Do You Really Want to Claim John Calvin as Your Homeboy?

A few days ago I saw someone wearing a “Calvin is my homeboy” T-shirt.  I have to admit that the shirt made me cringe.  My thoughts immediately went to questions concerning Calvin’s character.  While I believe that John Calvin did contribute some solid exegesis in his works, I must admit that I feel uneasy about him as a person.  There is no question that John Calvin thought it was a good thing to persecute and even execute heretics.  There is no question that John Calvin was instrumental in carrying out such persecutions and executions.  

Personally, I find the “man of his times” argument to be very weak.  I don’t think God judges us by our times, but rather judges us according to His word.  The New Testament and the teachings of Jesus simply give no sanctions for the persecution and execution of those who reject Christianity or deviate from certain Christian positions of orthodoxy.  Jesus and the New Testament are in harmony that we should be willing, instead, to give our lives for the truth of the gospel (if necessary) when the surrounding culture and government is in opposition to basic Christian principles.  This John Calvin did not do, and I simply cannot condone nor respect his involvement in persecuting and executing heretics.  There is simply no legitimate defense for such actions.

What I find particularly damning are Calvin’s comments long after the execution of Michael Servetus.  These comments are impossible to square with the common defense that Calvin tried so hard to save Servetus, and was apparently against (or largely uninvolved in) the consensus to have him killed (the best that can be argued is that Calvin wanted him beheaded rather than burned, though it has been pointed out that this may well have been primarily for political reasons, rather than a desire to be merciful).  Nine years later John Calvin wrote these chilling words,

Servetus suffered the penalty due to his heresies, but was it by my will?  Certainly his arrogance destroyed him not less than his impiety.  And what crime was it of mine if our Council, at my exhortation, indeed, but in conformity with the opinion of several Churches, took vengeance on his execrable blasphemies?  Let Baudouin abuse me as long as he will, provided that, by the judgment of Melanchthon, posterity owes me a debt of gratitude for having purged the Church of so pernicious a monster. (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. VIII, pp. 690, 691)

Schaff later writes,

Calvin’s work against Servetus gave complete satisfaction to Melanchthon.  It is the strongest refutation of the errors of his opponent which his age produced, but it is not free from bitterness against one, at last, had humbly asked his pardon, and who had been sent to the judgment seat of God by a violent death.  It is impossible to read without pain the following passage: ‘Whoever shall now contend that is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt.  This is not laid down on human authority; it is God who speaks and prescribes a perpetual rule for his Church. (ibid. 791)

This is incontrovertible evidence that John Calvin was unrepentant of the murder of Servetus even nine years after his death.  Rather, Calvin actually felt that posterity owed him a debt of gratitude for purging the church of “so pernicious a monster”!  Do we really want to venerate such a man, even if we agree with his theology?  Have we stopped to consider that according to John Calvin, it is a God ordained and perpetual rule for the Church to persecute and execute heretics and that any who might disagree should themselves be put to death!  Do we really want to wear a shirt that says “Calvin is my homeboy” in light of such disturbing truths concerning his character and beliefs?

I do not believe that the proper way to falsify Calvinism is to point to such sinful behavior on the part of John Calvin, but I am coming to agree more and more with Roger Olson who wrote,

However, I do not admire or respect John Calvin. I have been told that he should not be held responsible for the burning of the heretic Servetus because, after all, he warned the Spanish doctor and theologian not to come to Geneva and he urged the city council to behead him rather than burn him. And, after all, Calvin was a child of his times and everyone was doing the same. Nevertheless, I still struggle with placing a man complicit in murder on a pedestal. [link]

So to those of you proudly sporting a “Calvin is my homeboy” shirt, I ask,

Are you sure you want to wear that shirt?

More on the Psychology of Calvinism

Billy Birch has written an excellent post on why certain Calvinists might tend to act the way that they do towards non-Calvinists.  It is also a gentle and necessary reminder to us all to conduct ourselves with grace, compassion, and respect when discussing these controversial topics.  Thanks Billy!

Roger E. Olson on John Calvin and Calvinism

My Biggest Problem with Calvin/Calvinism Roger E. Olson
Professor of Theology
George W. Truett Theological Seminary
Baylor University

Above all I want to make clear that I admire and respect my Calvinist friends and colleagues. We disagree strongly about some points of theology, but I hold them in high esteem for their commitment to the authority of God’s Word and their obvious love for Jesus Christ and his church as well as for evangelism.

However, I do not admire or respect John Calvin. I have been told that he should not be held responsible for the burning of the heretic Servetus because, after all, he warned the Spanish doctor and theologian not to come to Geneva and he urged the city council to behead him rather than burn him. And, after all, Calvin was a child of his times and everyone was doing the same. Nevertheless, I still struggle with placing a man complicit in murder on a pedestal.

Furthermore, I find Calvin’s doctrine of God repulsive. It elevates God’s sovereignty over his love, leaving God’s reputation in question. What I mean is that Calvin’s all-determining, predestining deity is at best morally ambiguous and at worst morally repugnant.

Much to the chagrin of some contemporary Calvinists, Calvin clearly taught that God foreordained the fall and rendered it certain. (Institutes of the Christian Religion III:XXIII.8) He also affirmed double predestination (III:XXI.5) and displayed callous disregard for the reprobate who he admitted God compelled to obedience (disobedience). (I:XVIII.2) Calvin distinguished between two modes of God’s will-what later Calvinists have called God’s decretive and preceptive wills. (III:XXIV.17) God decrees that the sinner shall sin while at the same time commanding him not to sin and condemning him for doing what he was determined by God to do. To Calvin this all lies in the secret purposes of God into which we should not peer too deeply, but it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of anyone who regards God as above all love.

John Wesley commented on the Calvinists’ claim that God loves even the reprobate in some way. As one contemporary Calvinist put it, “God loves all people in some ways but only some people in all ways.” Wesley said that this is a love such as makes the blood run cold.

Calvin’s successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza, commented that those who find themselves suffering in the flames of hell for eternity can at least take comfort in the fact that they are there for the greater glory of God. To paraphrase Wesley, that is a glory such as sends chills down the spine. God foreordains some of his own creatures, created in his own image, to eternal hell for his own glory? Calvin may not have put it quite that bluntly, but many Calvinists have and it is a necessary extrapolation of the inner logic of consistent Calvinism. (Institutes III:XXII.11)

I have been heavily criticized by some of my Calvinist friends for saying that my biggest problem with Calvinism (by which I mean consistent divine determinism) is that it makes it difficult for me to tell the difference between God and the devil. (I am not saying Calvinists worship the devil!)

For me nothing about the Christian worldview is more important than regarding God and the devil as absolute competitors in this universe and its tragic history. God is good and desires the good of every creature. As church father Irenaeus said “The glory of God is man fully alive.” The devil is bad and desires harm for every creature. To view the devil as God’s instrument makes a mockery of the entire biblical narrative.

Originally posted at SEA.

Are There Any Possible Psychological Factors That Contribute to Some People Embracing Calvinism?

I think so. I find this question especially interesting as Calvinists will often insist that most people who hold to Arminianism do so primarily for emotional or psychological reasons, rather than exegetical ones.  Perhaps some do, but I think the majority of Arminians would say they are Arminians primarily for exegetical reasons (at least this Arminian is).  Still, there may certainly be Arminians (or non-Calvinists) who reject Calvinism more on emotional or psycological grounds than on exegetical grounds.  We would be naive, however, to assume such could only be true of Arminians and non-Calvinists, as the post linked below well demonstrates.

Exploring the Psychology of Embracing Calvinism

Karate Expert Dan Phillips Gets Body Slammed on 1 John 2:2

Calvinist Dan Phillips posted on Karate Exegesis, using 1 John 2:2 as an example, trying to use the old John Owen Trilemma argument to make his point.  He was then body slammed through the mat (in his meta) by what appears to be a  four point Calvinist:

Karate Dan writes in a portion of his post (please see the post for full context),

“I didn’t think you did. But that means you have a real problem with this verse, don’t you?” we could continue. “John writes that Jesus Christ is — not ‘would really like to be,’ or ‘wishes He could be,’ or even ‘stands ready to be,’ but is — the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. What is a propitiation?”

Our friend, an astute soul that he is, replies, “A ‘propitiation’ is a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God.”

We agree. Then with knitted brow, we ask, “So, if you’re right about ‘the whole world,’ then John is saying that Christ has turned away the wrath of God for the sins of every human being ever born — you, me, Judas, the Beast, the False Prophet — everyone.

“On that understanding, how can anyone be under God’s wrath, which Christ propitiated? How can anyone be in Hell? Why are they there? For what are they being judged and punished?”

“For their unbelief,” our friend may offer.

“Oh, I see. Is unbelief a sin?” we ask innocently.

Our friend may nor may not allow as much. If he does not, we could add, “From what I read, unbelief certainly is a sin. Or is it not a moral issue to call God a liar (1 John 5:9-10)? See,” we can conclude sympathetically, “you have a real problem. On your view, either unbelief isn’t a sin, in which case God is a liar; or everyone’s going to Heaven, in which case, again, God is a liar; or Christ really isn’t a propitiation for all the sins of everyone without exception — in which case, one more time, God is a liar. Do you think God is a liar?”

Maybe now our friend might be willing to consider that the text is capable of a better construction.

We might help him open up to the possibilities with another question: “I think it’s your idea of what John means by ‘world’ that is giving you such trouble. Can you think of any verses where ‘world’ unambiguously means ‘everyone who ever was born or ever would be born’? I can certainly think of many that do not. Maybe that isn’t the best way to read that verse?”

At the very least, he’ll now know that, if the verse is a problem for Calvinists, it isn’t a problem for us alone. If he’s honest, that is. (And why would we have dishonest friends?)

Later in Dan’s meta Ynotton Y lands a fatal counter attack with:

Moreover, the double payment argument that you’re using to suggest your opponents must be universalists is even deemed weak by Dr. Carl Trueman, not to mention Charles Hodge, R. L. Dabney, W. G. T. Shedd, John Davenant [of the Synod of Dort], and the Puritian Edward Polhill, among others. Our Lord’s death does not function like pecuniary debt payments. It’s penal, not commercial. You’re leaning on commercial causality to get your strictly limited conclusion. Moreover, you’re not yet dealing with the fact that your argument is a double-edged sword. As I said on my blog:

“Wasn’t Dan under God’s wrath when he was in unbelief [Eph. 2:3], despite the fact that Christ died for his sins? Didn’t Dan stand under the condemnation of God when in unbelief [John 3:18], despite the fact that he was one of the elect for whom Christ died? Was God making sham threats about perishing to unbelieving Dan in the gospel call, since Dan was never really in a damnable state? On Dan’s system, it would seem, the elect are never damnable and the non-elect are never saveable. The elect are not receiving sincere threats and the non-elect are not receiving sincere offers, by implication. If Dan rejects this thinking or conclusion, then on what basis was he subject to God’s wrath and standing condemned? Because of his unbelief? Well, didn’t Christ die for that unbelief? We could say to Dan as he says to his opponent:

“On that understanding, how can any of the elect be under God’s wrath, which Christ propitiated? How can any of them really be subject to damnation and therefore sincerely threatened with perishing? Why do the unbelieving elect stand condemned? For what are they being judged and punished?”

“For their unbelief,” Dan may say.

“Oh, I see. Is unbelief a sin?” I ask innocently.

“From what I read, unbelief certainly is a sin.” I can conclude sympathetically, “you have a real problem. On your view, either unbelief isn’t a sin, in which case God is a liar; or none of the elect can be under God’s wrath, in which case, again, God is a liar; or Christ really isn’t a propitiation for all the sins of the elect— in which case, one more time, God is a liar. Do you think God is a liar?”

Dan would not accept the view that all of the elect are justified at the cross, or in eternity, but he has opened to door to that position in order to get the conclusion he wants, i.e. a strictly limited atonement based on the commercial causal categories involved in the double payment argument. If Christ can be the propitiation for the sins of all of the elect and yet they, when in unbelief, can stand condemned and be subjects of God’s wrath, then why can’t Christ also be the propitiatory sacrifice for more than the elect?”

I think this effectively deals with Dan’s “double payment” and “universalist” argument.  Dan had no response except to refer the commenter to a previous comment he made which he imagined answered the counter-argument.  It was pointed out that Dan’s previous comments did not even begin to address the counter-argument, and Dan had little more to say (except for some Karate avoidance tactics).

[this post was updated 7/16/09 in order to narrow the focus and context to Dan’s charge of double payment and universalism with the argument that unbelief is atoned for in Christ’s death, rather than the meaning of “whole world” in 1 John 2:2 (since I disagree with both Dan and YnottonY on the meaning of “whole world”)]

New Articles Recently Added

There have been several new articles and on-line books added to the side bar in the last month or so.  If you haven’t check them out in a while you might want to see if there is anything new that may interest you.  A few recent additions are:

Laurence Womock, The Result of False Principles: or, Error Convicted by its Own Evidence

Good Comments on Divine Hardening of the Human Heart by the NET Bible: Isaiah 6:10 and 63:17

Daniel Whitby, Refuting Arguments for Irresistible Grace (Part 1): Grace- Defining the Question

Daniel Whitby, Arguments Against Irresistible Grace (Part 2)

Daniel Whitby, Refuting Arguments for Irresistible Grace (Part 3)

Prevenient Grace Explained

The Calvinist Mitigation of the Divine Warnings Given to the Saints

The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacy #5: Choices Apart From Intent?

Related Fallacies:
Begging the Question

“While libertarians uphold the philosophy that “choice without sufficient cause” is what makes one responsible, the compatibilist, on the other hand, looks to Scripture which testifies that it is because our choices have motives and desires that moral responsibility is actually established. Responsibility requires that our acts, of necessity, be intentional….” (Eleven (11) Reasons to Reject Libertarian Free Will, John Hendryx)

“And so if you ask the question, “Why did you pull the trigger?” [When] a murder is committed. Why did you pull the trigger? Well any reason you give for why the trigger is pulled, or any set of reasons you give for why the trigger is pulled is the identical reason or set of reasons for why if you hadn’t pulled the trigger you didn’t pull the trigger. So how is that an explanation for how an action is performed? This will not hold up in a court of law -people look for motives! They look for the reason why actions are performed.” (Dr. Bruce Ware, arguing against libertarian free will)

This one is quite the caricature. Libertarian free will is generally defined as ‘contrary choice’ or ‘ability to choose otherwise.’ Determinists, in response, employ a rather lame and preposterous absurdity to discredit it by trying to separate such acts of will from our intentions.

Problems With This Logic

To the assertion that ‘we choose according to our intentions,’ I can only reply: Of course we choose according to what we intend. It would be quite a feat to make deliberate choices that we don’t intend to make. To understand the logical flaw in the Calvinist argument, we first must understand their ideas about motives and intents:

In the Determinist view, our motives and intentions are not of our own independent making, but are conferred upon us or irresistibly raised within us by some stimuli; in such a scheme, we don’t really have any autonomous control over what we intend. If we can’t control what we intend, then it naturally follows that we can’t control what we choose. The Calvinist case here essentially states,

We can’t choose otherwise since we can’t intend otherwise.

Which is why Dr. Ware’s argument borders on incoherence: it amounts to stating, “if you do or don’t pull the trigger, it must be for the exact same reason.” Such a statement only makes sense if one already assumes that people have no control over their intents/reasons for how they act.

Arguing that we can’t choose differently by asserting that we can’t intend differently is nothing more than begging the question of the human will’s operation being completely predetermined. Such an argument hinges upon removing contrary choice from one of its necessary implications, namely, freedom in our intentions. The term ‘contrary choice’ describes the net effect without stating every detail (as do many concise descriptions), freedom to intend differently being a fairly obvious inference, despite the overly simplistic attempts of Calvinist apologists to divorce them. For a choice to be a deliberate or ‘willful’ choice, it must by definition be an intentional choice. Conscious choices aren’t made apart from intentions; intentions are integral and inseparable components of deliberate choices! Power to choose otherwise then necessarily entails power to intend otherwise.

The whole ‘choice apart from intention’ canard is nothing more than a rather poorly constructed strawman that doesn’t accurately reflect the biblical view of libertarian free will at all. The Bible doesn’t portray our intents as something irresistibly thrust upon us, but rather instructs us to act with good intention in our hearts rather than impure motives.

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart…. (1 Peter 1:22)

Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men…. (Ephesians 6:5-7)

“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22)

It doesn’t state, “God will cause you to give willingly,” but rather commands us to give out of a willing heart. By His grace, God frees us to act in good intent towards Him.

To conclude, upon examination, these arguments that Calvinists offer against the reality of free will amount to no more than nonsensical attempts at showing how ridiculous libertarian freedom seems if one assumes determinism with regards to our intents. Such an assumption is unfounded, since a doctrine dependent upon the idea that we can’t control what we intend strains one’s sense of credulity when the scriptures plainly propose that very thing.