It is a great irony to me that Calvinists are stereotyped as logic-driven. For forty years my experience has been the opposite. The Calvinists I have known (English Puritans, Edwards, Newton, Spurgeon, Packer, Sproul) are not logic driven, but Bible-driven. It’s the challengers who bring their logic to the Bible and nullify text after text. Branches are lopped off by “logic,” not exegesis.
Who are the great enjoyers of paradox today? Who are the pastors and theologians who grab both horns of every biblical dilemma and swear to the God-Man: I will never let go of either.
Not the Calvinism-critics that I meet. They read of divine love, and say that predestination cannot be. They read of human choice and say the divine rule of all our steps cannot be. They read of human resistance, and say that irresistible grace cannot be. Who is logic-driven?
For forty years Calvinism has been, for me, a vision of life that embraces mystery more than any vision I know. It is not logic-driven. It is driven by a vision of the ineffable, galactic vastness of God’s Word.
Let’s be clear: It does not embrace contradiction. Chesterton and I both agree that true logic is the law of “Elfland.” “If the Ugly Sisters are older than Cinderella, it is (in an iron and awful sense) necessary that Cinderella is younger than the Ugly Sisters.” Neither God nor his word is self-contradictory. But paradoxes? Yes.
We happy Calvinists don’t claim to get the heavens into our heads. We try to get our heads into the heavens. We don’t claim comprehensive answers to revealed paradoxes. We believe. We try to understand. And we break out into song and poetry again and again.
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I’ve seen Calvinists quote this (along with others like it) to demonstrate that the notion of limited atonement didn’t originate with Calvin or his followers. But I’m having a hard time tracking down the source. Neither Logos Bible Software nor the Internet have been able to get me any earlier than 1979.
Michael Horton quoted it twice in Putting Amazing Back into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Gospel (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002). Unfortunately, he didn’t cite his source. Even worse, he attributed it to two different people: Ambrose of Milan (c. 337–397) and Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109).
Ambrose, a church father, said, “If you die in unbelief, Christ did not die for you.” Don’t think that didn’t make people think twice about the offer of Christ! (118)
Anselm lost a lot of friends over this one:
If you die in unbelief, Christ did not die for you. (247)
In my estimation, Jonathan Edwards’s Justification by Faith Alone contains one of the most important and misunderstood1 evangelical discussions on the relationship between faith and works as they pertain to justification and salvation. Delivered in 1734 and first published in 1738, it may be found in 1:622–54 of his two-volume Works (Worcester rev. ed.),2 4:64–132 of his four-volume Works (Worcester ed.), 5:351–452 of his ten-volume Works (Dwight ed.), 19:147–2423 of his twenty-six volume Works, as an individual volume, and online in as many as seven different places.
As I continue my discussion on whether evangelicals, who affirm sola fide, are forced to sweep the passages that insist on holiness and good works under the rug, I turn to Jonathan Edwards, against whom no informed person would make such an accusation, as you can see for yourself in the quotations below. Except for the first, all of these selections come from his third and fourth sections, which discuss evangelical obedience and answer objections. I’ve bolded the most relevant portions.
After reading my post on Zac Smith’s cancer a while back, a friend of mine saw a link in the sidebar to a related post, “The Grace of Cancer,” and left a comment challenging my choice of words when I repeatedly said that God gave cancer to a man from our church to bring him to repentence.
I responded by encouraging him to read Calvin’s Institutes, I, xviii (esp. 1), where he discusses the “distinction [that] has been invented between doing and permitting,” and Piper’s “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.”
I spent some time rereading Calvin’s chapter on the issue of permission, “The Instrumentality of the Wicked Employed by God, While He Continues Free from Every Taint,” and I thought much of it was worth quoting here at length. I’ve bolded the most pertinent portions.
To my surprise, I enjoy a lot of what Warren tweets, but in this case I think he has it precisely backwards. Failing to attribute to God complete sovereignty over all of the events of His world—even the “accidental” ones for which man is at some level responsible—is to rob God of His glory.
Amos wrote a few thousand years ago, “Does disaster [רָעָה] come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?” (Amos 3:6). Amos was speaking of intentional disaster (an invading army seeking to overtake a city), not events resulting accidentally or from carelessness like an oil spill. If the former is rightly attributed to God, certainly the latter would be as well.
Job’s response to the loss of his children by a great wind bringing the house down upon them was, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
Both of these biblical writers saw God as the ultimate actor behind natural disasters and the evil of men.
And let us not forget that the cross itself, with all its evil, was an act of God (Acts 2:23; 3:18; 4:27–28).
It contains some solid practical advice for troubled marriages. On the whole, it’s good stuff.
Two items caught my attention—particularly because of how they seem to be at odds with things John Piper teaches:
- “If [love is] commanded, that means it’s not a feeling.”
- “God couldn’t command you to do something that was impossible for you to do.”
I saw this video this morning and just have to pass it along.
[Edit: The video is no longer available.]
Here’s a transcript of the short exchange:
John Roberts: US News & World Report this week commissioned a poll that surveyed a bunch of women in American asking what role you should take on with your wife as Secretary of State. Thirty-seven percent, the greatest number of women, said, “House husband.” We’re wondering what you think about that.
Bill Clinton: I—well, you know, it’s funny. I told her when she left that I—that I wish now that I was an ordinary citizen, because I wish I could go with her and be there when she comes home at night and do for her what she did for me when I was President. But it’s not in the cards. I’m—we’re doing the best we can to work through this and do the right thing.
John Roberts: Would you ever be comfortable being a house husband?
Bill Clinton: No. I have to go to work. I’m—I’m too much of a Calvinist. If I don’t work every day, I get nervous.
Here’s another solid text from Toplady that I enjoyed meditating on this morning and last evening.
A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with Thy righteousness on,
My person and off’ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Saviour’s’ obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.
The work which His goodness began
The arm of His strength will complete;
His promise is yea and amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
Not all things below or above,
Can make Him His purpose forgo,
Or sever my soul from His love.
From whence this fear and unbelief?
Hath not the Father put to grief
His spotless Son for me?
And will the righteous Judge of men
Condemn me for that debt of sin
Which, Lord, was charged on thee?
Complete atonement thou hast made,
And to the utmost farthing paid
Whate’er thy people owed;
How then can wrath on me take place
If sheltered in thy righteousness,
And sprinkled with thy blood?
I recently stumbled across a brief defense of limited atonement written by Greg Bahnsen (Wikipedia | Theopedia) in 1972 (at the age of 23 or 24). His fervency reminded me of Owen’s in Death of Death in the Death of Christ (WTSBooks) and Packer’s in his introductory essay in the same (which is also the eighth chapter in his A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life).
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