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Predesintation and its implications

In spiritual matters, Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruits. Likewise in science and research, a good theory or hypothesis is evaluated according to how well it works, including how well research findings generalize to other areas, other testable hypotheses, and practical applications that it makes possible. A good scientific theory generates more hypotheses that can be tested, and leads to applications in the applied sciences or applied fields. Analogously, in theology, a good theological view or framework should have practical spiritual, theological, and ecclesial benefits. Calvinism and Arminianism generally fail in these respects.

Calvinism has led many to complacency about evangelism and missions, thinking that it doesn't matter if all are predestined, they'll get saved anyway. This is a logical implication of Calvinism, but to be fair, there are a good number of more balanced Calvinists who at least understand that we can't know or guess who is predestined, so we must spread the gospel anyway. In some cases, with a person who is spiritually or intellectually unbalanced or lazy to begin with, it leads to spiritual complacency in general, and in more extreme cases, hypercalvinism or a general religious / theological determinism.

Many times it has led to a sort of sanctified materialism, whereby worldly success and material wealth have been assumed to be a sign of one being God’s elect. Though a twisted sort of Calvinism provides an excuse for this, this is hardly unique to Calvinistic or Reformed religion, but rather, represents worldly influences dressed in Christian garb and a liberal interpretation of Reformed theology, and most proper Calvinists are very critical of materialistic religion. Religious materialism is in fact more of a problem today in non-Calvinistic groups that espouse prosperity theology, most notoriously these days, Olsteen and his followers.

Sometimes Calvinism has led to its own flavors of legalism, for example, a middle / upper class style of legalism and lack of concern for those less well off, and prohibitions on things like card playing, where some Calvinists feel that games based on luck or chance go against the theological determinism of their theology, and are thus immoral. However, the mathematician who discovered the laws of probability, which are foundational to modern statistics and other branches of mathematics, was Blaise Pascal, a famous Christian and theological writer. He was a Jansenist, or a Catholic predestinarian or quasi-determinist, the Catholic equivalent of a Calvinist, who argued for predestination in his published letters.

The de-emphasis of the God-imagge [imago Dei] in Calvinism has generally led to a stunted worldview with an overly conservative view or apathy toward human rights, civil rights, democratic reform, and the like. A proper understanding of the God-image (and original sin) should lead believers to be progressive in such areas. If we are made in God’s image, we have human dignity and freedom, which must be preserved. And throughout history, Christians with a proper understanding of this have been those that have fought for human rights, civil rights, for the poor, against poverty, for refugees, against war, against slavery, for women’s rights, and for democratic reform. It is because they understand that God cares about such things, and that violation of human dignity and mistreatment of others is sinful and an offense to God, and likewise, for Christians not to care about such things and such people is also sinful and displeasing to God.

A few Reformed thinkers have been more balanced and progressive on such issues, but that is despite their Calvinism, and due to it, and instead it is due to their general Reformed views. These include R.C. Sproul, who wrote a good book on human dignity [ In Search of Dignity] ; Abraham de Kuyper, a Dutch prime minister at the turn of the 20th century; and some good authors from Calvin College in Michigan [e.g., Gender and Grace by M.S. van Leeuwen]. Abraham de Kuyper wrote on theology, and I understand that he developed a good biblically based political philosophy for the separation of church and state, but most of his writings have not been translated into English beyond his Lectures in Calvinism. In these cases, the contributions of such Reformed theologians comes from advantageous aspects of their general theological worldview, not their Calvinism – e.g., the Reformed view that all things secular are of God, are to be brought under the lordship of Christ and glorify God, and the classical ‘secular / sacred’ distinction should be considered a fuzzy if not artificial distinction.

Calvinism most often leads to religious rationalism and a cold religious faith. On that, I speak from personal experience as a former Calvinist. It’s a nice, self-contained, logical system, and leads believers further down the path of religious intellectualism, not awe and wonder before God, not a meaningful daily relationship with Christ. Calvinists who do well spiritually, I would posit, do well in spite of their Calvinism, and for other reasons.

However, I think the fruits of Arminianism are just as bad, if not worse, and this represents a worse theological deviation than Calvinism. While Calvinists in essence make Christ’s death incomplete and insufficient, in that he supposedly only died for the atonement of the elect, Arminians do much worse. They make Christ’s death to be insufficient for those he died for, for those he atoned for, if one can lose one’s salvation. They make God to be a God who changes, if he can disown his children, and the covenant is of limited power or use. This leads to all kinds of legalism, where one has to follow the rules as a basis for one’s daily spiritual life, and even for gaining or retaining one’s salvation. Biblically speaking, one would never need to think about retaining one’s salvation. Christ’s death was all powerful, and God will not break his covenant with us. He is always faithful, even if we are unfaithful, and in his all-faithfulness he brings us back and restores us.

Later I’ll talk more about a proper view of predestination, and its positive implications.


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