe.”

Logical tension

According to the beliefs of Crowder in the universal offer of salvation and faith as God’s gift, the following syllogism can be built.

1) God wants everyone to be saved

2) Humans can do absolutely nothing to be saved, this is a pure gift of God which cannot be refused

3) Thus God will offer it to everyone

4) Therefore everyone will be saved (dogmatic universalism).

Given his own presuppositions, Crowder should ultimately be certain that everyone will spend the whole eternity with God.

Conclusion

This book will probably be mostly interesting for readers having a mystical approach to the Christian faith and sharing the Charismatic commitment of the author.

However I recommend everyone to take with a grain of salt his assertions, some of which being highly problematic.

Nevertheless it must be recognized that this book raises a lot of vital questions, even if some of the answers fail to be consistent.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

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The dark side of destiny

I recently listen to an interesting conversation between Chris Date (from RethinkingHell) and Greg Crofford about a new book of Greg entitled: The Dark Side of Destiny: Hell Re-Examined.

Chris Date is a Conservative Evangelical (and a Calvinist!) holding to the teaching of conditional immortality and hell meaning utter destruction.

He is a very brilliant, bright and insightful man and he represents the most defensible and respectable form of reformed theology I am aware of. His blog  http://www.theopologetics.com/ is worth checking out.

Greg pointed out that the doctrine of eternal torment gives us a very dark picture of God which emotionally hinders many people to seek a deeper communion with Him.

He laid out a pretty interesting argument against endless torture:

1) If God eternally tormented many of His creatures He would be a sadist
2) Jesus is the human face of God
3) Jesus was not a sadist
4) Therefore God won’t torment beings forever

He explained why the authors of the New Testament (if interpreted in their historical context) most likely saw immortality as God’s gift the wicked ones will not inherit.

I started out disagreeing with him as he began criticizing universalism, which he seems to equate with inclusivism, the view that non-Christians will be given a chance to respond to the Gospel after their deaths.
Both notions are, however, far from being identical.

I am an inclusivist but not an universalist because I consider it very likely that at least some people will reject God beyond the grave.

Conservative Evangelicals typically defend Exclusivism (only those dying as Christians will inherit eternal life) using the following reasoning:

1) The Bible is the full and unique revelation of God (which is the central pillar of Evangelicalism)
2) There is no Biblical evidence that people will have a chance to choose God after having passed away
3) Therefore only Christians will get to heaven

Yet as Randal Rauser pointed out, this is an extraordinarily offensive assertion.

“They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house. They laid bets as to who, with one stroke of the sword, could split a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a single stroke of the pike. They took infants from their mothers’ breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter and saying as the babies fell into the water, ‘Boil there, you offspring of the devil!’”

Now against this backdrop turn to the encounter between a cacique (or tribal leader) and his Franciscan captors. In this encounter Hatuey, the cacique, has been told he will be executed (for no greater crime, it would seem, than not being Spanish), but that he can still save his soul before his body is slain:

“When tied to the stake, the cacique Hatuey was told by a Franciscan friar who was present, an artless rascal, something about the God of the Christians and of the articles of Faith. And he was told what he could do in the brief time that remained to him, in order to be saved and go to heaven. The cacique, who had never heard any of this before, and was told he would go to Inferno where, if he did not adopt the Christian Faith, he would suffer eternal torment, asked the Franciscan friar if Christians all went to Heaven. When told that they did he said he would prefer to go to Hell.”

It is extremely blasphemous to state that Hatuey won’t have any chance to reach heaven.

So I think that the above reasoning can be turned on its head:

1) As perfectly loving God must give a post-mortem chance to many of those who have died without Christ
2) There is no Biblical evidence that people will have a chance to choose God after having passed away
3) Therefore the Bible cannot be the full and unique revelation of God
4) Therefore Evangelicalism is wrong

(Of course many people would contest 2), thereby invalidating the conclusion).

Finally Greg pointed out that the parable of the foolish and wise virgins has to be taken at face value, thereby showing that people not having chosen Christ during this life won’t be given a second chance.

A huge problem is that as a conservative Protestant, there are quite a few things in the Bible that Greg cannot interpret literally.

The parable of the sheep and the goats illustrates that very well.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Taking this parable at face value would lead one to believe that works play an important role in salvation, a doctrine Evangelicals passionately detest.

More importantly perhaps, this parable teaches that people having never heard of Christ were serving Him while doing good deeds and will usher into His holy presence.

That aspect aside,Greg Crofford seems to be a good and sensible practical theologian and I advise my readers to take a look at his works.

Naked Calvinism: presuppositionalism

Most Calvinists keep saying that people are generally totally closed to God’s invitation to believe in the Gospel owing to their alleged utter depravity.

As a consequence they keep saying that an evidential approach (providing people with arguments for the faith) is doomed to fail because unregenerate humans are too wicked to be receptive.

As a consequence they adopt a presuppositionalist methodology which consists in showing that all wordviews other than “Biblical Christianity” (and by that they really mean Calvinism) are incoherent.

A non-Calvinist fundamentalist offered a response which is really worth being read.

The lack of common ground between Calvinist apologists and non-Calvinists is undoubtedly real. However it is not caused by the total depravity of their opponents but by the willingness of reformed folks themselves to endorse doctrines that no decent, sensible and sensitive person can possibly accept, like God predetermining a person before her birth to become wicked while condemning her to eternal torment at the end of her life as a punishment.

This also underscores the real danger posed by a Calvinist theocracy: if you are willing to buy this, it is really a small step to introduce torture or execution against heretics (which inflict, after all, only a finite amount of suffering) as Calvin himself did with Michael Servetus.

Calvin executing Servetus?

It is no coincidence that the large majority of Islamic movements confess a believe in divine determinism very similar to reformed theology.

Important presuppositionalist.

Cornelius Van Till, Gordon Clark and James White