Of Grapes and Calvinism

255px-Abhar-iranOne of the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism” is the doctrine of “irresistible grace” (gratia irresistibilis), also called “efficacious grace.” According to this doctrine, all those who genuinely turn, or convert, to God do so because God gives to them a new holy nature (regeneration) and the gift of faith, so that they cannot but repent of their former life of sin and turn to a life of walking with God (from which they cannot ever depart). Apart from this “irresistible grace” of God, it is impossible for a person to turn to God. That is to say, only if God regenerates a person and gives them faith can the person convert to God; and the person will irresistibly convert to God when so regenerated and given faith.

If this doctrine is true, then apparently God does not know it. Apparently he is not a Calvinist. For in the famous parable of the vineyard, recorded in Isaiah 5.1-7, God complains about the wickedness of the Hebrew people (the vineyard), asking, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done for it?” (v.4). Well, if Calvinism is true, then there was a lot more God could have done for the people. He could have given them “irresistible grace”! He could have regenerated them and given them faith. In point of fact, only if he gave to them this irresistible grace could they have become a vineyard that bore good fruit, rather than wicked fruit (v.5). So what is God complaining about? Continue reading

A Monstrous Phenomenon

According to unitarian Christian Andrews Norton (1786 - 1853), a long time professor at Harvard University and author of several books including the classic A Statement of Reasons for not Believing the Doctrines of Trinitarians concerning the Nature of God and the Person of Christ, what has happened to Christianity since its revelation by God through Jesus and his Apostles is a “monstrous phenomenon.” He explains,

. . . the fundamental truths of religion taught by Christianity became very early connected with human speculations, to which the same importance was gradually attached . . . These speculations spread out and consolidated into systems of theology, presenting aspects equally hostile to reason and to our faith; so hostile, that, for many centuries, a true Christian in belief and heart, earnest to communicate to others the blessings of his faith, would have experienced, anywhere in Christendom, a fate similar to that which his Master suffered among the Jews. . . this [is a] monstrous phenomenon. The false representations of Christianity that have come down to us from less enlightened times have ceased to retain their power over far the larger portion of those individuals who form, for good or evil, the character of the age in which they live. But the reaction of the human intellect and heart against their imposition has as yet had but little tendency to procure the reception of more correct notions of Christianity. On the contrary, the inveterate and enormous errors that have prevailed have so perverted men’s conceptions, have so obscured and perplexed the whole subject, have so stood in the way of all correct knowledge of facts and all just reasoning—there are so few works in Christian theology not at least colored and tainted by them, and they still present such obstacles at every step to a rational investigation of the truth—that the degree of learning, reflection, judgment, freedom from worldly influences, and independence of thought necessary to ascertain for one’s self the true character of Christianity is to be expected from but few. The greater number, consequently, confound the systems that have been substituted for it with Christianity itself and receive them in its stead, or, in rejecting them, reject our faith. The tendency of the age is to the latter result. (A Discourse on The Latest Form of Infidelity, 1839)

In short, the very sad truth is that “Christendom has done away with Christianity without being quite aware of it,” as the Danish theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813 - 1855) wrote—-quite more truly than he knew.

The Prodigal Son and Open Theism

The parable of the prodigal son is one of the most moving of the parables of Jesus that have come down to us in the New Testament Gospels. Unfortunately, the depth of meaning in the parable, especially as it relates to the character of God, is blocked from many Christians and other theists saddled with false ideas about God. Many Christians and other theists, for example, believe God is omni-determining, which is to say, God has determined and thus necessitated from eternity every single thing that occurs in his creation. Whether it be Hitler’s holocaust or Mother Teresa’s aid to the people of India, all of it is determined by God from eternity. Such a view of God completely eclipses how Jesus presents God in the parable of the prodigal son. For what sense does it make to depict God as overjoyed, filled with compassion, when his prodigal child returns if God has determined both the prodigal child’s departure (sin) and return? All has simply unfolded exactly as God determined it would unfold. Both the sin and the repentance God has necessitated, decreed, from eternity-”according to his good pleasure.” Continue reading

Why Did Adam and Eve Sin?

adam_and_eveAccording to the Book of Genesis, after God created the first human beings, Adam and then Eve, he issued a specific command that they should not eat from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2.17a). And he affixed to this command a sanction that should they disobey the command, then on that day they would “surely die” (Genesis 2.17b). The narrative then goes on to tell the story of how Eve, tempted by a speaking serpent, chose to disobey God’s command by eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3.1-6a). Moreover, we are told that Eve gave of the fruit to Adam, and he too then ate and thus disobeyed God’s command as well (Genesis 3.6b). Continue reading

The Myth of Original Sin

The doctrine of original sin says that as a result of Adam’s sin all of Adam’s posterity besides Jesus are born with a “sinful nature,” whereby they are physically unable to do anything but sin; they cannot do good. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state.”

Calvinist and other Reformed churches add to this a second element, namely, all of Adam’s posterity besides Jesus are from the moment of Adam’s sin-so even before they are born-regarded by God as guilty of Adam’s sin. Not only is Adam guilty for the sin, in other words, but everyone is deemed by God to be guilty of the sin. Thus, the Westminster Confession of Faith states, “They [Adam and Eve, "our first parents"] being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.”

Is any of this true? Well, what’s the evidence? Does revelation teach it? Does philosophical reasoning teach it? Continue reading

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams

Below is a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to John Adams toward the end of their lives (remarkably they died on the same day-Independence Day July 4, 1826-within five hours of each other). In the letter, Jefferson 225px-Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800reveals his religious sentiments, pulling no punches about his revulsion to Calvinism and the trinitarian dogma (he calls it “tritheism”). In the course of the letter, he also endorses the teleological argument, or argument from design, making a rather eloquent presentation of the argument. Agree or disagree with the views he expresses (I disagree with his denial of the virgin birth of Jesus), the letter is a fascinating piece by any account. What strikes me most is the vehemence of his denunciation of Calvinism and that simply a mere mention of Calvin’s name from Adams (in his previous letter to Jefferson), and not even in a theological context,  was enough to set Jefferson off into such a denunciation. Adams had only quoted Calvin’s exclamation to God during his infirmity late in life as a fitting expression of Adams own feeling toward the infirmity that beset him at the time he wrote the letter to Jefferson. Continue reading

William Hasker: God, Nail Biting, and Open Theism

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Christian philosopher William Hasker. In the excerpt, Hasker contrasts the idea that God determines all things (Calvinism) with the idea that God has granted human beings genuine freedom. Hasker has written much on the topic of divine providence, including the problem of evil (“problem of suffering” is more accurate). His books on the latter topic, namely, Providence, Evil and the Openness of God (a collection of essays) and The Triumph of God over Evil: Theodicy for a World of Suffering, provide about the best modern statements of theodicy. I would rank only Richard Swinburne’s Providence and the Problem of Evil higher, primarily for its further depth of analysis.

How am I Saved?

I was talking with a friend of mine about God and Christianity recently, and he said he was trying to get clear on salvation. Specifically, he said he had been trying to hammer down an answer to the question, “How am I saved?” He asked, “Is it by professing faith in Jesus to forgive me of my sins against him and the father and then continuing in that belief and attitude each day?” Furthermore, he added, “What about if/when my faith waivers or I’m apathetic for a season?” As a Christian, I myself have asked these same questions. What follows is how I responded to my friend (via email). Continue reading