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

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

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.