I've said before I'm a "zero-point Calvinist who's not an Arminian" because I've become convinced that neither theological system actually fits scripture. I'd like to explain why.
Generally, the argument centers around God's sovereignty and man's choice and how to balance them. God is certainly sovereign. But we seem to have choice (free will) as well, and apparently God holds us responsible for the choices we make. Calvinism places greater emphasis on God's sovereignty while Arminianism places more emphasis on man's choice. My focus here will be Calvinism, however.
As I've learned more and more about Calvinism, I'm more and more puzzled as to why this is such a compelling view for people. Under Calvinism, our choice to believe is actually made by God. He chooses to "give us faith" and if He doesn't choose to "give us faith" then we can never be saved. Of course, Calvinists do have their prooftexts… there are several verses they will point to that might appear to support their view… at least as they have interpreted them. But when considered together with the rest of scripture, the way they understand these passages makes little sense.
Consider the following: One of the very basic questions any Christian ought to be able to answer is the question of why God gave man the capacity to choose evil, and doesn't that mean that God is the author of evil? The answer to this question ought to be a clue that figures into our consideration of Calvinist doctrine. What is the answer? If God had NOT given man the capacity to choose evil, then man's expression of love toward God would be meaningless. Our expression of love toward God is ONLY meaningful because we have a choice to go the other way!
A great illustration of this is the "Perfect Husband Talking Doll." Squeeze the doll's hand and it says things like "I love you" and "You know honey, why dont you just relax and let me make dinner tonight" or even "Actually, I am not sure which way to go. I'll turn in here and ask directions". Now this may be a funny gag gift, but it illustrates an important point. This doll is programmed to say these things… it cannot choose to say anything else. I cannot choose to say "I hate you." And therefore, when the doll says "I love you" it's completely meaningless. The point is, if God hadn't created us with the capacity to choose against Him, we would be robots just like the "Perfect Husband Talking Doll" and our expression of love toward God would be meaningless.
So think of that illustration when you think of God choosing to give some people faith and choosing NOT to give other people faith. How does this glorify Him? How is this of any value to Him unless we're the ones doing the choosing? Isn't our choice to put our faith in Him only glorifying to Him if it's really OUR CHOICE?
Of course, the nasty implication of this Calvinist idea that God chooses to save believers is that He chooses NOT to save unbelievers. He chooses to give faith to some and not to others, and this means that the "others" go to Hell not for something that THEY chose themselves, but rather because of what God didn't give them!! This coming from a God that is perfectly Just and fair? Really? Now the Calvinist response to this is that we should not impose our view of what's fair and just onto God… that maybe God's concept of Justice is not our concept of justice.
Well, that's an interesting point, but it turns out it's no magic bullet. Here's why:
1. If man is created in God's image, we have finite 'versions' of God's attributes. Our attributes are God's attributes, but in a finite (and fallible) way. Therefore, if God has the attribute of perfect justice, then we must have some sense of justice that resembles God's justice. Unfortunately, this still leaves room for God's justice to be "different" than ours, but it does help set up the following arguments:
2. God's justice figures into what we consider moral and immoral, does it not? For example… if a mortgage lender violates a mortgage contract by arbitrarily changing the interest rate from 6% to 60%, what basis would the borrower have to complain if we don't know what's "fair" in God's eyes? Wouldn't we just have to live with it? How can we make any judgments at all about what's right or wrong if we don't know what's fair and unfair in God's eyes? Isn't what's "wrong" and what's "right" determined to a large extent by what's fair (in God's eyes) and what's not?
3. If man's concept of "justice" doesn't match God's, then how do we know what His concept of justice is? And if we can't know what His concept of justice is, then what good does it do us to even say that God has justice? The Bible tells us that God is just… perfect, absolute Justice. Doesn't that presuppose that we know and understand what it means to be "just"? Doesn't "justice" as a description of anything become entirely meaningless if we don't really know what "justice" is?
So I'm not bothered in the least by that challenge. It's clear to me that our concept of justice actually does match God's, that we are meant to understand what Justice is by God's example. We certainly are not capable of carrying out justice perfectly… far from it. But this has more to do with our sinful nature, our lack of omniscience, and other factors.
One final point for this installment to head one other challenge off at the pass. Occasionally I hear the idea expressed that we shouldn't rely so much on our own logic when considering these issues… that God's ways are not our ways, etc. Yes, there are a few verses which might be applied in that way, but is this the right way to understand them? Is God irrational or illogical? And what about logic itself? Who's system of thinking is that? Did man invent logic, or did God?
Well, we have the Bible, correct? Is the activity of reading NOT an activity which requires logic and intellect? I'm not discounting the role of the Holy Spirit here, but God gave us the Bible so that we would read it, did He not? Does that not imply that God wants us to put our intellect to use? Does that not imply that we are to use logic? And consider John 1:1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
It's well-understood that "the Word" here refers to Jesus Christ, and I do not argue with that. But it's interesting to notice that the Greek word for "Word" here is "logos" which means communication, writing, information. But also notice that "logos" is the root of the word "logic". Logic isn't a system of thought devised by man, it's God's system of thought! God is LOGICAL. When we think logically, we think like Him! Of course, there are big differences… our conspicuous lack of omniscience being one of many. But let's not be afraid to consider the Bible logically. Yes, the Holy Spirit has a role. But if we're not to employ our intellect to some degree in an effort to understand the Bible, then why give us the Bible at all? Yes, I know… I'm using "logic" again. Silly me.
I'll deal with other aspects of Calvinism later. This is already too long. He, he.