There’s a lot of good being said by Reformed men in the church these days. From building Christian culture, to opposing our own evil one, and in combatting The Great Hysteria, there have been few groups more bold and effective at moving things in the right direction.
But I’m not a Calvinist, and so naturally, while I might agree with most of what these men say, there are areas of disagreement.
Doug Wilson recently published this piece which is generally good and worth reading. It’s all about convincing the large group of people who are mad and outraged and the insanity of our culture that Christ is the answer to our social problems, not some earlier version of secular humanism. In this, I agree.
Toward the end of the article, we find this: “Let me make a short list of the areas where the traditional values Americans need to repent.” Again, much of what follows is good. And then we come upon this:
Calvinism: the American republic was founded on the bedrock of a Calvinist ethos. That old America is gone now, but if you want to recover any significant pieces of it, you need to realize that without a robust doctrine of God’s exhaustive sovereignty, it ain’t gonna happen.
Here we have the contradiction on display. Do you see it?
On the one hand, Doug Wilson has done a great job exhorting Christians across the country to repent and obey. He’s called non-Christians to repent and obey. He’s calling for all kinds of changes that we need to make, all kinds of things we need to get back to. All good stuff.
On the other hand, he’s including Calvinism in the list, specifically here because he views it as a robust doctrine of God’s exhaustive sovereignty. The word exhaustive is helpful here because it tells us this isn’t merely the universal Christian belief that God is sovereign. This is exhaustive divine determinism. God controls it all. It all happens because He wants it to happen that way. Human beings lack free will on this system in any meaningful sense. God doesn’t, in His sovereignty, choose to let humans have free will in this system.
So we have exhortation along with the hard stop of determinism. God alone can change people, yet here we have all this voluminous writing and speaking exhorting people to change. Why? God alone is the very reason for the insanity we have; God wants us to have it. God wanted us to get to the point where He’d punish us with it. God could have, at any moment, regenerated hearts and changed minds to avoid all of this, but He didn’t. This is what He wants. Who are we to question it?
I won’t deny that Calvinism had a significant effect on American culture early on, but as a system it raises this strange contradiction between God’s total control over everything we do and calls – directed at us – for us to do something different.
A more robust response might be offered against what I’m saying. One would be to suggest that God uses the means of our speech and exhortation to bring about the change in other people. I find this unpersuasive for two reasons. First, Calvinism teaches that regeneration is prior to repentance, and our words aren’t going to bring about regeneration; that’s something only God can do. Second, the power of what we say would still be dependent on God’s will; if God wants the world to be in this horrific state, that’s what He wants and our words have no power. Again, it goes back to what He wants, and on Calvinism, it’s a truism that He wants things just the way they are. Our words, then, are just words.
As I said, I’m not a Calvinist. My answer to all of these things is libertarian freedom of the will combined with Molinism. On this view, calling people to repent and obey Christ is efficacious because they can choose to do so. God wants all to be saved and come to a knowledge of Him. God loves the whole world and wants none to perish. But God, in His wisdom, knows that love is not something that can be compelled. In His love, He granted us libertarian free will to make the choice. Is this a diminishing of His sovereignty? No, not really, because He still chose it, it still depends on His will, and He knows what’s going to happen. But it does mean that between sovereignty and love, love is higher.
Therefore, I’d say something quite a bit different than “get back to Calvinism”. I’d say that our words really do have influence because people are rational agents with freedom of the will and God really does love them enough to grant them the ability to repent. I’d say that our exhortations can be effective not because of something mystical and unattached to them that God does behind the scenes, but because they really are exhortations that people can hear, understand, accept, and embrace.
It’s not a view of God’s sovereignty I think that’s missing in America right now. It’s that we hate God instead of loving Him.
Read the same article, had exactly the same reaction when I hit the “Calvinism” entry. You just put it more eloquently. Thanks.
You and I have a more sovereign God than Doug Wilson does. Doug’s just controls everything right down to the atomic level and below. But ours manages the universe and accomplishes his purposes while still allowing others to make quintillions of choices every day. To me, that’s far more impressive.
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I never understood the Calvinist claim that God is more sovereign when humans are robots He controls than when humans have agency and He still accomplishes His purposes.
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