Don’t Be a 5 Pointer, Be an Evangelical Calvinist Instead

December 27, 2012 § 15 Comments

I think the primary reason you should avoid becoming a 5 point Calvinist is because it starts with a faulty doctrine of God. It starts with a doctrine of God that does not start where the Bible starts; it starts with a conception of God that is philosophical and not revelational. It only moves to the revelational after it has first conceived of God philosophically. Most 5 point Calvinists appeal to Aristotelian categories and Thomas Aquinas’ synthesis of 5pointAristotle’s categories to provide a grammar for speaking of God. The problem with doing this is that God is, when philosophically conceived first, emphasized as a singularity, a philosophical monad and thus this approach struggles with coming to terms with the fact that God is personal, relational, and Triune. If God is emphasized as a singularity, and a philosophical monad, then the way this kind of God, who must remain unmoved by his creation, comes to relate to his creation through static impersonal decrees and through secondary causation built into creation itself. Ultimately, we are presented with a God in this view, that is sub-personal, and relates to his creation in Law-like fashion.

It is true, 5 point Calvinists, many, in the history and contemporaneously, have sought to overcome this kind of impersonalness of God, so conceived, through a warm hearted piety; but that is not what is under consideration here. What is under consideration here—by way of theological taxis (order)—is whether or not the underlying doctrine of God that stands behind said warm hearted modes of 5 point Calvinism actually is able to fund this pietism in a way that is corollary with the background doctrine and procrustean bed it is built upon. I would assert that it is not corollary, and thus no matter how hard someone tries to be a pious 5 point Calvinist, there will always be this thread of a Law-like God woven through their piety that will eventually bleed through into their teaching, preaching, and practice. If this is the case, and I think it is, why not abandoned this kind of Calvinism for a version that starts where God starts, in his Son, as the Son of the Father through the communing life of the Holy Spirit. You could throw your hat in with us Evangelical Calvinists … as a matter of fact, why don’t you?

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§ 15 Responses to Don’t Be a 5 Pointer, Be an Evangelical Calvinist Instead

  • Cal says:

    A couple of things:
    1) While there are some philosophically strict 5pters, I’ve met quite a few who can assent to them, but that they are extraordinarily inadequate in describing anything. They have a purpose of taking the Remonstrants to tack, which is hardly their use anymore.

    2) Following on that, Dordt is actually rather vague and open about some concepts, as long as it refuted the 5 Remonstrants. Again, I’ve met people who are hardly proponents of “Limited Atonement” (as in Christ died for the elect only) but can affirm the L in TULIP because it does not necessarily mean that. That’s a bit shaky for me myself (To be clear, I would reject L), but that’s the reality of it.

    3) What do you make of someone like John Owen who, of the many Puritans, wrote extensively on the Trinity and how important it is? He also used Aristotelian categories and was a Federal Calvinist.

    All in all I absolutely agree with you: any God-talk (aka. theology) must begin in Christ Jesus. If it starts anywhere else (nebulous creator; highest being; saccharine universal/pluralistic father type) then we miss the truth. For He is the Truth! Without the Son, we don’t have the Father (as He told us!).

    Cal

  • Cal says:

    Andre:

    The difference here is that the Torah that the Lord gave on Sinai does not define or constitute who He is. The Law is not a perfect revelation. Some people want to start talking about the Lord with Moses, or an unbreakable law, instead on in Jesus Christ in whom we receive a perfect law in Him written on our hearts.

    I don’t agree that 5 pt-ers all start here though.

  • Bobby Grow says:

    @Cal,

    1) That was the original intent of the material of what have now become signified the 5 points. But in popular circles, at least, the 5 points have become a rallying point and a set of common places that serve to identify those who are most commonly known as Calvinists, in America (at least) today.

    2) I am not referring, really, to folk Calvinism or how people have received it; my interlocutor[s] in this post would be people who affirm all 5 points of Calvinism unabashedly. It sounds like you might have Amyrauldians in mind and not straight up 5 point Calvinists when you reference people who waffle on the “L.”

    3) I’ve read some of Owen, and on Owen. Suzanne McDonald actually places him into conversation with Barth in her published PhD dissertation Reimaging Election. I think Owen had a better emphasis than many within his orientation, but at the end of the day, the theological method and order of Federal Calvinism is defunct. One reason is because they place Creation before Covenant in their theological taxis; as Barth, it is better, I think to place Covenant (the Covenant of Grace, which is personified in God’s triune life) prior to Creation; thus God’s Covenantal life is understand as the inner ground of which the creation is its external reality. So more broadly I think Owen was simply a product of his time and situation; but I do think his Trinitarian emphasis is laudable and makes him stand out amongst some of the other Puritans (like William Perkins for example!).

    @Andre,

    No, I did not equivocate when I used impersonal and law-like in synonymous ways; that was intentional. My point is that the substance metaphysics that funds 5 point Calvinism is definitionally impersonal. For example, this metaphysic thinks of grace in terms of a created quality or thing; historically known as created grace. This is one example of many, of how the metaphysic behind so called 5 point Calvinism is impersonal. It does not understand grace, for example, in personalist terms. It does not identify grace, primarily with the person of Grace come with the Holy Spirit; instead it sees grace as a quality placed in the accidents of the elect. The elect can cooperate with this created grace, and through this cooperation finally appropriate salvation. So grace is understood as a “thing” not a “person” which when habituated with enough (see Aristotle’s concept of habitus), the elect are deemed worthy and prepared to receive eternal life.

    Furthermore, when God is understood as an unmoved mover or philosophical monad (metaphysically that is, not piously, per se) who cannot be touched by creation and yet he obviously engages his creation a mechanism must be constructed in order to conceive of how this Divine engagement might occur without undoing God’s impassibility. The mechanism for a 5 point Calvinist is the usage of abstract things known as decrees; these are not personal by definition, but impersonal. The problem for the 5 point Calvinist’s metaphysic here, as I touched on in my response to Cal, is that in one instance, when God in Christ incarnates, Jesus in his humanity is dictated to be who he is not by the life of God, but by meeting the dictates and demands arbitrarily set out by the so called absolute decrees (absolutum decretum). In other words, there is a rift or fissure placed into God’s life, such that the person of God is ruptured once he enters into creation in the incarnation. Jesus is not operating not by the Sovereignly free and self determined movement of God’s life, but he is being determined to be who he is by meeting the demands of the decrees; and the decrees are interwoven within the fabric of creation and not God’s life. This is why the whole Federal Calvinist and 5 point Calvinist project is defunct; its theological order is eschew when it places creation (the decrees) prior to the Covenant (or God’s life). This is one of the reasons why I say the 5 point metaphysic is impersonal, because it is, by definition and implication.

    To try and make a distinction between Law-like and impersonal flounders, I think, because it is the conception of God being posited by a metaphysic of Law, that by definition, springs from a category that is impersonal, metaphysically. When we use substance metaphysics instead of something like an actualism or onto-relational ontology (pace TF Torrance), then all we are going to end up with is a conception of God that is Stoic, deterministic, Law-like (i.e. mechanistic), and impersonal!

    Andre, you wrote: What is revealed in Jesus is not a corollary of anything, I mean to emphasise: it is not a corollary of thinking or intelect and could never be the substance of talk (i.e. conversation, i.e. philosophy) but is to be preached (in the classical sense), prophesied, revered or adored.

    I strongly disagree with your opening clause. Jesus finds his corollary in God’s life, as the Son of the Father bonded by the Holy Spirit; they are corollary of each other; which I think would be a great constructive definition of the Trinity. So no, I don’t agree with your point.

  • Cal says:

    Bobby:
    As for the 2nd point, you can affirm TULIP and affirm Universal Atonement. Sounds like a contradiction but L doesn’t really mean L. You can, like Amyraut, say that Christ died for all and only is efficacious for elect, which is what Amyraut was saying. Amyraut’s main contention was method.

    So as abstract floating principles, I could, theoretically, say I agree with L. Complete Atonement is Limited by Union with Christ, outside of Him there is no life. However, that’s not what is intended when posted up as TULIP. Yet, there is much in the Reformed world that agrees in form with the confessions and not with the original substance.

  • Bobby Grow says:

    Andre,

    Grace is a person (God in Christ), not a quality; that’s my critique and point, one that you aren’t appreciating.

    It doesn’t really matter what the TULIP folk would admit to, I am going off of their literary history and history of ideas; not its folk reception.

    Yes, Revelation is reconciliation. We might not disagree here.

    I’m not debating the 5 pointers as an Evangelical, per se; not at least in the way you seem to be construing it. And no, the difference, for me isn’t a semantic game it is one of prolegomena (the analogy of faith/relation V. an analogy of being). You aren’t reading this correctly.

    @Cal,

    I know what Amyraut was doing; I’ve read Brian Armstrong’s book on him, have you? I know people who hold to a so called hypothetical universalism; even Francis Turretin held to as much. Amyraut offered a distinct Covenantal reading, for sure; but one symptom of that was his reorientation of the “L”. That said, Amyraut is just as guilty of classical theism and substance metaphysics as the classical Calvinists/Arminians; so for me this is neither here nor there.

    Yes, there are many in the Reformed world who agree with much of Reformed theology (I’m Reformed myself); but that’s not really who I am referencing through all of this, Cal. I am referencing people who attend Westminster Theological Seminary, and that “kind” of Calvinism. And then by implication I am challenging Baptist 5 pointers to do their homework.

  • Cal says:

    Bobby:

    I read Armstrong’s book.

    My point here was that TULIP is a floating abstraction. Being able to accept it on paper doesn’t mean you’re starting at the same location as everyone else who can affirm it. It ought to be discarded because it is essentially a shibboleth now.

    However, it is, sadly, very difficult to find a community that is gospel centered. Sometimes submitting to these formulae is a compromise. People I’m referencing are in the WTS world. I don’t think I would go this route, but having community is more important. Some would rather pastor in a more Christ centered denom than trek it alone. If I were the pastor type, I don’t think I would go the same route, but I can’t fault them for it.

    My only point is that TULIP does not imply where you start when you do theology. It’s too disconnected to do that.

  • Cal says:

    One example:

    P is interpreted by quite a number as being the equal to OSAS. However, Calvin never talked about it this way and yet it is hailed as a hallmark of Calvinism. Others teach it more in line with Calvin, others have differed nuances. Ultimately, if such a subscription is so debated, it is rather worthless

  • Bobby Grow says:

    Cal,

    TULIP, for all its flaws and historical situadedness reflects a deeper theological commitment … that’s really my point. There are plenty who affirm it with qualifications—like the kind you’re making—my point is that it serves as a shorthand and popular symbol for adherence to a certain mode of theological endeavor (whatever one’s understanding of that is). The more sophisticated scholars, like Richard Muller, affirm the deeper theology that gave rise to something like the TULIP; and really, it is this deeper theology that I am concerned with. I appeal to the TULIP in my posts because I know it is culturally provocative.

    One of my best friends is on his way to WTS, and he loves the Lord; of course that’s not my point in my oft critiques (or bemoanings, really).

    The “P” isn’t unique to the TULIP, materially (Arminians and most Evangelicals affirm this one way or the other); so I wouldn’t say its worthless, I would just say that it needs to be properly defined by whomever is doing the defining. If it is defined by its location as the “P” in the TULIP, then it will take a certain trajectory, and flows from a certain trajectory theologically.

  • Cal says:

    Bobby:
    My point on P is that since such a term can mean such a wide array, its use as a credential (“I’m 5pt Calvinist, Bam!”) is pretty meaningless.

    As an idea, as Calvin articulated it, I’m totally on board. It’s not OSAS but PERSEVERANCE (emphasis!).

  • Bobby Grow says:

    But Cal,

    The “P” in the TULIP is not meaningless, it derives its meaning, syllogistically, from the preceding letters; that would be my only point on that. Just like any words, they derive their meaning from their contextual usage.

    I’m not a fan of perseverance in general; unless it is grounded in the vicarious humanity of Christ.

  • Indeed the so-called Doctrine of Perseverance really is part of Calvin’s theology at least, but sadly many modern Calvinists, simply don’t know Calvin! I could quote ad hoc from Calvin, but I will forgo. Btw Calvin places the eschatological significance of the new life of order ‘In Christ’! The overcoming of disorder in this world is therefore for Calvin a fact of profound eschatological significance and reality! “In the Cross of Christ, as in a most splendid theatre, the incomparable goodness of God has been displayed before the whole world.” (Calvin,Comm. on John 13:21, etc.) “But for the final restoration of true order both in mans’s heart and in the universe we have to wait for the second coming of Christ to restore all things..” (Calvin Comm. on James 5: 7) But of course Calvin leans hard on regeneration in the elect man or person, self-denial, mortification of concupiscence, all effected through communion with the death of Christ. Here is restoration of order and the life of Christ within, not perfection but the image of Christ Himself, in the elect or chosen believer!

  • Bobby Grow says:

    Fr Robert,

    Yep, its all about Calvin’s unio cum christo union with Christ double grace theology and how that applies to a ‘wonderful exchange’ conception of election … amen.

  • Amen, sorry late.. just busy for me! Indeed no cookie-cutter with or is Calvin’s theology! Btw, if ya get a chance, see Herman Selderhuis’s nice book: Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms, some very good chapters here, which combination the OT Doctrine of Grace with the New! Selderhuis sees Calvin’s effort in the Pslams as a pastoral variation of Calvin’s Institutes. Also Stephen Edmondson’s book: Calvin’s Christology, here is Calvin’s central doctrine of Christ, as prophet, priest and king: the foundation of Christ as Mediator! Here is covenant grace in history! “Calvinists” simply must re-discover John Calvin, man, biblical humanist, and always just a pastor-teacher!

  • Bobby Grow says:

    Fr Robert,

    Okay, thanks, I’ll have to read these guys when I get the chance. I know of Selderhuis, and have skimmed him already, and I have heard of Edmondson, so he’s added to the old reading list. Yeah, Calvin was his own man … he’s not a movement but a man.

  • Yes, John Calvin was a man, but he was certainly a Man of God, and one called by God for the Reformation period of the Church itself! I also like his/Calvin’s choice of the “man” Theodore Beza. The Reformation and the Reformers were a special breed and time in the Church Catholic! Just a theological note here, but I am myself a very certain Infralapsarian, that God’s plan of salvation for “some” people followed and was a consequence of the fall of man from grace. I personally believe myself that Calvin’s Augustinianism is, as Augustine’s squarely centred in the doctrine of God, and certainly God’s Sovereign Grace & Purpose. So I will always take the more classic Calvinist view of Romans chapter 9, noting the great example of how St. Paul sees and uses Pharaoh, himself (Rom. 9: 17). And the “Therefore” of verse 18. To my mind, here was Calvin and thus the best of “Calvinism”. Just my personal place. :)

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