The American Interest
Religion & Other Curiosities
Published on December 7, 2011
Southern Baptists Go Swimming in Lake Geneva

Some years ago a sizable number of American Evangelicals, perhaps in search of a more colorful version of Christianity, became Eastern Orthodox as a group. For some reason they chose to join the American branch of the Patriarchate of Antioch, one of the most ancient Christian bodies in the world. (Its liturgical language is traditionally Arabic. You can’t get much more colorful than that.) Apparently these refugees from Billy Graham embraced their new faith with a fervor that alarmed some who were born Orthodox. People converting to Orthodoxy have been described as having gone “swimming in the Bosphorus”. It seems that now an increasing number of Evangelicals, this time Southern Baptists, are preparing to swim in the Swiss lake on whose shores John Calvin presided over his somber (hardly colorful) Protestant commonwealth.
The Christian Century, in its issue of November 15, 2011, carried a brief story about a “New Calvinism” movement within the Southern Baptist Convention. The story caught my attention, as this particular denomination seems an unlikely locale for an eruption of Calvinism. I then turned to the Associated Baptist Press, which had fuller coverage of what is indeed an interesting development.
Calvinism, often also referred to as Reformed theology, is gaining influence in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). A 2007 poll reported that 10% of its pastors now call themselves Reformed, and that 29% of recent seminary graduates do so—an intriguing portent for the future. The development was not much noticed for a while, but is now generating a lively controversy. It should be noted that, from its inception in the sixteenth century, Calvinism has come in two versions—one closely following the teachings of the founding generation, the other having significantly softened the original harshness. Both versions came to America from the various Calvinist homelands in Europe—notably Switzerland, Germany, Scotland and (very importantly) the Netherlands. The softer version has been more prevalent. What is particularly interesting is that the harsher version seems to appeal to many Baptists turned neo-Calvinists.
The original, full-bodied version of Calvinism has been symbolized by the acronym TULIP (it is probably not accidental that this is also the national flower of the Netherlands).  The first letters of the acronym stand for: Total depravity: human nature has no good features whatever;  Unmerited election: we are saved by God’s grace, which we don’t deserve; Limited atonement: not all men are saved, only the elect; Irresistible grace: we cannot resist God’s action in saving us; Perseverance of the saints: once God has placed us among the elect, we can never lose that status. Put together, these propositions add up to the so-called doctrine of double predestination—the assertion that God, from all eternity, has decided who will be saved and who will be damned. Arguably, this is the most repulsive doctrine in the history of the Christian religion. Understandably, most adherents of the Reformed tradition found it unbearable, and sought ways of softening it. Calvin and the other founders believed that no one could know whether he was or was not among the elect. However repulsive in its conception of God, this doctrine has a certain grandeur: one should serve God, not in hope of heaven or in fear of hell, but out of unconditional devotion. At least some of the early Calvinists managed to believe this. Very soon two methods were devised so that an individual could attain certitude about election by an inner experience which conveyed such certitude (the “method” from which Methodism derived its name), by the empirical fact that God has bestowed his blessings upon the individual (this is where Max Weber saw one of the roots of the “Protestant ethic” and its striving for worldly success).
Both the harsh and the soft versions of Calvinism have found defenders among Southern Baptists. Roger Olson (who teaches theology at Baylor University) wrote, “I am against any Calvinism—and any theology—that impugns the goodness of God in favor of absolute sovereignty, leading to the conclusion that evil, sin and every horror of history are planned and rendered certain by God.” Such a God would be “a moral monster”. Olson calls this “radical Calvinism”, expressing admiration for less extreme versions. The full TULIP version was defended by Michael Horton (Westminster Seminary), though he doesn’t like the terminology of the acronym: “It is impossible to read the Bible without recognizing God’s freedom to choose some and not others.” One of the most influential SBC theologians, Albert Mohler (Southern Theological Seminary), has supported Horton’s position, calling the New Calvinism “a healthy return to Southern Baptists’ historic roots”. (By the way, Mohler has elsewhere said that the death penalty is pro-life: “[It] is not about retribution. It is first of all about underlining the importance of every single human life”.)

What happens in the Southern Baptist Convention is not a marginal event. It is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States (over 16 million in number) and the second-largest Christian body after the Roman Catholic Church. It was founded in 1845 over the issue of slavery (Baptists in the South defended it, Baptists in the North opposed it). The SBC has long left behind its racist views, and it is no longer restricted to the South (there have been several moves to change its region-specific name). What characterizes it today is a robustly conservative theology—the SBC is firm in its rejection of liberal interpretations of Christianity. That much makes for an affinity with Calvinism. But Southern Baptists, along with all other Evangelicals, emphasize the free decision of individuals to be converted, to “accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior”—an idea very much opposed to double predestination. This may be called the great Evangelical “whoever”, reverberating through the long history of American revivals, reiterated with every call for people to come to the altar and confess their faith—summarized in the most quoted sentence from the Gospels: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Luke 3:16).
How then is one to understand the New Calvinism in this improbable setting? I will venture a sociological interpretation.
In 1994 the historian Mark Noll (now on the faculty of Notre Dame) published an influential book titled The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. In it he bemoaned an anti-intellectualism that had become established in the Evangelical community. He understood this as a defensive reaction against an elite culture which was increasingly secular and which looked down on Evangelicals as backward provincials. A big change has been occurring more recently. There is a new cohort of Evangelical intellectuals, well-educated and increasingly self-confident. Some are ensconced in a nation-wide network of Evangelical institutions, but others have moved into mainstream institutions. (Noll’s own move, from Wheaton College to Notre Dame, is prototypical.)  There is a certain instructive parallel here with the new class of Jewish intellectuals, who flooded into mainstream academia and media in the 1950s (though the Evangelical development has not yet reached that level). The underlying fact, however, is the same and very simple: upward social mobility and higher education, with a concomitant decline of prejudice against the rising group. Evangelicals, including the Southern Baptists among them, have developed a more sophisticated approach to the faith, and they have looked for intellectual resources to do this. Despite the aforementioned difference, Calvinism had to be appealing in this quest. It has a great intellectual tradition, with roots in European cultures. It shares with American Evangelicals a conservative theology, a high regard for the authority of the Bible (frequently moving over into the notion of Biblical inerrancy), and a gut dislike of all liberal directions in contemporary Protestantism.
The New Calvinists have shown a particular interest in a Dutch theologian whose work seems particularly relevant to the American situation. Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) also used the term New Calvinism to define his position. He combined orthodox Calvinist theology with a strong commitment to the separation of church and state (he split with the official Dutch Reformed Church over this issue). As far as I can make out, he accepted the doctrine of predestination, but without emphasizing its negative portion (the bit about predestination to hell). He taught the sovereignty of Christ over all realms of reality, but he believed that, if grounded in a strong Christian culture, Christians could participate in a pluralist society and a democratic state. He visited America and lectured at Princeton. Kuyper founded a political party, and he was prime minister of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905. One can understand how Kuyper would appeal to Baptists, who always held a strong belief in the separation of church and state.
The soft version of Calvinism has been associated with the name of Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). The Arminians had a number of differences with Calvinist orthodoxy, prominently including a rejection of the doctrine of double predestination. They split from the orthodox Dutch Reformed Church over a number of issues, spelled out in the so-called Remonstrance of 1610. A major issue was their assertion that election was conditioned by a free choice of the will—thus rejecting the doctrine of double predestination. In 1609 (the year of Arminius’ death) an English-speaking Baptist church was established in Amsterdam. Ever since Baptists have taught the idea of “soul competency”—that is, the freedom of individuals to embrace salvation. Arminianism has exerted an enormous influence on American Protestantism—not only among groups explicitly derived from the Reformed tradition (such as Presbyterians), but on Methodists and Baptists, and indeed on all Evangelicals. Thus Mohler was not altogether wrong when he said that Baptists turning to Calvinism are returning to their “historic roots”—it just isn’t his sort of Calvinism that dwells in these roots.
These considerations suggest a prediction:  If Calvinism is to make further inroads among Southern Baptists or among any other segments of American Evangelicals, it will be in its Arminian form.

  • Pingback: Abraham Kuyper is Dead | @ActonInstitute PowerBlog

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    Pardon me if I’m misunderstanding your post, Dr. Berger, but I’m extremely confused by your conclusion. Arminianism isn’t a “soft version of Calvinism.” It’s a completely different theology that has historically been the main opponent of Calvinism within Protestantism. Roger Olson is not a Calvinist of any kind – he even published a book this year called “Against Calvinism.” Do you mean your conclusion to be ironic?

  • Kelly

    Thank you for your article; you have hit upon some important and valuable topics. I grew up in Baptist and Calvinist circles and am currently a member of a prominent SBC, New Calvinist church. I would like to help you with some points where you have understood only caricatures of what you are talking about.
    - Total depravity. Calvinism does not teach there is nothing good about human beings, who are created in the image of God. Common grace has blessed us with many good things and the ability to do good things. Total depravity teaches that even the good we can do is broken and imperfect; therefore we are completely incapable of saving ourselves.
    - Arminianism is not an extreme version of Calvinism. It is doctrinally the exact opposite.
    - Biblically accurate Calvinism, and the Calvinism that is mainstream today, does not teach that people have no ability or responsibility to choose. God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are both true, and how they work together is something we will not perfectly understand until we reach heaven–like the doctrine of the Trinity. There are two “calls”: The general call, which God has made available to all through general and often special relevation–meaning the creation, the Incarnation, and the Word of God. The “effectual call” is the call of God on the heart of an elect individual, which cannot be refused.
    - You say Calvinism teaches one should not serve God out of hope of heaven and fear of hell. This is partially correct in that serving God, or doing good works, can never earn us heaven because we are totally depraved. However, the idea that we cannot know we are saved and live in hope of heaven is heresy and not mainstream. We look to heaven not because of our own good works, but because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice on the cross, taking the punishment our sins deserved, and rising from the dead as the firstborn of many brethren from the dead. Jesus taught His disciples to live for this hope.
    - God owes us nothing. He created us and we have rebelled against Him, and that is a “repulsive” message to a fallen world. Only when we understand how repulsive we are can we fully comprehend how great is God’s mercy and love for us: He sends rain and sunshine and the breath of life even to those who have spurned His name and His creation and have trampled it in the dust. Then He sent His own Son to voluntarily die a repulsive death at the hands of His creatures. This incomprehensible love is what inspires Christians to extend love, forgiveness, and generosity to our fellow sinners.

  • Kelly

    Correction, I meant to say Arminianism is not a *soft* version of Calvinism.

  • Michael

    I’m with Kelly on this one.

    Further, I’m intrigued by the use of the word “repulsive”. I find the Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy) to be “repulsive”, because it leads to wasteful, expensive and even harmful methods of energy generation, storage and transport.

    But my opinion of the the Second Law is irrelevant: its validity is independent of what I think about it.

    Should I infer from your article that double-predestination is to be rejected because it is repulsive — that is, there is something inherently wrong about it, that all right-thinking creatures should would reject it (in the same way that there is general agreement among cultures that murder is wrong)?

  • http://pwinn.tumblr.com/ Phillip Winn

    Some Lutherans divide Christianity into Orthodox, Roman, Lutheran, and Reformed, so that all who are not one of the first three end up in the last. Some Orthodox do not even distinguish between Lutheran and other Protestants. If one *is* going to distinguish between groups, though, it should be noted that especially in a modern context, but even true in the 17th century, Arminianism is not widely considered to be a “softer Calvinism” so much as it is a rejection of the essence Calvinism.

    While Calvinism is not solely a soteriological view, Arminius rejected Calvin’s soteriological formulations on a basis that later led his followers to essentially reject all of Calvinism’s distinctives. A “softer Calvinism” might be the historical Anglican view, which is “single predestination.” Arminianism, both in 1610 and today, is really anti-Calvinism.

    Although Arminianism is the mainstream view in the SBC, Baptists holding double-predestination to be true date back to the 1630s, barely more than 20 years from the first Baptist church. The London Baptist Confession of 1689 is frequently considered by Calvinists to represent Calvinist soteriology quite well.

  • WigWag

    “He created us and we have rebelled against Him, and that is a “repulsive” message to a fallen world. Only when we understand how repulsive we are can we fully comprehend how great is God’s mercy and love for us…” (Kelly)

    Oy vey.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Reply to Mike Hickerson:

    Roger Olson’s book “Against Calvinism” covers both pro and con about Cavinism, albeit I believe you may be right that Olson is opposed to a revival of Calvinism.

    Nonetheless, one way or another, Dr. Berger has brought to our attention an interesting trend in the Southern Baptist denomination. This is apparently not isolated to the Southern Baptists. The other day I was in the Fuller Seminary bookstore in Pasadena, California when a patron inquired about books on Calvin, which he related was of renewed interest in his church.

    There always is a tension between “standards” and “love and grace” in religion.

    Dr. Berger touched on this in his May 18 post “An Argument About Hell” discussing Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins: A Debate about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Lived.”

    Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to be a parent, although I have had to assume responsibility to care for a parent, sibling, a girlfriend dying of cancer, and eventually the care of my girlfriend’s mother. A parent who conveys nothing but standards, or conversely is no more than a pal and a forgiving friend to a child, is bound to fail somewhere along the line. As a former social worker in family courts I can attest that without the use of healthy authority there is no chance of helping people with “love,” “compassion,” or “therapy:” alone.

    Of all thinkers, oddly it was Machiavelli who wrote that a ruler (or a parent) has to be feared if they are going to be loved. The two are intermingled in strange ways.

    Somewhere in the middle of “fear” and “love” is a signal of a transcendent theology that doesn’t descend to the mere human forms of the “Tea Party’s” call for budgetary standards and deficit reductions and the “Occupy Movement’s” cry for loan forgiveness, to put it into modern day terms.

    One of the problems in contemporary religion in America is there is no institutional center. If there was we might see a theology develop around it. The Catholic “Principle of Subsidiarity” and de Tocqueville’s notion of “democracy” and civil society are sociological starting points for a theology.

    As Dr. Berger has written:

    “There’s a danger of romanticizing the idea of civil society. Not all mediating structures are good ones. The problem with liberal Protestantism is not the loss of orthodoxy but the loss of religious substance.”

    Perhaps the rebirth of Calvinism is a move toward more religious substance, particularly by Evangelical and conservative Christian cognitive elites.

    However, I believe the Apostle Paul had it about right in the First Letter to the Corinthians:
    “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,
    but have not love,
    I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

    And if I have prophetic powers,
    And understand all mysteries and all knowledge,
    And if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,
    But have not love,
    I am nothing.”

    In the end, we don’t know for sure that there is something beyond this life. As Paul says it: “For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect.” Dr. Berger and Anton Zijderveld have written extensively “In Praise of Doubt.”

    All we have this side of Heaven is love and life. So we cling to it, full well believing that God will ultimately judge, acknowledging that our legal institutions are imperfect.

    We need to find a theological and institutional center. I don’t believe that a return to Calvinism is a turn in that direction but I could be wrong.

  • Dave

    I’m in agreement with both Kelly and Mike. I spent twenty years in a strongly Calvinist church (I’ve actually met Michael Horton a number of times), and I have never before heard Arminianism described as a “version of Calvinism”.

    Virtually every significant name I can think of associated with Calvinism historically (Edwards, Spurgeon, Murray, etc.) and presently (John Piper, Tim Keller) are full, five-point, TULIP people.

    Doctrinal rigidity is really kind of the point of Calvinism, one of the reasons I ended up leaving the church…

  • Jbird

    Predestination as the “most repulsive doctrine in the history of the Christian religion”? ouch. Someone should inform Paul.

    And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
    - Romans 8:30

    14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
    - Romans 9:14-18

    Pick your battles with Calvinists carefully, Mr Berger, we love a good theological brawl. This article was a fairly lazy salvo. Aside from the already mentioned mis-characterizations it also truly ignores the simple beauty of the over-arching Calvinistic concept of divine sovereignty.

  • Jbird

    Also, the bit about Albert Mohler and the death penalty is both a non-sequitur and a red herring.

  • WigWag

    To any avid reader of his blog, it is clear that Professor Berger does not think much of the the “so-called doctrine of double predestination;” aftter all, this is the second time that he makes plain how disagreeable he finds it. Back on May 18, 2011, ih his post entitled, “An Argument About Hell” Professor Berger had this to say about “double predestination,”

    “Arguably the most repulsive doctrine in the history of Christianity, it made hell into a solemn divine project.”

    I have wondered since he wrote that post why Professor Berger finds this particular doctrine so much more offensive then the Christian doctrine of “original sin” or the idea of the “Fall of Man.” Admittedly, given the heterogeneity of the Christian world, ideas about what those doctrines mean are all over the place, but Jews and Muslims could not be less interested in either concept. Only the Christian world has created a theology that largely becomes incoherent in the absence of “original sin” and the “fall of man.”

    Why is the idea that the deity preordained which souls will achieve salvation so much more offensive than the idea that the entirety of the human species is tainted by the sin of Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden? While Christian denominations may disagree about the nature of how subsequent generations are tainted; they all seem to agree that mankind is tainted by Adam’s decision.

    Doesn’t it make as much sense to find that doctrine abhorent?

  • Dale Profitt

    Did I miss the fact that the people who have posted replies have gone to war over theology, and overlooked the strange citation of LUKE 3:16 when it should be John 3:16?

  • R.C.

    I’m glad that someone sees the death penalty, as it correctly is, to be an assertion of the very great value of human life.

    Justice requires a minimum punishment for any given crime. The high value of human life naturally implies a strong minimum punishment for particularly egregious willful and depraved acts of destruction of human life: To punish with less than that minimum is to sin against justice and to treat the crime as a light and frivolous thing.

    This observation does not lead to the conclusion that the death penalty ought to be commonly applied (one hopes that particularly horrifying crimes are not especially frequent), or with casual inattention to accuracy of convictions. One ought to use it only for such crimes as meet the threshold of “necessity for justice,” and a high degree of certainty in the conviction is required.

    Still, the justice requirement of God’s moral law rules out our abolishing it altogether.

  • R.C.

    Re: Arminianism, Calvinism, and Baptists:

    Calvinism has long existed in the S.B.C.; this is not “news” in the sense of a change.

    But it has typically been of a form which the “hardcore” Calvinists reject as, at best, an unsophisticated misunderstanding of Calvinism, and more often, simply “not Calvinism.”

    The most common view is “4-and-a-half point Calvinism.” This phrasing, which is used when discussing the topic in S.B.C. churches (as well as in the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship), is contrasted against the “5 point Calvinism” which fully embraces the five points of T.U.L.I.P.

    The difference between 4-and-a-half and 5 comes down to the question of whether God selects people to be (helplessly) damned, which Calvinism holds and alternatives to Calvinism reject. This ultimately centers on the free will question: Is God’s grace irresistible in both directions and for all persons?

    Any Christian, I suppose, allows that God could irresistibly force all persons to receive salvation, but He clearly does not do this; so most Christians conclude that either He only commands salvation irresistibly for some persons (and offers salvation resistibly to the others) or that He offers salvation resistibly to all.

    If salvation is offered resistably, then a person must “cooperate” (Gk: synergos) with the offer of salvation by voluntarily responding to it. Even this cooperation is impossible except to the degree the Holy Spirit makes it possible. But how strongly does the Holy Spirit act within us? Does the Spirit act only strongly enough to make cooperation possible for us, without “pushing” to make non-cooperation impossible? Or, does the Holy Spirit push so hard that non-cooperation becomes impossible, so that anyone offered salvation through cooperation with the grace of God will in fact coooperate and can’t refuse?

    This last view is the strong 5-pointer’s option: Grace is irresistible both in the offer of God’s salvation and in the response to that offer which the Holy Spirit pushes us to make, pushing us beyond the point of free will to the point of irresistibility. Since not all persons are saved, God clearly does not do this for all persons, but selects some for whom He does not do it; these persons therefore lack the response and thus lack salvation. God has therefore chosen and predestined them to damnation.

    The 4-and-a-half pointer says, “No, God does not will that any be lost.” They therefore state that the activity of the Holy Spirit is just barely sufficient to make the choice possible, but that, thus buoyed up by the Spirit so that free will becomes possible, the individual still chooses out of their own free will either to accept or reject God’s salvation. In this view, the Holy Spirit does not (at least not for all persons) “push” the individual beyond the “evenly balanced” point where free-will is maximized into the realm where rejecting God’s offer of salvation is impossible. The Holy Spirit assists free will, but does not override it.

    This view is common enough in Southern Baptist circles; it is also commonly held among Methodists and Anglicans and Roman Catholics — though under different terminology in each communion, according to the varying traditions and cultures in each.

    Interestingly, the “4-and-a-half pointers” dispute somewhat about which point is the “half.” Some say that they do not deny that God irresistibly predestines some folk to be saved but that they do deny that God irresistibly predestines some folk to be damned. But is this a rejection of “Unconditional” or of “Irresistible?” And how does it play into “Limited” (as in, “Limited Atonement”; the view that Christ died not for all, willing that all be saved though knowing some would choose otherwise, but for “many,” that only “the elect” be saved)?

    And let’s not get into the difference between the common Southern Baptist formulation “Once Saved, Always Saved” and the Calvinist “Perseverance of the Saints!”

    All this is to say: For a hundred years now, easily, Calvinism has been endlessly talked about among the Southern Baptists. This is not new. It doesn’t mean they all are Calvinists, at least not full 5-pointers. But they’re close in some respects, some are closer than others, and the conversation is ongoing.

  • R.C.

    WigWag:

    In your argument that original sin is just as bad as double predestination, I think you’ve gotten hold of a caricature of original sin.

    As I was taught it among (a.) Southern Baptists, then later (b.) Evangelical Presbyterians, then later (c.) non-denominational Christians, then later (d.) Methodists, and most recently (e.) Catholics, “original sin” is not a sin of commission but a deprivation of the divine XYZ which we otherwise would have had if only man hadn’t originally sinned. (Where “XYZ” stands in for various hard-to-define things: grace, vitality or “zoe” impassibility, theosis, perfect relationship with God, various other formulations.)

    Imagine that one of your ancestors had a billion dollars, then foolishly lost it in a card game, and thus through that one act, made the difference between you growing up attending private schools and an elite university, and you growing up in an inner-city school and working three jobs to pay for community college.

    Adam in his pre-fallen state was something like Christ, and perhaps God, his heavenly Father, was growing him up, maturing him into something like the Risen Christ, when Adam’s boneheaded sin brought all that to a halt.

    Before the fall, men had immortality of course, but he had so much more than mere inability to die. A man could choose, for example, when to be sexually aroused (and would always choose morally rightly): His body was his instrument, instead of being an poorly-trained donkey stubbornly resisting direction and constantly rebelling in unexpected ways requiring constant attention.

    The wisdom and sanity not to sin and an unimpeded ongoing relationship with God was part-and-parcel of Adam’s makeup: God and unfallen man were “friends” as Moses was “friends” with God, but more; and I expect our first ancestors walked unconcernedly around with that glory of the Lord on their faces which Moses had to veil.

    Some people talk of the fall’s effect on creation as if prior to the fall there were no tsunamis and tigers didn’t eat meat; I understand the Biblical reasons for this view but I wonder if we aren’t reading the Biblical language more literally than was intended. I suspect there were tsunamis, but that unfallen man could have surfed on them without fear of death; I suspect tigers ate meat but that unfallen man could have chosen either to calm the tiger so it didn’t attack him, or teleport away, or to just miraculously heal at will if he thought the tiger was a bit scrawny and opted to give the tiger an arm for a meal.

    That is all speculative if not downright caricaturish; but I wish to convey a sense of what was lost. We are a different race as a consequence of sin; we could have been immune to suffering and death except as we chose to experience it. We also could have been immune to all temptation by virtue of being above it; able to see through all its false promises.

    That is lost, like your ancestor’s wealth in the earlier example. Is it our fault, in a sense meaning that we did it? No. But do we suffer consequences as a result? Undoubtedly.

    And without that divine indwelling, that grace, that vitality, we simply can’t survive in the presence of God. Living in heaven without God’s grace and theosis is impossible, not only in the sense that entering a movie theater without a ticket is impossible, but also in the sense that living on the moon without a space-suit is impossible.

    Which is why a positive act of God is necessary to convey some portion of that divine indwelling life and power back into us. It’s not just that our sins need to be forgiven. Our souls must become fattened on and galvanized by God’s love, or the presence of God will become as deathly and destructive to us as it is for the fallen angels. Sin, and a soul clinging to sin and preferring sin over God, cannot survive the fire of His love; we had better have some of His nature already in us or we will not be able to survive seeing Him face-to-face.

    The Beatific Vision, perhaps, IS the particular judgment: When the fire of God’s presence burns away all the dross in a man, leaving behind only the gold and precious jewels of the things He did for the love of God, then whatever is burned away is gone forever. The man may suffer a bit as it is burned away, but the man himself will be saved, “as through fire” and the “gold and precious stones” are the treasure they take into heaven to lay down before the throne (“for their works shall follow them”). But if, after all that is impure is burned away, the remnant includes nothing pure but only the ashes of what could have been a saint but never was? Well, then the ashes must be swept away. Is it any wonder that the angelic beings closest to the face of God are called “seraphim,” which means “burning ones?”

    And of course now we are in to word-pictures and poetry and it is very hard to know how literally to take anything. It is like trying to picture a quark in your mind: You are trying to picture something beyond your comprehension, and no mental image is entirely accurate. But you can’t help using images because that is how the human mind works. So, since certain images are helpful to a degree, we use them, and trust that fuller understanding comes, if not with time, then in eternity.

    Anyway, I hope that the mental images and analogies I’ve just given help you understand original sin a bit better; the view you had was also a picture, but I think a more misleading one.

  • Jbird

    R.C.: maybe I am getting it wrong, but I think Wigwag’s point was that We may not be happy about original sin, but just as is the case with “double” predestination, that doesn’t make it false. I don’t like that I am born in sin, but it is nonetheless the case.

  • Geoff

    I haven’t had a chance to read this all the way through but I had to break and leave a comment. “double predestination” isn’t a synonym for the 5 points of Calvinism. It is actually a point of contention between Calvinists, although not a major point.

    Long and short of it, it’s a clear warning sign that he isn’t the best person to be speaking about this topic.

    As a Calvinist, I would argue that the 5 points of Calvinism are based on Scripture. Read Romans 9 some time. Look at Paul’s anticipated objection and ask yourself if that makes sense from a non-Calvinist position.

    I would argue that if you find this position repugnant you don’t understand the extent of your sin and guilt, the extent of God’s grace, and the thing you find repugnant is God Himself.

  • R.C.

    Jbird:

    I think you’re correct about part of what WigWag has said, but I think that wasn’t ALL that he said. At least, I think the way he said it hinted at his own opinions.

    I know nothing about WigWag personally, so I am only guessing on the basis of the content of his comment, but it seems to me that he comes from outside the Christian world altogether. It seems to me that his view of original sin as understood by Christians is something like this: “God was mad at Adam for disobeying, so God punished not only Adam, but all his descendants to the end of time.” WigWag’s phrasing suggests that he thinks this to be a morally absurd act on God’s part, and that is why, in WigWag’s argument, a Christian who can “swallow” original sin (despite it being a morally absurd act by God) ought not, in WigWag’s view, balk at “swallowing” another morally absurd act by God (double predestination).

    That, at least, is what I read into WigWag’s statement that “…Jews and Muslims could not be less interested in either concept. Only the Christian world has created a theology that largely becomes incoherent in the absence of “original sin” and the “fall of man.” Why is the idea that the deity preordained which souls will achieve salvation so much more offensive than the idea that the entirety of the human species is tainted by the sin of Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden?”

    Not WigWag’s argument relies on the notion that the doctrine of original sin is at least as morally problematic as the doctrine of double predestination.

    Since I thought his view of original sin was closer to a youth Sunday School caricature than an adult theologian’s understanding of same, and so that the caricature was absurd but the doctrine was not, it seemed reasonable to me to try to correct the caricature by providing a more accurate depiction.

  • R.C.

    Geoff:

    I acknowledge that some Calvinists still call themselves Calvinists while not holding double predestination. But I’m surprised to see you say it isn’t a major point; perhaps my distance from Presbyterian circles in the last few years means I’m not up-to-date. My impression was that Calvinists who held to double-predestination (a.) had John Calvin on their side, which gives them a pretty good argument for claiming the title of “real Calvinism” and (b.) felt strongly that the whole system began to break down, from a logical standpoint, if you sacrificed that part of their system.

    As for Romans 9: I think that Romans 9 makes the best argument that can be made for double predestination in the sense of the Holy Spirit forcing, not merely enabling choices in either direction.

    But it can still, I think, be accounted for in other ways.

    If you like, I’ll offer the explanation I use:

    Our three constant enemies, “the world, the flesh, and the devil” work against us with powerful temptations, trying to shove us into sin and into rejecting God in much the same way that a powerful side-wind tries to push a car off the highway and into a ditch.

    The action of the Holy Spirit in our lives is like a wind pushing in the opposite direction that any current temptation is pushing.

    If the “wind force” of the Spirit is less than that exerted by the world, the flesh, and the devil, then it will be insufficient and, because our own steering strength is insufficient to fight the “wind force” of the world, the flesh, and the devil on our own, we’ll wind up in the ditch. We’re too weak to overcome evil; we have no effective free will.

    If the “wind force” of the Spirit is identical to that exerted by the world, the flesh, and the devil, then they will be perfectly balanced and, for us, free will becomes possible: We can steer ourselves along the highway or into the ditch as we choose.

    And, if the “wind force” of the Spirit is actually coming from all sides, powerfully holding us on the road so that no matter what we do, we can’t steer into the ditch, then we have no effective free will at all.

    Now my notion is that the action of the Holy Spirit is normatively like the middle of those three: God’s activity enables free will.

    But my notion is also that God can foresee (or else, being outside Time, He merely “sees”) what the choices will be that we make when thus empowered by the Holy Spirit.

    If He knows that, when empowered by the Holy Spirit, we’ll just abuse our free will and steer into the ditch anyway, then there’s no point exerting the Holy Spirit on us after all: We’re reprobated. He may, however, exert the Holy Spirit on us forcefully, overriding free will at one point or another, not for our own sake, but for the sake of some other schlub whom He intends to use us to influence.

    The above picture has the following advantages: Free will and God’s grace are compatible and mutually self-supporting, yet “hardening” or “reprobation” are still included in the picture. And, the complexities of the whole thing rely on God’s perfect foreknowledge so thoroughly to explain His actions that, as St. Paul says, it becomes as pointless for us to argue with God’s decisions as for the clay to argue with the potter. “We don’t understand!” we complain. And God replies, “Yes, child, that’s exactly right. You don’t understand. So hush.”

    Unless I am mistaken, the above word-picture or analogy is one which a Calvinist would find incompatible with Calvinism on some points; more Arminian or Thomist. And yet I think it remains compatible with Romans 9.

    But these are deep waters and we are all usually over our heads, and perhaps me more than most.

  • rgriff

    Yes, Calvinism is not as new among Baptists as Dr. Berger thinks. There has long been a division between “regular Baptists” and “general Baptists,” with the latter taking an Arminian perspective. The SBC has stronger roots in the regular Baptist tradition. This is reflected in Baptist history in the UK as well; John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon were all Calvinistic Baptists.

  • Anthony

    Insightful essay and running commentary during onset of Advent (time of expectant waiting and preparation); essay’s gravity(and comments) reflects true tone of season.

  • Tom

    No, you misunderstand the doctrine of total depravity. It does not mean “human nature has no good features whatever,” as you say. It means we are depraved in our totality; this is not a single aspect of being that is not touched by original sin. We still have good features–we are, after all, still created in God’s image–but all are tainted by sin.

  • Tom

    A lot of good discussion, but also want to point out that your understanding of total depravity is off, too. It does not mean that “human nature has no good features whatever,” as you assert. After all, we are still created in God’s image.

    Total depravity means that, in our totality, there is not one single area of our being that is not tainted by sin. There is no corner free from the effects of original sin, and therefore there is nothing in our being that merits God’s salvation or that enables us to respond to God’s promptings without his initiative. And that is why Calvinism is the polar opposite of Arminianism.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Beware of those alleging factual errors tangential to the main thesis of an argument.

  • Jbird

    Wayne: the main thesis is that more Baptists are considering Calvinism. No one here argues with the statistics. Everyone is taking issue with the author’s understanding of Calvinism: it’s doctrine, it’s underpinnings, and it’s history. For example, what exactly would be Arminian Calvinism? The saints persevere. . . except when they don’t? Arminianism emphasizes free will uber alles. I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of Baptist theology, but as a Presbyterian, I’d kinda characterize most Baptists as already being Arminian.

  • andrea

    So much of how the past 50 years has affected “wasps” is never ever discussed.

    We experienced Vatican II as an end of “freedom of religion.” The ideas imposed by the papacy on Americans during a time that oversaw the intensive violence against our politicians, the rioting, etc., was very frightening, opening old wounds from Europe that many Americans had been blessed to forget. This continued in the 80s, as the pope established himself as a country within the U.S. (being granted a political embassy in Washington), and so on.

    The surge in Arminianism, has more to do with the papacy and Vat II, obviously, which insisted on it.

    Even now, Rome attempts to make inroads into creating a Catholic country, by obvious and steady steps, by trying to introduce arguments s/a these. (That is the group that benefits by such erroneous narratives).

    This is in tandem with the attempts at Southern Revisionism, making Catholics key in Southern life (where historically, in reality, they did not much exist). This is reflected in Hollywood movies, also, as well as many articles, or even Catholics s/a Pat Buchanan talking about his confederate ancestry as “The Conspirator” is introduced through Hollywood.

    A part of this, in turn, has to do with the “New South”— a term that refers to Northern immigration in vast numbers into Southern areas (South Florida, Central North Carolina, Atlanta, and so on). The “immigrants” come en masse, and demographically “change” areas to be catholic. (Although some Jews have also moved from the Northeast).

    Part of the whole narrative is placing “what’s wrong with America,” at the door of the Puritans–a very standard academic meme. Meantime, “wasps” only comprise 3% of important cities s/a NY. To make them “Neo-Arminian” places them conveniently within the “New South” (Catholic) narrative of “heretics.”

    As the country has opened up, many Southerners, Baptist and otherwise, have simply become much more aware of other religious groups in their own country (groups that see them as enemies, heretics, and so on). Slowly, things s/a the “Ecumenical councils” (I wasn’t even born yet) come into a quite different focus— since wasn’t it the papacy insisting on the “church of the nice people” for everyone? Weren’t the PROTESTANT churches the ones wiped out by Vat II. Didn’t that oversee the era of the murder of our politicians? Didn’t that prefigure the “new South” when so many Southern Baptists have seen their previously safe communities transformed overnight by Northeastern Catholics and Jews?

    In one area where we lived, the population more than doubled in just six years with Northeast Catholics. Previously, we had been in South Florida, a place my family says it felt comfortable, but compelled to move, by the foreigners of the population.

    Catholic neighbors have told me I am in “imperfect communion with God,” and they have “the only path to salvation.” Such is the “New South.”

    In a land where Protestants once had “freedom of religion,” the other religions seem to have brought Europe with them.

    God blessed the creators of the nation— but that threw others into a conundrum. Why would God bless the heretics, the people burned in crusades of the past, people europe murdered, in order to become what europe did? Why would God bless heretics? (catholicism). Or why would God bless the non-choses (the Jewish mythos).

    Southern Baptists have survived to begin answering their critics of the past 50 years.

  • Gary Foster

    “If Calvinism is to make further inroads it will be armininanism” Silly you. This is the stance of most SBC people now. Soft “calvinism”. This is a theological movement back to the roots of their past and not so much a movement to wider mainline influence. Read your history. This is a poorly informed article

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  • RandyPowers

    we are all on are way to hell,But GOD by his own free will chose to save some.

  • Randy Powers

    We are all on are way to hell. But GOD on the basis of his own free will and nothing else, chose to save some.

  • Stephen P

    Randy Powers- that’s a very nice way of phrasing it.
    I’m Presbyterian myself, and have never understood what sort of substantial difference there is between “double predestination” and “single predestination.” It’s an either/or sort of scheme- If God doesn’t elect to save someone, that person is never saved. What difference does it make to say whether God “elects” the person to go to hell or “allows” him, besides the fact that one sounds nicer?

  • http://www.peterjessen-gpa.com Peter Jessen

    Whether “swimming in the Bosphorus” or “swimming in Lake Geneva,” or what Anthropologists call “going native,” or on a more darker tenor, what now, after the 1978 Jonestown mass suicide is called “drinking the kool aid,” we can see these as not only metaphors for becoming “other” than what one was, but also as a modern day “Escape from Freedom” in a world of unparalled choice, seeking an authority to make decisions one fears making on one’s own regarding how society is to be organized and conducted.

    Given the various movements, of the past year, from Algeria across North Africa to the European Union, to Russia, and other movement “awakenings” in Asia, Africa and Latin America, this is a quintessential question for 2011 as it lets go into 2012, especially in terms of personal freedom and democracy. From a sociological standpoint, these phrases are clear references to individuals or groups internalizing their firmly held objectified unquestioning (and often uncritical) belief/ideology/philosophy behind their movement in general and personal actions in particular. In sociology of knowledge sense, they accept their beliefs as accepted knowledge.

    It seems to me the ultimate point of the blog entry is the nature and fate of the doctrine of double predestination (that one was predestined to heaven or hell even before the Creation), and the potential impact of that new spreading of an old belief in terms of individual action, especially in terms of political ethics and public policy, and to do so within the spirit of what Berger has called a dialogue about such policy within the framework of “pedantic utopian” inquire and discussion, something his blog entries regarding current social movements reveal as greatly needed.

    Will Durant called Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion “the most eloquent, fervent, lucid, logical, influential, and terrible work in all the literature of the religious revolution” (my emphasis).

    In their book Out of the Flames, on Michael Servetus, who Calvin authorized be burned at the stake for heresy (done in 1552), an anonymous author of 1724 is quoted: “Calvin caused the Papacy of Rome to be banished out of Geneva, yet he established a papacy of his own; that as there was a pope at Rome, so he was no other than a pope at Geneva, not only by establishing an infallibility in the very constitution of the church, but by his maintaining and carrying that constitution, together with his own authority, by persecution and blood” (pp. 250-251).

    With the 5.0 TULIP version solidly holding onto the double down, and the 4.5 version (the Arminian form) rejecting it, the question of who or which side will take a decidedly Calvinist 5.0 stand and burn the other at the stake is crucial. The last known copy of Servetius’ book, Christianismi Restitutio (The Restoration of Christianity), which was opposed to Calvin’s view, was chained to his leg (Calvin had ordered all copies of his book burned.

    The Goldstones, by the way, make it clear that Calvin’s aim “was nothing less than the annihilation of Catholicism” (p. 203). And this is the heart of the public policy issue. When I was in Korea in October, I read an English language editorial praising the one party rule of China. And although I found that somewhat surprising, I was even more surprised when the WSJ ran a 12-1-11 piece entitled, “China’s Superior Economic Model,” by Andy Stern, who backs big government and centralized decision making and his own version of one party rule for the U.S. They are all off spring of the papacy model, be it by the RC church, Calvin, or secular governmental heads or governmental departments seeking to be “papal.” Servetus, on the other hand, merely sought to redefine Christianity in a more tolerant and inclusive way, the opposite of Calvin (he also didn’t accept the Doctrine of the Trinity).

    So what do we do with “reason” and the Enlightenment? Reason means choice and choice means the rejection of the absolutes on which Catholicism, Islam, and even most reformed groups, particularly Calvinism, were based. Berger has written that the word “heresy” comes from the word herein, choice. Servetus stood for human freedom and choice. Calvin denied choice and tolerated freedom only in so far as it stayed within his societal view of acceptable organization and behavior according to his “principles.”

    I too reject double predestination, as it denies free will, and I reject Calvinism’s cold, repressive doctrine that is inimical to the ideals of personal freedom and the Christianity Servetus stood for, one of tolerance and inclusion (slippery slopes if ever there were any, but the heart of freedom and free will, nonetheless).

    For many, 1 John 5:7 provided the biblical justification for the Trinity that Servetus rejected. He didn’t see it in his translation (indeed, in the original Greek manuscripts from which Erasmus worked this verse did not appear, and so even Erasmus omitted if from his translation).

    What is of interest to me in the responses to this blog entry, is that the same search for the certitude of being among the elect pervades the commentary of many seeking the certitude of their convictions about their view of Calvinist theology. To take from an earlier comment of mine, they seem to want to freeze their view in place, to conserve it in theological and scholarly stasis, and they want others to do the same.

    It is as if the double down predestinationists view theology as a winter sweater, perfect in every way except for several threads poking out at the bottom, fearful that if they pull any one thread, the whole sweater will unravel. It is like watching a recurrent wheel of cognitive dissonance constantly rearranging itself, like a kaleidoscope, in the hope that it won’t be forced to stop in a pattern of reality not to its liking. I read the essay as descriptive of a developing movement, presenting several views that are held as normative as opposed to presenting a single view as normative, and which could influence public policy differently depending on which version “wins” out, 5.0 or 4.5.

    Rather than being a “fairly lazy salvo” in some kind of theological brawl, I found it helpful in our ongoing attempt to resolve the wider questions of social movements and what they mean in terms of who should be in charge and why, and whether those of a theological bent (secular or religious), either in terms of belief or in terms of major official positions held, should advance with a sense of absolute certitude in backing and promoting public social policy, or “make haste slowly” to minimize the negative potential of the unanticipated and unanticipatable emergences from the “reciprocal causes of reality.”

    And, of course, we have the ultimate in certitudinous ad hominid argument, in the suggestion about Berger or any who disagree: “if you find this position repugnant you don’t understand the extent of your sin and guilt, the extent of God’s grace, and the thing you find repugnant is God Himself.”


500 years ago those so judged would be burned at the stake. As French Inquisitor Matthieu Ory stated in 1544, “If, then, dead books may be committed to the flame, how much more live books, that is to say, men?”

    I start with the beginning of Genesis when God looks at everything he has created and calls each day’s work/creation, “good.” Then come the tree and the apple and the snake and the great double excuse of Adam absolving himself by blaming both Eve and God, as he says, “it was the woman whom you gave to me” that caused me to eat.

    Reading the narrative in this way, we see Adam and Eve were not born in sin nor conceived in sin nor created in sin. Religious leaders have always wrestled with how to keep the “faithful” in line. Religious authority became the socially constructed way. Luther’s refusal to bow before popes, kings, or councils reignited the flame of conscience and freedom snuffed out by the Israelites in their quest for a king (I Samuel 8). Indeed, I could be more heretical and say that the original sin was God granting human beings free will, which, by definition, “human nature being what it is,” means free choice (herein > heresy > choice). If it is all predestined then, with an ever widening plurality within and between religions and ideologies, we will steadily march into moral chaos and moral anarchy and a reversal of the “ethics” of Protestantism, Loyola’s Catholicism, and that of secular Confucianism.

    In the book/film The Godfather, the son Michael who recently ascended to the thrown of Godfather, stands at the baptismal fount while his men have fanned out to simultaneously kill those in opposition to him (many similar examples in the Old Testament, of course). Being a man of prosperity and wealth, was he, thus of the elect, ala Weber’s thesis, and therefore his behavior blessed? Calvin did the same with Servetus.

    Calvin was scheduled 3 times to debate Servetus and three times he backed out, and instead walked cowardly by Servetus’s burning alive. But the book chained at his leg was not the last copy after burning the rest. Over the centuries 3 were found to remain extant, one being Calvin’s copy with his marginal notes prepping himself for debate. Even he could not bring himself to burn his copy of the book.

    Last month I also had occasion to peruse titles in the Fuller Seminary Bookstore. With the variety of conflicting theological perspectives I was reminded of John Murray Cuddihy’s felicitous book title, “no offense,” in which Jews (“The One Chosen People”), Roman Catholics (“The One True Church”), and protestants (“The One Biblical Salvation”) get along (each knowing eternity with God is theirs, with damnation to hell for the others), so why not get along politely, courteously, in this world while awaiting their eternal heaven later? And now we await the adoption of “no offense” by Islam, whose lack of a reformation has led it to holding certitudes of 9th century convictions regarding how to relate to those who are “other” yet who are also brothers, as in “people of the book.” Our own current political debates is over specific public policies once left to the private but now dragged into the public square by those wanting a say (whether on the left or right) in how the others live. Will we, in Cuddihy’s other felicitous book title, engage “the ordeal of civility” a la Calvin’s book burning or Servetus’ tolerance and inclusion.

    So, looking at it from a strict “bathing sense,” I can see why Berger says double predestination is not only “arguably the most repulsive doctrine in the history of the Christian religion,” but also why he sees this new Calvinism succeeding only if the 4.5 view wins out, not the double predestination view of 5.0, the lynch pin of any who would rule others. He assumes, correctly, in my view, that people will chose freedom. Berger has always fought “the end of democracy.”

  • jason taylor

    “I would argue that if you find this position repugnant you don’t understand the extent of your sin and guilt, the extent of God’s grace, and the thing you find repugnant is God Himself.”

    Is that the reason or is it because people understand their own sin to well? That sounds suspiciously like the behavior of a human tyrant.

  • Jbird

    Peter: Couple points, It’s a lazy first salvo because there are so many factual errors and misunderstandings; not because the author disagrees with predestination.

    Arminianism is not Calvinism 4.5, TULIP was developed to summarize the differences between Calvin and Arminias…which, I guess would make Arminias a 0 point Calvinist.

    And, to be fair, Calvin wanted Servetus beheaded rather than burned and was chided for being too lax…I personally believe too much emphasis is put on the Servetus incident and it is mostly done by those who can’t make a theological argument against Calvin’s writings so they seek to discredit him by other means. Servetus was condemned by everyone from Genevan Libertines to Catholics. Attacks on the concept of the trinity are as old as Christianity itself and have always been condemned as heretical. There was no concept of the separation of Church and state, the Reformation was still coming out of the concept of Christendom. An attack on the church was an attack on the state. This is why Calvin wanted him beheaded as a traitor rather than burned as a heretic. To modern, American eyes is this incident a terrible thing? Yes, obviously. But it wasn’t as much back then. Geneva was a small enclave of Protestantism providing refuge to the religious persecuted beset on all sides and internally. The fervor for doctrinal purity manifesting itself as dictates from the government I agree is wrongheaded, but religion in Europe had not yet “ascended” to our American understanding of pluralism, and would not for a few hundred more years. So Calvin was a man of his age, as are we all, unfortunately.

  • Robineus

    Sorry to be so late to this theology party. (John Wilsey, are you listening?) Calvinism and Arminianism appear to be mutually exclusive, but are in fact not–it is a false dichotomy. God is the creator of time as well as the universe, and not subject to it. We, however, being subject to time and carried along in its inexorable flow, appear to have the ability exercise free will. But God knows the future, and how we all will choose. Free will is a fatal illusion, but one we cannot escape from, to fully take on the mind of God.

  • http://www.peterjessen-gpa.com Peter Jessen

    Jbird: Nicely put. I appreciate the tenor and tone, so missing is most blog commentary threads. But (a not so uncommon reflex, so to speak, to follow a nice statement with a “but” statement; but I’ve only heard one person call anyone on it: Margaret Mead was attending a presentation I made at a AAAS gathering back in the early 70s; standing at the back of the room another person recognized her and gave her magnificent affirmation: she cut him off and said, “those kinds of statements are usually followed by a big “but”. What’s yours? He gasped for 5 seconds then lit into her with a scathing critique of something she had written. Her “what is your big but” is all I remember from that exchange).

    My “but” here is about the word “lazy.” There is a difference between being lazy and not having the time (a problem we all face) to become fully expert in a topic. And, to be clear, Berger didn’t use the 5.0 v. 4.5, I did, having taking it from a Googled article on Arminian (we are all Googlers now and at the mercy of not having Googler fact checkers at our disposal). And now comes the sociology of knowledge question: how to deal with what one accepts as knowledge and what another does not. What you refer to as misunderstandings may well be a different interpretation instead. The same distinction of “traitor” v. “heretic” could be made regarding those who call Luther anti-Semitic and those who say he was expressing anger at Jews not accepting Christ, having no problem with the Semitic.

    We really don’t know when the Trinity started (and I have no, gasp, problem with either argument, especially when used to justify murder; all burned heretics or ideational “traitors” were not “capital crime killsed” but “murdered” for disagreeing (the purging done by the USSR and China under Mao, the Inquisition earlier). The first canonical writings came decades after Jesus death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. We know of the emendations that accrued over time in the OT. Same in the NT. In Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus opts out of the cross to lives a normal human life (the last temptation), being lured off the cross by Satan in the form of a little girl. He then meets Paul who is preaching salvation through him through his death, burial and resurrection, and that his mother Mary was a virgin as he is the son of God.

    In the movie script, Jesus then calls Paul out and calls him a liar. Paul then gives more of the accepted version of Jesus and his life, and each time Jesus calls out, “Liar.” He then asks Paul, “why are you spreading these lies?” Paul takes him aside, separate from the others. Jesus tells Paul he’ll tell everyone the truth, that he didn’t die and rise again.

    Paul then replies it doesn’t matter if he does or doesn’t: “Look around you! Look at these people. Do you see the suffering and unhappiness in this world? Their only hope is the Resurrected Jesus. I don’t care whether you’re Jesus or not. The Resurrected Jesus will save the world — that’s what matters.” When Jesus again says he’ll tell everyone the truth, Paul says go ahead, but then “they will call you a blasphemer and throw you in a fire.” As Paul leaves he says to Jesus, “I’m glad I met you. Now I can forget you. My Jesus is much more powerful.”

    Jesus goes back to his life, says he is happy there and is not leaving. Then he ages, and then, in his 80s, he lays dying, observing the red glow in the sky from the Romans sacking Jerusalem. Then Peter, John, Philip and Judas come to visit. After a few pleasantries, Judas calls Jesus a traitor: “Traitor. Your place was on the cross.
    That’s where God put you. But when death got too close you ran away, you got scared and ran away and hid
    yourself in the life of some… man. We did what we were supposed to do. You didn’t. You’re a coward.” “He was supposed to save man. But all he did is save himself.”

    Jesus during this time was accompanied by a guardian angel, who is now exposed as Satan in disguise, come to claim him. Instead, the old man crawls out, asking God to forgive him, saying he now understands and is willing “to pay the price. I want to be crucified and rise again. I want to be the Messiah.”

    And in a flash, he is back 37 years, on the cross. He looks around, realizes where he is, sees it was a dream, and that “he has resisted the last temptation.” The film then ends with Jesus looking to heaven and saying, “It is finished.”

    And yes, my understanding of Servetus does come solely from that one book. Regardless, in my view, Berger’s point still holds, and is, in fact, quite discerning and profound, one that is applicable beyond the internal debate among Baptists regarding hard or soft Calvinism, as it applies also to the movements Berger has been describing and reporting on, most of which are some kind of self described liberation movements (although not in the scale or significance of what I remember of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956, the Prague Spring of 1969, the Polish movement of Wallessa and Pope John Paul II, or in the USA of Martin Luther King, Jr.). Is not the Arab Spring essentially an Islamic youth movement, the attempt of young people to deal with the inescapable reality that the 21st century is world of plurality and no longer a 9th century monopoly of the Suni and Shia? They are wrestling with modern times in order to figure out in what direction to face, “hard Islam” of the 9th century and their elders or to face modernity through the lens of the “soft Islam” of the 21st century and other young people, as they sometimes shockingly realize that there is an unavoidable plurality that gives them yet another choice (herein .< heresy) of any of the options within or without the Judeo-Christian framework, not to mention the option of atheism.

    Is not the phrase, “man of the age” saying it is OK to follow the “spirit of the age”? If so, is reality then just an argument between relativities? Or is God a “hard God” as opposed to a “soft God”. If predestined, would not Calvin, Luther, and any other reformer not have the option to reform, but rather would puppet forward?

    And here is a critical point for both those wanting to talk politically/governmentally and those who prefer theologically/Kingdom of God. The exact phrase I used earlier but couldn’t remember exactly, was by W.R. Inge (the Anglican theologian known, says Berger, “rather unfairly as the Gloomy Dean”). His remark that Berger quoted or paraphrased is, “he who would marry the spirit of the age soon finds himself a widower.” This is important in terms of movements, ideological or theological, ecclesiastical or governmental, as we seen in Berger’s comment that “in recent years [writing in 1972] the span between nuptial bliss and bereavement has shrunk disconcertingly,” such that it doesn’t take long for any “cultural revolution to lapse into nothingness.”

    The concept of “no concept of separation of church and state” ignores that Jesus had such a concept of separation: give unto Caesar what is Casesar’s and to God what is God’s.” In the same way Luther was picking up from I Samuel 8, Jefferson was picking up from Jesus (who he liked in terms of his words that he accepted, hence the short “Jefferson Bible”). The US Constitution has nothing to say about “separation” (it is a phrase by Jefferson in a private letter). The US Constitution only has “the establishment clause,” meaning government cannot establish a state religion. The spirit of the liberal age today prefers separation to establishment so it can separate, as in “take away” or banish, all signs of religion (except Islam which is the current religion de jour/spirit of the age/toleration, which will also give way to producing another set of widows.

    Calvin’s brilliance is a magisterial argument for the fact that God has to know all things, even in advance, and therefore know everyone’s fate in advance as well. Golda Meier said that there will be no peace between Israel and its neighbors until Islam loves it children more than it hates Israel (hence the Palestinian woman perverting the thought of Steven Hale when she said of four sons who were suicide/homicide bombers, “I regret I have only four sons to give to cause of destroying Israel). And thus there will be no peace between the “Peoples of the Book” unless, as Cuddihy suggests, they courteously recognize each other’s existence, smiling inside knowing they will make it and the “others” will land in hell. Calvin could not handle free will. For if there is free will, then others could come along with another interpretation. Calvin crowned himself king of Biblical interpretors, and in doing so, made himself a small god that he could comprehend, and then be his consigliore.

    And although I am not a card carrying theologian (I submit to both St. Paul and Luther’s “every man a priest” and especially to Luther’s “here I stand” conscience, I do lean toward the idea that, just as war is too important to be left to generals, theology is too important to be left to theologians.

    Thus, I don’t want to get into a theological debate, not just because I don’t have a pin head large enough, but because I don’t know all of the code words and insider jargon. I consider these exchanges, instead, as contributions by pedantic utopians in pedantic utopianism. Western civilization and its encounters with those slowly becoming Westernized, demands it if we are to prevent what Europe has just claimed will happen if it is not followed re the Euro and Euro zone: a repeat of the 1930s depression and follow-up world war. These are not irrelevant exercises to me. I don’t know how the pieces will fit but I believe Berger is giving us signals as to how to put the puzzle together and I welcome these opportunities to contribute to that task. To that end, here are a couple thought experiment questions (and no, I’m not trying to engage in a debate with Calvinism as there is no end, as Calvin himself demonstrated that, after over 1,000 pages he was still trying to work it out:

    1. Can there be predestination of any kind that can also allow for hope and change (sorry about that), once one realizes that suffering can’t be eliminated?
    2. Can there be true suffering if you have it coming from before the beginning of time? Why not, once signals of suffering transcendence appear, just commit suicide?
    3. As God truly offered free will, was he not simultaneously either admitting or purposely taking on limitations of his divine self, e.g., tying one hand behind his own back to give us a chance (which he didn’t with the flood)?
    4. Assuming God in Jesus on the cross understood his predestined path as well as the Calvinists, how do we interpret his remarks during his last week on earth that then culminate, before “it is finished,” in his uttering “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” a central chant to this day in Roman Catholic services?

    If God is perfect and omnipotent and especially omniscient, then are not his “chosen” leaders also powerful? Did not Calvin, in his writing and, most clearly, in his behavior (thus he was one of those “do as I say not as I do” guys), positioning himself as just an “infallible” as the pope (OK a term uttered 400 years later, but it fits)? And if the casesar and many other rulers saw themselves as divine, can we not say Calvin did as well (or at least acted that way? Is the current debate in Europe not a secular version of this?

    I find the distinction between “traitor” and “heretic” wanting, as the end was the same, institutionally protected murder of those having different ideas about either governing or theologizing. Both are interpretations, not truths. Either way, Calvin wanted to dictate how governing should be (just as the radical right and radical left do today) and make it so and freeze it into its “end of history” interpretation to a changeless forever it has made perfect, to which it will respond to the “free will others’ interpretation, with either beheading or burning at the stake, as long as the two major intentions are achieved: (1) elimination of whoever threatens the accepted interpretation through death so they can’t continue (even tough in the age of Internet than the age of printing) and (2) intimidation of the living is (as General Pinochet did in Chile by leaving the tortured and scared free to wonder their neighborhoods as living reminders).

  • Jbird

    Peter: I am in no way able to produce as voluminous and comprehensive a reply as you due to self imposed time constraints. Couple of points I’d like to make though.

    first, like a previous poster, I don’t see a difference between the idea of predestination and double predestination other than semantic niceties and perhaps a little cowardice. Predestination doesn’t make God “mean”, it is His mercy showing through his justice. I would not want to live in a world where God is not just. I would also not want to live in a world where God is not merciful.

    I think it is a mistake to conflate God’s sovereignty and the idea of predestination with God’s foreknowledge. God’s sovereignty is not dependent on His foreknowledge.

    God has not seen fit to publish the names of the elect for us all to read, so there is plenty of room in a theology that promotes the idea of predestination for hope and change for all mankind. I don’t understand your bit about suffering and predestination. Did Christ not suffer? Did Paul not suffer? Do run of the mill Christians not suffer daily? Predestination does not mean that one is immediately assumed into heaven on a fire-y chariot.

    As for, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” and predestination, I again don’t understand the conflict. Christ as 100% God and 100% Man was subject to the same frailties of man. The extreme circumstances of God the Father turning his back on the Son and rejecting him and subjecting him to the judgement for all mankind’s transgressions causing a cry of despair does not seem out of character here.

    The intersect between free-will and God’s sovereignty will always be something of a mystery here on earth. Hopefully when we get to heaven we’ll understand. In the mean time I would ask, Is God surprised? Is not everything a part of the plan? God relying on foreknowledge rather than sovereignty does not solve the problem of evil. If God could see that Satan would fall and Adam would sin than why create them? There are just as many problems if not more in a world governed by man’s free-will and an impotent God. If we are spiritually dead as the Bible teaches, how do we raise ourselves to spiritual life?

    I see Calvin & Servetus in the same light as I see the Founding Fathers and slavery. American slavery is horrible evil. It is a black mark on our country and on their character in particular. It is much worse and was on a much grander scale than the Servetus incident. That doesn’t mean we should throw out the excellent work on freedom and government by Washington, Jefferson, and many others culminating in the American Constitution.

    The co-mingle of state and church has throughout history been detrimental to the church. I believe the Cunctos Populos and the Gift of Pepin may have been the worst 2 things to ever happen to the church. That doesn’t mean Calvin and Geneva should be denigrated for not immediately bucking all of human history and separating church from state. In a perfect world Calvin would have a more modern understanding of John 18:36. But he apparently didn’t. There was no such thing as a secular government. It didn’t exist. One might wonder, however, how long Calvin and other French Huguenot refugees would have survived in a secular Geneva surrounded by Catholic kings bent on their persecution. You are holding Calvin to a much higher standard than I suspect you would anyone else here. Criticizing 16th century Geneva for not being as liberally governed as 21st century Massachusetts seems unfair to me.

    Calvin also didn’t rule Geneva unopposed. The Libertines were very much opposed to French refugees and Calvin in particular. At the same time, it was a Genevan Libertine who led Servetus’ trial.

    As we are all fallen, are we not all, “do as I say and not as I do”-types?

    Attacking Calvin for Servetus (who was going to be executed no matter where he went in Europe)still doesn’t stand in for an argument against Calvinism or the doctrine of predestination.

  • Jbird

    Peter: One further note on the cannon. I tend to believe the gospels & epistles were finished before 70 AD otherwise the destruction of Jerusalem would have figured prominently in the text as it was a pretty major event both politically and theologically.

    And, while the word “trinity” is not in the Bible, it’s concepts are throughout, explicitly at the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist and the three persons are clearly mentioned in Matthew 28:19 & II Corinthians 13:14. Not sure what the Unitarian argument is against it.

  • larry

    The two, Calvinism and Arminianism, from a Luther/Lutheran point of view are really “six one way half a dozen another”. This is shown ultimately in the sacraments which ultimately are the Gospel. It’s also shown in the simul justus et peccator.

    Fundamentally, both are synergistic, Calvinism just pretends to reject it and moves the ‘synergism’ to the post conversion position whereby it gains a kind of “plausible deniability”. Arminians crassly assert the freedom of the will, usually before conversion. Calvinist on the other hand call “fruits of faith” or “proofs of conversion/election/salvation” variously the workings of grace or the Holy Spirit, but these are really “post converstion” (baptism) re-assertions of the freedom of the will labeled as “holy spirit”. But the Holy Spirit, Luther asserts that Paul asserts has two works; an alien work whereby He uses the Law to kill all other trustings outside of Christ, and His proper work giving the forgiveness of sin. There is no middle ground work of the spirit whereby the Law finally gets some due via the will of man. Thus, the Calvinist ultimately is a synergist just like the Arminian, he’s just more subtle as it where.

    The problem is that both theologies – which find their roots not in Luther but med. Rome’s scholastics and mystics – are rooted in the “legal scheme” which is in short a view that the Gospel is a island in the midst of the two eternal poles of the Law, they both see the Law as the end game as it were (Rome does not disagree). This is in opposition to Luther in which the law is the temporary island between the poles of faith and the promise.

    Because they see and read the scriptures through the “legal scheme” their “sacraments” or “ordinances” ultimately do nothing (e.g. baptism does not regenerate, the forgiveness of sins is not given in baptism or the LS, and the real body and blood of Christ actually crucified for the forgiveness of sins is not put into your mouth, to name a few).

    Also, because they view through the grid of the legal scheme they see for example Romans 7 as one variety or another of man’s will battling out in one person. The only difference for the most part in Arminian circles and Calvinistic circles on the man in Romans 7 is “when”, which gets back to where each places the “free will”, crassly so by Arminianism, covertly post conversion by Calvism (and consequently how both view the simul). The “wretched man that I am” is a man more or less battling his wills decision to do good or evil meaning mostly morality or the law.

    Luther on the other hand, saw what Paul was getting at, Romans 7 is two persons from two aeons, the old Adam and the new man, this is the state of the baptized and regenerated thereby. The battle of the Romans 7 man is the battle over the two persons in the Baptized where two external words are given, Law and Gospel, which will finally deliver, command or promise. The “wretched man” is the old adam who has the “old pious wish” as Luther puts it – thinks the law is something for him to do (Calvinist after conversion). But Luther points out that the worst kind of flesh is the flesh that desires still post conversion to “become righteous” in his nature (Aristotle, thinking in the mode of Aristotle Luther put it). The new man, the one who hears “your sins are forgiven, in baptism, in the supper, in the absolution” loves the Law but because it is killing the old adam and his old “pious wish”. This is why Paul places baptism before Romans 7, the Word of Baptism is what the old flesh hates, “you are forgiven”. This why Luther understood why men ultimately despise, especailly sacramentarian doctrine on the issue, the real sacraments, because the Word of God (i.e. you are forgiven/absolution) is put into the water, bread and wine.)

    Both the Arminian and Calvinist, like Rome, ultimately put their trust in works somewhere in the train of events, or at least “their faith” which is original sin and not the sacraments, “I know I’m saved because I am baptized (the external Word)”.

    This is why Luther and Lutheran doctrine ultimately see Arminianism and Calvinism as a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ version of the other, or “overt free willism” versus “covert free willism”. It all depends on the sacraments which are the Gospel.

  • Jbird

    Larry: I don’t agree with your hasty characterization of Calvinism and “works” or the law which I don’t quite understand fully. Maybe this is rooted in Luther’s well known distaste for the Epistle of James, which he wanted booted from the cannon. It’s not so much earning salvation after the fact, rather it’s responding the love we have been shown by showing that love to others.

    Also, I wouldn’t say that Calvinists teach that the sacraments “do nothing”. While we don’t hold to pope-ish or Lutheran conceptions of transubstantiation or absolution, most of us aren’t Zwinglian commemorators either.

  • Terry Leap

    This is just a very poorly-written and Ill-informed article. The logic is terribly flawed in part because the author shows no real understanding of or appreciation for the categories or terms that he uses. Regardless of whether I agree or not with his premise or conclusion, this is just not a very correct or precise analysis. If I were grading this for a seminary class, it would get an “F.” To categorize Arminianism as “Soft Calvinism” is just ludicrous.

  • Phillip Eayne

    The Arminian form of Calvinism is analogus to the feline form of canines. A & C are two separate species of Protestant Christianity.

  • John Wylie

    Actually all one would have to do is read history to know that the author is right. Original Arminianism was just a light form of Calvinism. The early Arminians were Calvinists who simply disagreed with some of the finer points of Calvinism.

  • An ex-arminian new calvinist

    This article is riddled with errors,misinformation,and ignorance. Its clear that the author is out of his realm of expertise on this subject. The main theme undergirding any form of Calvinism is Monergism. Every form of Arminianism is Synergistic. So it is ludicrous to claim that the two are anything but opposites. If you read history: this is the reason the Arminians caused this controversy in the first place with their Remonstrance. They wanted to replace the 5 Monergistic doctrines in the T.U.L.I.P. with 5 Synergistic doctrines that were totally opposite. If anything you could argue Arminianism is a “soft” form of Protestantism. Because the orginal Arminians did still hold to the 5 Solas of the Reformation. So both are Protestant. Arminianism is just a “light form” of the Protestantism that the original Reformers held to. Maybe this was what the author meant to say. Maybe he just didnt quite know what term to use and mistakenly said they are both Calvinist. He should have conveyed that Calvinism and Arminianism are the two opposite subsections in Protestantism. That was not properly conveyed. Arminianism is the nickname for the Synergistic Branch of Protestantism and Calvinism is the nickname for the Monergistic branch of Protestantism. That is the whole point and ignorance on the part of those who are imprecise is why this debate will always keep coming up!

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  • http://hervelegersaledresses.webs.com Lindsay xydc

    Make certain to have on a respirator!

  • Gary

    Baptists and evangelicals are absolutely correct…there is no SPECIFIC mention in the New Testament that the Apostles baptized infants. There are references to entire households being converted and baptized, but we orthodox cannot prove, just from Scripture, that these households had infants, and neither can Baptists and evangelicals prove, just from Scripture, that they did not.

    One interesting point that Baptists/evangelicals should note is that although there is no specific mention of infant baptism in the Bible…neither is there a prohibition of infant baptism in the Bible. Christians are commanded by Christ to go into all the world and preach the Gospel and to baptize all nations. No age restrictions are mentioned. If Christ had intended his followers to understand that infants could not be baptized in the New Covenant, in a household conversion process as was the practice of the Jews of Christ’s day in converting Gentile households to the Covenant of Abraham, it is strange that no mention is made of this prohibition.

    So, the only real way to find out if Infant Baptism was practiced by the Apostles is to look at the writings of the early Christians, some of whom were disciples of the Apostles, such as Polycarp, and see what they said on this issue.

    And here is a key point: Infant Baptism makes absolutely no sense if you believe that sinners can and must make an informed, mature decision to believe in order to be saved. Infants cannot make informed, mature decisions, so if this is the correct Doctrine of Justification/Salvation, Infant Baptism is clearly false teaching. But the (arminian) Baptist/evangelical Doctrine of Justification/Salvation is unscriptural. Being forced to make a decision to obtain a gift, makes the gift no longer free. This is salvation by works.

    Baptism is a command of God. It is not a work of man. God says in plain, simple language, in multiple locations in the Bible, that he saves/forgives sins in Baptism. We orthodox Christians accept God’s literal Word. We take our infants to be baptized because God says to do it. Our infants are not saved because we perform the act of bringing them to the baptismal font…they are saved by the power of God’s Word pronounced at the time of the Baptism. Christians have believed this for 2,000 years!

    There is no evidence that any Christian in the early Church believed that sinners are saved by making a free will decision and then are baptized solely as a public profession of faith. None.

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals