Austin Fischer is challenging a prominent theological movement in America.

Austin Fischer is challenging a prominent theological movement in America. – Image courtesy of Austin Fischer

America is experiencing a Calvinist revival. Or so said Mark Oppenheimer of The New York Times recently.

Amidst the boom of this theological framework, Austin Fischer explains why he joined and then exited the movement. His new book, Young, Restless, and No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey In and Out of Calvinism, . catalogues why he waved goodbye to a theological framework that attracts so many. The book has been causing quite a stir, so I decided to sit down with Fischer and discuss his story and why he’s chosen to speak out in this way.

RNS: You are a former Calvinist, a vibrant movement in the American church. What drew you to the movement and what pushed you away from it?

AF: Like many young evangelicals, I grew up with thin, therapeutic faith. When convenient, I would make claims on my faith but never let my faith make claims on me. As my faith came of age, I realized it wanted more from me and I wanted more from it. Calvinism provided more, placing God at the center of my world, challenging me to take the Bible seriously, purging me of all sorts of petty selfishness and narcissism. Additionally, I loved how it had a place for everything: clean lines and painstakingly developed doctrines.

I began my journey out of Calvinism when I realized that if I were to be a consistent, honest Calvinist I would have to believe some terrible things about God. I realized I, personally, could not have Calvinism and a recognizably good God whose heart was fully revealed at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I could not have Calvinism and a God who would rather die than give humans what they deserve. For me, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was something too generous for Calvinism to make sense of.

Cover courtesy of Cascade Books

Cover courtesy of Cascade Books

RNS: One of the things you wrestle with in this book is the issue of hell. This is an explosive and divisive topic in the church. Tell us about this journey for you.

AF: As a Calvinist, I realized I had to believe the following about hell. Before the world existed, God decided to create a world in which the majority of humans were ordained to suffer eternal punishment in hell because, ultimately, God wanted them to so he could glorify himself in their damnation. Their damnation was God’s intention. This gets explained via a complex causal web, but that’s the inescapable conclusion at the bottom of Calvinism.

All doctrines of hell are difficult, but the Calvinist doctrine presented me with a God so (seemingly) cold and morally ambiguous that I despaired of how I could know and relate to such a God. If the God who could die for sinners could also create sinners in order to damn them, then the universe was an incoherent place ruled by an enigmatic deity of arbitrary, raw power. It is certainly within God’s rights to do such a thing, but if it’s within God’s heart then we’re all in big trouble. That was my conclusion at least.

RNS: You argue that no one starts out a Calvinist. What do you mean?

AF: We experience ourselves as having libertarian freedom (the ability to do A or B). Whether or not we actually do is, of course, impossible to prove and beside the point. The point is—most humans experience themselves as having free will long before they learn about Calvinism and so free will and not Calvinism is the given most people start from.

But as I outline in the book, belief in free will–again, libertarian free will–is not a good reason to reject Calvinism. It can’t hold much theological weight by itself. My statement about no one starting out a Calvinist is not meant to be an argument but an observation.

RNS: The young, restless and reformed movement is a growing movement, but in some ways, it is also a divisive one. What is it about the movement that creates so many fans and foes?

AF: I think many young evangelicals carry around the shrapnel of postmodernism. They feel crushed and battered by skepticism, cynicism, and nihilism, and are looking for a remedy. I think the new young, restless, Reformed movement offers a strong remedy to postmodern refugees because once you sign off on the dotted line, you’re like a wandering vagabond who steps inside this clean, ordered house and for the first time in a long time, you feel a sense of structure and clarity. From a sociological perspective, I think the spike in Calvinist theology is rooted in its ability to provide a sturdy “postmodernism-fallout shelter,” replacing the barrage of grey with some strong accents of black and white.

Its propensity to create foes is, I think, the flipside of this—a tendency to think and deal in crushing absolutes that can come off pretentious, naïve, and un-human. That is not meant to characterize everyone and I, personally, know of many exceptions. But I think the most thoughtful leaders of the YRR movement recognize it can easily bend towards an insular rigidity.

RNS: I wrote recently that theology and autobiography belong together, and you argue something similar in your book. Talk about this idea.

AF: Much theology is infected by the myths of objectivity and certainty: the theologian opens the Bible, picks up the correct pieces, puts them in the correct place, and everything seamlessly fits together. No interpretive decisions need be made, no puzzle pieces are missing. Theology is, basically, divine math that yields no remainders when done properly.

Of course the one element conspicuously absent in this sort of theologizing is, well, the humanity of the human doing the theology. When I wrote my book, I made a conscious effort to show the seams in my thought. I wanted to be plain about the comedy of theology: I am human trying to make sense of God. I think there is big, objective truth out there, but I can only make sense of it subjectively, as a human trying to live faithfully in the cosmos of my Creator.

The idea that theology and biography belong together means let your seams show when you do theology. This doesn’t make you “less” objective—it makes you honest. It means you realize you’re a human. I think many of us are tired of listening to theology from people who attempt to hide their humanity.

134 Comments

  1. Oh boy, I hope Mr. Fischer has a sturdy, wide brimmed hat, because the NeoCal’s are going to create a dung-storm right over his head!
    I do happen to agree with him. The cross trumps all the Calvinsist’s sophistry.

  2. “It is certainly within God’s rights to do such a thing, but if it’s within God’s heart then we’re all in big trouble. That was my conclusion at least.”

    It sounds like he’s saying that he refuses to believe in a God who would do such a thing. That is within his right, of course.

    But the real issue is whether God as revealed in the Bible does do such a thing; let scripture guide you to conclusions. If God as revealed in the Bible does, then neither Mr. Fischer nor I have a say in the matter. If the Bible teaches that God does not do such a thing, then it is still a matter of letting Scripture guide us to understanding him rightly.

    The last thing we want to do, though, is be one of those people who says “I can never believe in a God who does ___________.” It’s not up to God to meet with our approval.

    Cheers,
    Tim

    • “It’s not up to us for God to meet our approval”. Your comment is insightful, and what worries be about BOTH sides of this debate (Calvinism, Arminianism, somewhereinbetween). While we should not fashion God after our own image, at the same time God places eternity in our hearts and moral criteria, to help us discern true theology and the conclusions we should and should not make from Scripture. He entrusts fallible human beings with the hard task of interpreting scripture, which is often complex and difficult. If a doctrine drawn from some parts of Scripture creates a God who cannot be trusted or loved, my money’s on the distortion being with our interpretation of the text. there are some passages that seem to speak strongly to God’s will to damn certain people, but just as many that make it clear God “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” I think even within Scripture God leaves room for mystery on this doctrine. Most attacks on Calvinism vear too far the other way – God wants everyone to be saved and everyone has the ability to choose salvation even until the moment they die – but many Calvinists callously write off the majority of humanity as though God is indifferent to their existence (and doesn’t wish for “none to perish). Even Calvin himself argued we must see all of history through Christ and the cross primarily. It takes great discipline to approach such difficult issues and not complacently settle down on a systematic theology that irons out all the difficulties embedded even within Scripture.

    • Perhaps the realer question than your take on the real question is what God has to say … not about disputations but about our orientation towards Him (or not). Perfect love casts out fear … in God there is no darkness. A God who designs hell is rightly to be feared. Every Calvinist I’ve ever talked to has convinced me that he believes that the New Testament is Calvinist. I understand Calvinism in terms of the Protestant rejection of Catholicism and the dialectic between these forces. I believe Calvinism uses the Bible against itself by proof-texting particular pericopes out of the context of the whole of Scripture. It puts what is most likely a pseudopigraphal late addition to the Canon (Rev. to John) on the same level as the words of our Lord while dismissing much of the writing of Ignatius of Antioch who actually knew the apostle John. I understand why one would want to go that way, equally weighting all of the canon of Scripture to avoid picking and choosing. Unfortunately, this route not only does not escape that problem but it makes it fundamental to process of theology and so you end up with a reinvention of the Message as New Age as Tillich’s new reasonable construction.

    • That we do not get to decide what God is like is an excellent point, but doesn’t capture what this guy is trying to say I think. The best data we have on in God is revealed in Christ, and especially in the cross. This is not the God that we just want but the God that we have, beyond all expectation or deserts.

  3. samuel Johnston

    “But the real issue is whether God as revealed in the Bible does do such a thing; let scripture guide you to conclusions.”
    Nonsense! The Bible, the Koran, The Pope, is no excuse. You are alive and you decide what is and is not the truth. You decide what is and is not just. If you are too cowardly to take the responsibility, then blame the Bishop of Carthage who presided over the final composition of the Christian scriptures in 419 A.D. If you have no idea what I am referring to, then you are simply too lazy to inform yourself.

    • Samuel Johnson: “You are alive and you decide what is and is not the truth. You decide what is and is not just.”

      That sounds like moral relativism or situational ethics to me. I doubt you actually mean it that way. Perhaps you mean that we are responsible for our discipleship. One of the formula I hear most often from this direction is that we are obligated to inform our opinions then to pray and discern God’s will as individuals. My question for you as you reject the authority Catholics (I’m not one, FWIW) invest in a pope, is not this formula here making the individual, informed conscience the equivalent of what we imagine at least to be a mini-pope? To my way of thinking the early church is pretty clear on conciliar formulas.

      • There is nobody who is a greater moral relativist than a Christian. Every one of them looks for excuses, interpretations and legalistic arguments to justify their actions as being in tune with the Bible.

        They find loopholes around “loving thy neighbor”, avoiding being judgmental, avoiding “turning the other cheek”. The idea of absolute moral authority from the Bible is utter hogwash. It is always used after the fact to justify actions one was already willing to do on their own accord. Its all about outsourcing moral authority and not taking responsibility for one’s own thoughts and actions.

      • samuel Johnston

        John,
        The facts are:
        1. We are alive
        2. We have experiences
        3. Whether we wish or not, our minds automatically make patterns and stories from our
        experiences, and from the stories others tell us and from our dreams and imagination.
        4. We have the ability to impose causal order on these stories. We can devise alternative stories. This choosing function is judgment.
        5. Many are overwhelmed by the difficulties and complexities of growing up, living responsibly
        and making these judgments. They would prefer to have a surrogate parent take over the burden. Then all they must do is obey. It is no longer necessary for them to be responsible for their mistakes of judgment. What a relief!
        6. Those folks described in number Five supra, are the majority. They never grow up.
        The grownups they obey accumulate power through the allegiance of these adult/children.
        This power can do good or evil, depending on how it is used.
        7. Power corrupts, so over time it tends to do evil.
        8. Words and symbols play tricks on the mind. Love, hate, justice , power, truth, are just
        symbols that stand for a human judgment. Nothing more. Professor Guthrie puts it this way-
        “The Greeks were taken in by words”. Plato thought that our words (truth justice and the
        American Way) were imperfect symbols of divine perfection. By Divine, he meant Zeus, et al.
        9. Before you dismiss relativism as obviously a poor choice, give a try to understanding why it
        has become such an important viewpoint of some very smart and well educated folks.

      • That is the world of Christianity. The point is to keep it in check as much as possible.

        Creationism is a perfect example of trying to decide one’s own truth in the face of reality. Its about ignoring the observed world to spout off about essentially glorified mythology. Christians are constantly engaging in revisionism of history (like David Barton) and trying to take credit for things they have not done.

        Religion is used to punch the faces of heathens, unbelievers, those deemed unfit for God’s love, or just anyone you want to feel superior to.

    • John Calvin would be horrified that Christians have created a subset within the faith of people claiming to be “Calvinists.” We are Christians – followers and believers in Jesus Christ. That should be the only club we belong to.

  4. As a non-millenial, I never thought through whether I was a Calvinist or Armenian, complimentarian or egalitarian, ect… as many young people are doing. I never even had words for those things until much later in life. I just tried to live out my faith and grew over time landing somewhere in the middle of it all. (I realize Calvin and Wesley would say that is impossible. My response is always the same…They are men. I don’t follow them because of what you call “the comedy of theology.” I try not so simply to just follow God alone.) I look forward to reading though your journey and seeing where I land. It will probably be in the same place we all land- the magnificent hands of God, which I call Grace.

    • Yes, yes, yes. Thank you. ! Well said.
      As I have been recently digging and reading and trying to learn with an open mind through many current controversies, I keep returning to a quiet place of unspeakable gratitude to my Lord for saving this lost soul 20 yrs ago. I have sometimes wondered if my faith is too simple, or uniformed. But then I recall the profound loneliness and desperation of this one heart (who looked on the outside good, successful, attractive and together, but was terribly lost, struggling with alcohol and indescribable darkness) who cried out to God. He answered me that night in my apartment, with Psalm 23, and a love that I had never known.

      That psalm was planted from childhood Catholic mass. The bible study I then entered (after that night) was in a nearby Protestant church… a year later I visited a Pentecostal service in a tiny church with a dirt floor… and in recent years I’ve been in a non-denominational church.

      My point in sharing my experience (and thanks for reading) is that I believe that when we truly seek (Matt7:7) The Lord extends his hand, grace, forgiveness and immense love right where we are- and, He saves us.

      I want to add- I respect those who serve and build churches in deep faith. Certainly if everyone was like me (wanderers) there would be no place to have seeds planted. We are all called in different ways. But God is the one who stirs hearts and answers cries. We always need to return to our knees.

      Forgive me if I didn’t stay on exact topic here. I’ve never posted a comment before. Just had to share. In humility and love for God through Jesus Christ. Peace be with each and everyone of you.

  5. The author doesn’t properly understand Calvin or Calvinism. The death of Jesus reveals the incarnate God who loves humanity. Incarnation and Atonement are bound together.

    • You’re correct – but notice how most of the defenders of Calvinism on this page do not even seem to recognize the Calvinism presented here is hyper-Calvinism, they instantly respond it’s not for us to say whether or not a God who takes pleasure in predestining the majority of the world for eternal suffering is not good if it’s in Scripture. I grew up in a hyper-Calvinist church and never heard a different version of Calvinism until I went to a Reformed college and actually studied Calvinism. If Calvinism gets these kind of “straw men” attack it might be because some of their leading proponents (thinking of RC Sproul) present a distorted version of the doctrine

    • That’s the exact problem that he addresses though. The cross, in Calvinism, does NOT reveal a god who loves humanity, but rather a god who loves himself. The cross is just a means to glorify himself through either saving some of the elect few or glorify himself through leaven a vast majority to be eternally condemned through no fault of their own. They didn’t choose to be sinners by Calvinism’s standard, and they did not choose to remain lost. The god of Calvinism simply refused to safe them.

      • Carl DeBiase

        The cross in Calvinism shows God’s great love for His elect. The none elect did choose to be sinners through Adam and Eve’s freewill. Anyone else in the Garden of Eden would have eventually chosen the same. It’s not “through no fault of their own” that they are damned. They are damned for their own sins. This victim mentality is destroying America!

      • Right one. “The Cross in Calvinism, does NOT reveal a god who loves humanity, but rather a god who loves himself. The cross is just a means to glorify himself.” Mind if I quote you?

    • Whenever someone points out the logical implication of Calvinism, there’s always some Calvinist lurking about with the kneejerk retort “You just don’t understand Calvinism!” I think most people reject Calvinism because they DO understand it very, very well.

    • Atheist Max – Do you just go to Christian articles to make random comments attacking Christianity which have nothing to do with the article? Get a life

      • @Anon,

        Nothing random about it! Did you read the article?
        Do you read these stories as I do? The point is clear – there is no logic behind any of these Christian sects. Lutheranism, Evangelism or Calvinism!

        Calvinism makes no sense! Christ makes no sense. It is nonsense.

        By the way – I’d like to “have a life” – and one without Christians messing it up every day. Where I live we must endure endless threats to our freedom thanks to these ‘meek and mild’ Christians who insist on pushing their nonsense all over our laws!

        When Christians stop sticking their noses in everybody else’s business maybe I can go back to MY OWN LIFE! Thanks.

        • Atheist Max, Yes there are incoherent areas of Christianity, this is why I have found Spiritism. Spiritism teaches us that the Bible was written by God communicating to men who only could understand what they were able to given their knowledge and culture at the time. Therefore, the stories, such as the world being created in 6 days are not the word of God, but a misinterpretation. Secondly, heaven is a state of purity, (lack of selfishness and love for all) that we will attain via multiple lives. Hell is a temporary state, whereupon a spirit will learn that materialism and evil deeds are not the way. Allan Kardec wrote “The Spirits Book” in the 1850’s by compiling answers given to questions posed by mediums. You can learn more at www.nwspiritism.com

          • @Brian,

            You are demonstrating, in a very clear way, that religion is MADE by MAN.

            People come up with these fresh concepts (spiritism, really?) and they run with them and create theories around them.

            RELIGION RECIPE:

            1. Have a folk tale with a heroic moral lesson.
            2. Claim a supernatural quality for your hero (beyond this world)
            3. Add the ANCIENT Golden Rule (karma, reciprocity, yin/yang).
            4. Claim a miracle just happened today thanks to your theory.

            PRESTO!

            Now just pass the hat and before you know it you can be Joel Osteen, a preacher with lots of bling.

        • Oh please! Christians are NOT persecuting anyone in this country. Christians are NOT messing up your life. Take some responsibility for your state of mind. Isn’t that what you espouse? Personal responsibility? Why or why are you on all so many Christian sites, pouring out your hatred for a God that you claim you don’t believe in? Shakespere (sp?) has a great line in one of his plays….”Me thinks ye doeth protest too much”…..

      • @MAD,

        What’s to prove?

        The theory of Christianity:
        God of Love made Eternal Hell for humanity and later turned himself into Jesus to save us by bleeding to death – but first you have to believe it is real – otherwise it won’t work and you’ll go to hell anyway.

        Do need me to *prove* to you that this is ridiculous?

        • You are correct.. It makes absolutely no sense that a God of love would torment his own creation forever. There is NO place of fiery torment forever as the Bible is specific that the living know they will die but the dead are not conscious of anything at all (Ecclesiastes 9:5). Sheol and Hades (commonly referred to as hell is just the common grave of mankind. Jesus is the son of God and is not equal to his Father. God lovingly provided a way out of sin, old age and death through the ransom sacrifice of Jesus (John 3:16), and resurrected Jesus back to life, which will be accomplished for meek mankind in the future. Those who are wicked and choose to remain that way will be destroyed by God (showing his justice), with no hope of resurrection and no torment.

          • @FRAN,

            Jesus wasn’t sacrificed. He was God, right? God doesn’t die.
            Jesus was just God who came to earth to bleed to death.

            Suppose you asked me to help save you from drowning and I said, “OK, I’ll be right over, but first I have to turn into my own son and bleed to death.”

            What kind of God is that? What kind of theory is this?
            What explanation can possibly describe this Christian theory?
            Blood sacrifice? Really?

          • @Fran,
            I can tell you are the same “religion” as me… I make comments too, trying to bring some truth to light. Most people (like Atheist Max) are so turned around and upside-down because of “false religion” they have given up and convinced themselves “there is NO TRUTH” so why bother. I hope that someday people will understand but most NEVER WILL because they DON’T REALLY CARE TO. So, let us always speak TRUTH but also remember what Jesus said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs nor throw your pearls before swine, so that they may never trample them under their feet and turn around and rip you open.” (Matthew 7:6)

  6. Thanks for sharing brother. Don’t agree with everything said in it, but it’s a well written view I appreciated.

    Samuel Johnston, I hear your passion (I don’t agree with the view) but lets build each other up and listen to peoples views respectfully. Just because a brother or sister in Christ does not share the same view with you does not make them ignorant, lazy or your enemy. Lets not turn this into the usual youtube comments we all see.

    As Amy E Patton mentioned it is important to elevate God and not men. I would hold to a more Calvinistic stance accepting most the theological principles in light of what scripture informs me of those points, however I am not a Calvinist (I would be labelled as one I am sure), nor do I follow Calvin, I am a Christ follower.

    Great article though.

    Check out more blog posts via
    http://thegospelplant.wordpress.com/

  7. This whole resurgence of Calvinism is a very troubling sign of what so called “Christianity” in the U.S.A. has become. Although there are many other more obvious “sects” that are completely out of step and what you could call “Anti-Christ” (i.e. Word of Faith, Prosperity, Dominionism, Right wing Evangelical) what makes this “New Calvinism” more dangerous is that it is masked with what seems like intellect and scriptural knowledge. I believe this may be the beginnings of a future fascist Christianity and I am glad you got out while you could!!!

    • Revivalist movements are fundamentally stupid.

      “The fire that has to be blown all the time
      is a poor thing to get warm by.”
      – Robert Green Ingersoll

      • Hi Max- glad you’re here. :) Though I was never an atheist, I did at one time honestly pity people who read the bible. (Hang in- I can hear you rolling your eyes from here..) In my estimation at the time, I was way too smart, openminded and frankly adventurous. But (yep) everything I had ever thought and believed was completely flipped. One night. Alone.
        (I’ll stop there as this article is about specifics that I am only reading).
        Peace Max.
        Never lose your passion. And even if you close your mind to this stuff- Never close your heart.

      • @Atheist Max
        Ask a blacksmith about fires, “that [have] to be blown all the time.” I believe that they have found them useful for few millennia.
        Ask a mechanic about engines that are “blown.” I think you’ll find that they’ve been used for decades to make things go.
        Ask a fire jumper about forest fires in a windstorm. I believe they’ll say that it was rather “warm.”
        James 3:5

  8. Edward Borges-Silva

    I tend to find Arminius more persuasive, though Calvin did have some valuable thoughts on occasion. I often wonder if the differences in their points of view are more properly a question of semantics rather than anything else; a question of talking past one another because they don’t define their terms in the same way.
    I continue however to embrace the orthodox, traditional view of inspired scripture despite the regular assaults on that position which occur so frequently on these pages. Ultimately, I pray for the best for all humanity, and have to trust God to sort it all out.

  9. Brent Stanfield

    “As a Calvinist, I realized I had to believe the following about hell. Before the world existed, God decided to create a world in which the majority of humans were ordained to suffer eternal punishment in hell because, ultimately, God wanted them to so he could glorify himself in their damnation. Their damnation was God’s intention.”

    This isn’t a conclusion of Calvinism. It is a conclusion of recognizing God’s omnipotence and omniscience. If God created the world and everything in it and if he created it how he wanted [i.e. omnipotence] and if he created it knowing how it would turn out [i.e. omniscience] then he intended it to turn out exactly as it has. That is, he intended for the majority of people to be punished for their sins. Calvinism certainly affirms that. However, so does all orthodox Christianity.

    • Actually, no…. even orthodox Reformed doctrine recognizes that the fall and sin and damnation of humanity was a tragedy that grieved God. What you just presented is fatalism, basically, “everything is as it should be” which is drastically different from Calvinism certainly by Calvin’s terms.

      • Brent Stanfield

        It may very well be a tragedy that grieves God. I certainly believe that it is a tragedy in a certain sense. However, it is also what God intended. As I said, the fact that most of humanity will be punished for sin is something that God knew when he created the world. That is a function of God’s omniscience. He knew the outcome and yet he ordained the world to be created. Accordingly, God intended for the universe to turn out exactly as it has and he will work good out of it. Everything is as it should be to bring about God’s plan. If you can show me how that conflicts with Calvin then I will yield the point.

    • Fr. John W. Morris

      As a real Orthodox Christian, I find the comment “so does all orthodox Christianity” offensive. Orthodox Christianity teaches that Christ died for all, but that we have the free will to accept or reject Christ. Why depend on at 16 century French lawyer far removed from the Apostolic Church when we have the writings of Holy Fathers like St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Clement of Rome and others who heard the Apostles preach. We have St. Irenaeus of Lyons who was a student of St. Polycarp who was a student of St. John. They all taught the doctrine of free will and the universal love of God. God does not send anyone to hell. God honors our choice to reject Him, but has also made the way to salvation available to all who will correctly exercise their free will to chose to accept the offer of the gift of salvation. In order to accept Calvinism, you have to either ignore the clear teaching of the New Testament or twist the words to have a meaning that they never had. St. Paul wrote that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I Timothy 2:4. Our Lord said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” John 12:32 You can call Calvinism many things, but one thing that you cannot call it is orthodox because it is not.

      Archpriest John W. Morris

        • Fr. John W. Morris

          Not to the world’s 300,000,000 Orthodox Christians. Whether you use a small or a capital o Calvinism is not in any way orthodox or Orthodox, nor is it faithful to the teachings of the New Testament. It is perhaps the most serious distortion of the Gospel ever invented. It is easy to disprove. I can disprove Calvinism with one verse from the First Epistle of St. John 14:16 “So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” A God who is love does not send people to Hell for His glory or without giving them a chance for salvation. I cannot believe in the Calvinist conception of God, because the God of Calvin is not a God who is love. I will give you another verse that disproves Calvinism, John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The Greek word is “kosmos” which means the whole world. Notice that it does not state that God loves only the lucky chosen ones. Calvinism has an appeal, because it is a nice rational system that explains the mystery of why some people accept the Gospel and some reject it. It also gives a Calvinist a reason to feel better than others and feeds spiritual pride, the worst sin of all. The ability to feel better to others is very appealing to certain people, but it is the exact opposite of how a Christan should feel.

          Fr. John W. Morris

          • John McGrath

            I always thought Calvinism was a way to justify the obligation (for the greater glory of God) to do good works and build good communities without thinking about earning salvation or fretting over salvation. In other words I always thought the main point of Calvinism, on the practical level, was the obligation of human agency. This was certainly the case among the Calvinists in New England.

      • Brent Stanfield

        Please define free will for me. I believe in free will. I also believe the Bible which clearly articulates that no man can come to God unless he is drawn. That there is no one who does what is righteous. That no one seeks after God. That those in the “flesh” can do nothing good and do not want anything to do with the things of God. That you cannot even see the kingdom of God until you have been born again. That we can do nothing without Christ. That we are DEAD in our sins and trespasses. That we have been predestined before the foundation of the world. That it is not of him who wills or works but of God who calls and shows mercy.

        But if you want to discuss a doctrine of “free will” then clearly define your doctrine and tell me how it works. What is a “free will”?

        I Timothy 2:4 is easily explained. It may simply means that God does not take pleasure in the punishment of the wicked. Or it may simply mean that God wishes all manner of persons to be saved. It doesn’t take much twisting to get either interpretation.

        John 12:32 probably does not refer to all men in a categorical sense. It follows right after Jesus is sought out by some Greeks. Jesus begins to discuss how his death and resurrection will usher in the judgment of the whole world. He then remarks that he will “draw all people” to himself. Clearly he is referring to the fact that upon his resurrection, his people will be drawn from the entire world and not just the Jews. Hence, why Greeks are now seeking him out. It is very unlikely that he is meaning to claim that he will actually draw all men to himself. We know that this didn’t happen. Not all heard the gospel. There are still millions or billions of people today who have never heard the gospel. If we take it to mean what you are interpreting it to say [i.e. all men categorically] then Christ is a false prophet.

        To be a Calvinist you do not have reject what is clearly taught in scripture. Just a certain interpretation that tries to make Christ a universalist and that ignores what is obvious; to wit: if God’s first priority was really to save all men universally then he could have Christ appear to each one as he did the Apostle Paul. If God’s first priority was to save men then he could take away their “free will” and change their hearts and save them. But even by your accounting, God values “free will” more than he values saving mankind. He gives mankind this “free will” knowing it will lead to most of their doom.

        So to convince me of this doctrine that you are teaching, can you (1) clarify for me exactly what this “free will” is and (2) tell me why God prefers it over our salvation?

        • Fr. John W. Morris

          Free will is an aspect of the Image of God in which we were all created. Calvinism is right on one thing, we cannot be saved unless God acts first. But Calvin’s defective Nestorian Christology prevents him and his followers from recognizing that God has already acted first for our salvation through the Incarnation. In Christ God became man and assumed, perfected and restored fallen human nature through the deification of the human nature of Christ who is of one essence with God in his divine nature and of on essence with us in his human nature. Through the commuication of attributes, a doctrine that Calvin denies, showing his Nestoriansm, the human nature of Christ was deified. St. Paul wrote that “For he will render to every man according to his works:” not that he will judge each person on whether or not they have been selected by God for salvation. Calvinism confuses God’s foreknowledge with God making a decision who to save and who to damn. However, as St. Paul wrote, predestination is simply God’s foreknowledge of how we will respond to the Gospel. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. Calvin like Augustine before him makes the mistake of trying to understand the mystery of how God can know beforehand how we will respond to His saving grace and our free will. Calvinism also suffers from a defective definition of grace. Grace is not “undeserved merit,” or “unmerited favor,” but is the real experience of God in our lives, for grace is a fully divine and uncreated energy of God flowing from His divine essence.

          Fr. John W. Morris

          • @FR. John,

            “grace is a fully divine and uncreated energy of God flowing from His divine essence”

            That is a heck of a claim considering we only have the Bible to refer to. Wouldn’t the Lord’s threat of rape also be part of His divine essence?

            God threatens Raping in daylight
            “Thus says the Lord: ‘I will bring evil upon you out of your own house. I will take your wives [plural] while you live to see it, and will give them to your neighbor. He shall LIE WITH YOUR WIVES in broad daylight. You have done this deed in secret, but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel, and with the sun looking down.’ ” (2 Samuel 12:11)

            Ugly question.
            But then, your God is an ugly character.

            And…How does Jesus excuse Himself ‘gracefully’ from this sordid nonsense?

        • Fr. John W. Morris

          You wrote, “I Timothy 2:4 is easily explained. It may simply means that God does not take pleasure in the punishment of the wicked. Or it may simply mean that God wishes all manner of persons to be saved. It doesn’t take much twisting to get either interpretation.”
          Thank you for proving my point. You have successfully shown that one must twist the simple plain words of the Scriptures to make them fit into the Calvinist system. The original Greek text literally says “all humans,” “partas anthropos” not “all manner of persons. It takes a lot of twisting of the text to turn “all humans” into “all manner of persons.” And you claim that Calvinism is Biblical. I am not sure that Calvin could read the original Greek of the New Testament, but I am sure that the Holy Fathers of the East could. They all without exception affirmed free will. St. Irenaeus who learned the Gospel from St. Polycarp, who learned from St. John the Apostle, taught free will. St. Irenaeus is a much more credible source of Apostolic teaching than John Calvin, or Augustine who could not read the original Greek text of the New Testament, but built his theology on a Latin text filled with mistranslations. Let me show you one. Augustine built his doctrine of inherited guilt and original sin on Romans 5:12. In the original Greek, the text states, ” Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned –” Unfortunately the Latin translation read, “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.” From this incorrect translation Augustine got his doctrine of inherited guilt and from it total depravity. Calvin got his doctrine of original sin from Augustine, whom he cites frequently in the “Institutes.” The Orthodox East, which could read the original Greek text never developed the Western doctrine of original sin, but teaches ancestral sin that we inherit the consequences of Adam’s sin, mortality and corruption which is exactly what 3:16-19 tells us. Because we are mortal and corrupt, we sin and earn our own guilt. After Adam, God did not cut himself from humanity, for He continued to speak to humans and to call them to a life of righteousness through the prophets and holy men and women of the Old Covenant. Thus, there was no total depravity after the Fall.

          Fr. John W. Morris

        • Fr. John W. Morris

          In response to the statement, “I also believe the Bible which clearly articulates that no man can come to God unless he is drawn. – ” Do you not see that we are drawn because God came down to our level. He became one of us. Humanity did not rise up to God or even find God by itself, God became what we are to save what we are. Our Lord said, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” John 12:32 The major defect in Calvinism is that it does not understand that it is not the Cross alone that saves us. It is the Incarnation through which God acted first for our salvation. Jesus Christ is truly God in the flesh.

      • @FR. JOHN,

        You said, “God does not send anyone to hell.”

        This is NOT true.

        Jesus says “eat of my body” and “Be baptized and believe” or “Be condemned to Hell” (John 6:53-54)(Mark 16:16).

        Humanity, then, is on a conveyor belt to Hell.
        WHO do you suppose is the operator of the conveyor belt?

        • Fr. John W. Morris

          There is no conveyer belt to Hell. God sends no one to Hell. We send ourselves to Hell by the misuse of our free will to reject God. God simply honors our choice when we reject Him.

          • @Fr. John,

            If there is no conveyor belt upon which we are all heading to Hell, what then is the need of a Savior?

          • Fr. John,

            With God there are only two options.
            They are not “choices” as you put it:

            To Believe in God or to Disbelieve in God.

            Since belief is impossible, I can only fake it.
            AND THAT is where the choice is:

            I can choose to fake it.
            Or I can choose to be honest.

            If my choice of faking it is what God wants – what good is God?
            If my choice of honesty is rejected by God – what good is God?

            Free will is a non-issue.
            Love, compassion and honesty seem safer in the hands of an Atheist.

      • samuel Johnston

        Fr. John,
        “Christianity teaches that Christ died for all, but that we have the free will to accept or reject Christ.”
        Sadly, you are correct, that is what Christianity teaches. God’s “free will” choice consists of the same sort of yes/no sham election that dictators everywhere use.
        You, Fr. John, have chosen to restrict your thinking to the party orthodoxy. Admitting that you think outside the box would result in dismissal – or worse.
        My old professor called your position “Knowledge on a leash”.
        300,000,000 Orthodox Christians can be wrong, after all, that is a mere fraction of the number of Hindus.

        • Fr. John W. Morris

          Just because I did not tell you my life story does not mean that I did not come to Eastern Orthodoxy after a great deal of prayer and thought. I started my life as a Methodist. As I reached adolescence, I did not do well as a Methodist, because I asked too many questions for which they had no answer. I began to study church history. I continued my study of history through college and earned a PhD in history. I soon learned about John Wesley and discovered that American Methodistism had long ago forsaken Wesley’s teachings. That led me to Anglicanism. Along the way, I read the Fathers and learned what that what the people who heard the Apostles taught was nothing like modern Protestantism. For a time I believed that I could be an Episcopalian and be faithful to the teachings of the ancient Church and the Fathers. But as the American Episcopal Church began to change and abandon its older beliefs to embrace full fledged political correctness, I became dissatisfied, because the Episcopal Church no longer believed what I was taught when I converted, and what I had learned from the Fathers. I knew that I could not become a Roman Catholic, because my studies of early Church history had convinced me that the papacy grew in power over time and is nothing like it was in ancient times, when the Bishop of Rome held a primacy of honor, but not of jurisdiction. During my graduate work in history, I never lost my interest in church history, but I specialized in German history and studied in Frankfurt while working on my PhD. However, I also had a field in Russian history that led me to discover Orthodoxy. I taught a course in modern Russian history at the small college where I too a job when I graduated from Oklahoma State. I took my class to the Divine Liturgy in new by Austin so that they would have a better knowledge of Russian culture. There I found what I was looking for, a Church with Apostolic foundations that that does not change with shifting winds of modern society. Although I was teaching Russian history, the only Orthodox Church in Austin was St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church. So I became Antiochian Orthodox, a Church that was founded by Sts. Peter and Paul, and which has a continuous history back to the Apostles. I went to Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of theology and became an Antiochian Orthodox Priest in 1980.
          Thus, I did not embrace Orthodoxy until after a great deal of study, prayer and thought.

          • samuel Johnston

            Fr. John,
            I too started as a Methodist (no choice, my father was a minister). at age 14 I got a paid job singing in the choir at a wealthy Episcopal Church. I was at every service for a decade until I finished college. I was never asked to join the Episcopal Church or to believe anything. (Anglicans are very civilized and respectful folks, in contrast to the dominant religious force in my part of the world of evangelical congregationalism. Those folks come knock on your door and spew out their ignorance. They refer to the King James Bible as the Saint James Bible and believe that every word is true and that there are no contradictions! I call their view Totemism.)
            For me the Greeks, especially the early greeks, represent the freest and most elevated thoughts mankind has produced until the advent of Modernism. In the Nineteenth Century The Historical Critical movement began to free Christian thought from its superstitious components. This movement was answered by the Roman Church by the excommunication of Alfred Loisy and the institution of the THE OATH AGAINST MODERNISM Given by His Holiness Pope St. Pius X September 1, 1910.
            Unlike yourself I have absolutely no formal graduate level religious training. I simply read and think at my own turtle like pace. A decade ago I spent a couple of years with American Buddhists. They were sort of an incoherent mess, but their searching for something better was mostly constructive.
            You and I will never agree on many topics, but I would like to correspond with you at you convenience.
            Regards,
            Samuel Johnston
            samujohn@bellsouth.net

      • John… wow well spoken and AMEN. I agree. What destroys Calvinism, “hyper” or “non hyper” there is really no difference as both lead to the same conclusions, is “Intellectual honesty,” something Calvinists seem to be very short of. What easily defeats the heresy of Calvinism is the Character of God as revealed by God himself in scripture. If God had not chosen to openly declare his character, then one could almost accept the Calvinistic teachings as Biblical, however, we have his character revealed to us .. All loving, all caring, just, merciful, consistent, none of which square with the predestined analyzation of most of humanity under the guise of “ELECTION?” To believe that anyone who is not part of the elect could “honestly” say, “I am bringing as much glory to God by going to Hell as they who are bringing glory to God for going to Heaven, since we are both doing God’s will.” And just how much since does that make when reading about the Character of God reveled in his Word? If Calvinism is True, then God is a Liar and His words in Holy scripture grotesquely contradict themselves. How sad to live in the prison of a theology that glorifies eternal punishment for just being born on this planet. It would be better if the world and man had not been created at all than to be created by a God with such horrible plans than in NO stretch of the imagination could be called GOOD. Really sad! Thanks for your thoughts…. The God and Jesus, of the Bible, the one I rejoice in and worship looked out over the city of Jerusalem and WEPT because so many Jews rejected Him and his upcoming sacrifice… He did not FAKE the tears that hid behind some distorted heinous view of God’s LOVE. I fear this new young Calvinistic resurgence, if it takes root, will drag American Evangelicalism into the depths of an impotent smoldering of the precious Gospel of HOPE in Christ!

  10. Stefan Stackhouse

    The truth is, we humans are very limited creatures and certainly can’t know and understand everything about God and His ways. We know what little He reveals to us, but a massive amount of mystery remains. Augustine had it right when he said that doctrines are fences that we build around mysteries. At best, and done right, doctrines only serve as boundaries to keep us from straying into error. Those who think that through the logical exercises of doctrinal theology they can figure it all out and remove any uncertainties or unknowns have most certainly got it wrong, and actually are more likely to stray into error than are those who are content to just bow before the mysteries instead of trying to figure them out.

    This is thus the problem with taking Calvinism too far, something that all too many have a tendency to do. God is sovereign, and God is good. It is very much safer to leave that tension an unresolved mystery, and thus stay inside the doctrinal fences, than it is to try to go beyond the fences and solve the unsolvable. Besides, we have Christ, and we have His love that went so far as to die for us. What more do we really need?

    • Fr. John W. Morris

      God chose us when He became man in Jesus Christ. Calvinism fails to understand the centrality of the Incarnation as God reaching out to all humanity in His love.

      • @Fr. John,
        “centrality of the Incarnation” – Jeesh.

        Reading religious proclamations such as yours is like watching a gutter ball roll in a bowling alley. You know how it got there, you know exactly how it will roll and you know exactly where it will end up – missing all the pins and dropping into a void.

  11. The author mentions the intersection of autobiography (narrative, story) and theology. I have always had difficulty understanding how Calvinism reconciles with a real story, both mine and the larger biblical story. God seems to interact with individuals in real situations in real time and responds accordingly on many, many occasions. If all is predetermined, then I agree with the authors statement that this kind of God is cold and morally ambiguous. At best it is disingenuous. God invites people to a real choice and gives no indication that he knows of something controlling (or predetermined) behind the scenes. Yes, there is an expressed will and a plan that we can see unfolding, but the human interaction is meant to be seen as real and in which individuals make real choices. If not, then God is no respecter of individuals at all, where upon I would challenge that God is love.

  12. Susan Humphreys

    “Intelligent” people, “good” people, “sincere” people can find two very different strains at odds with each other within the Bible and throughout Christian history. One strain is the loving, compassionate, forgiving, unifying all men and all creation God and the other strain is God the tyrant, the angry and vindictive, stern, oppressive, devicive (us versus them) Father. Both God’s can be found in all of the Synoptic gospels and in the Old Testament. Which one you choose to follow is up to you or whether you choose to reject both is up to you. To deny these two different strains is to show that you really don’t know much about the Bible or about Christian history.

    • Susan. Do you understand the larger story that God is telling in order to put the actions and intentions of the God of the Old Testament into perspective? Why is God angry at times? Why does he judge so harshly? Do you recognize the times of great compassion and mercy? Wonder what this is supposed to show us about God, about ourselves and about this world. Christians believe God created us and everything else, so he has a claim on our lives and one based in love. Remember, everything he created was good. You’ve heard the story – the fall, God’s plan of redemption and all the imagery God set in motion to lead the world to Jesus. To debate that God wants our love expressed through our obedience will probably be a lost point on those who choose to judge it differently. The intensity you see in God reveals his heart towards sin and disobedience that must be dealt with to satisfy justice. That intensity is only outdone by his love in which justice must be satisfied, thus Jesus on the cross. You may not like that God is telling a very long and intense story, and one in which people are dealt with in ways that leaves us all in a bit of shock many many times. You can choose to stop there and judge God for his actions, or you can dig deeper and see things from his perspective. Don’t get lost in all the petty squabbles over theology. Those human debates only distract us from the story we are all a part of.

      • Susan Humphreys

        Forgiveness John is the highest form of Justice, NOT punishment. Your comments show that you don’t understand your own questions NOR what I wrote in my earlier post. God might well be described as Schizophrenic, nasty one moment, loving the next. What we see in the Bible is the evolution of men’s thinking about God, about justice, about compassion. This wasn’t a linear progression, some moved forward, some stood still and some took a step forward then two backwards. You can read all about it in the Bible. In the I Ching I read in #61, Understanding, “A deep understanding that knows how to pardon was considered the highest form of justice.” In the Bible we read Matthew 6: 9-13, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Two similar concepts from two very different groups of people. I wrote a full essay about this for the Religious Tolerance website www.religioustolerance.org/humphreys28.htm
        The title of the essay is “Pardon and forgiveness: the highest forms of justice. The passage in the I Ching by the way is older than the Lord’s Prayer.

        • @Susan Humphreys,

          You said, “Forgiveness is the highest form of Justice”

          RIDICULOUS!
          Justice is impossible with such immoral theories.
          Society must protect itself from such backward ideas. We have enough trouble with immoral behavior without having to encourage more of it.

          Fairness is the highest form of Justice – in fact that is what JUSTICE MEANS. And it won’t happen with a bunch of nonsense about forgiveness inherited from the dewy eyed, dopy, immoral, ignorant ideas of religion.

          • Susan Humphreys

            Fairness Max, you don’t know what you are talking about. Is it fair to white males to give preferential treatment to minorities in order to bring them justice for years of oppression? Is it fair to children born in this country from parents that were illegal aliens to deny them full citizenship in order to see that all illegal aliens receive the full measure of our justice? I don’t expect you or others to accept the wisdom of the Tao teh Ching or the Bible, not all are at a point in their lives that they can put aside their anger. Until you figure out what you are really angry at you will continue on a deadend path.

          • “fairness is the highest form of justice” …Why does the material universe care about fairness? Where does an atheist even get ethics in a purely physical existence? Can you account for the objective morality of right and wrong in your atheism?

        • Fr. John W. Morris

          What we see in the Bible is the progression of God revelation of Himself to humanity. That revelation reached its climax in Jesus Christ who is the full and complete revelation of God to humanity. That is why the Old Testament is incomplete. It is not the complete revelation, but is preparation for the complete revelation of God to humanity. That revelation is the all loving and forgiving God who gave His Only Begotten Son to die for us on the Cross to liberate us from the curse of sin and death. Not to offer a sacrifice to an angry, God, but to take upon Himself the consequences of our sins and defeat and destroy once and for all the power that sin and death have over us through His Glorious Resurrection.

        • @Pierre,

          WE do NOT get our morality or more accurately, our sense of fairness, from any gods.

          We get our sense of fairness from evolution – it comes to you in the same way your hands and feet come to you; natural selection has favored those individuals which were most socially cooperative. Humans needed this trait to survive and all primates have evolved with it.

          Thus, The Golden Rule – the LAW OF RECIPROCITY – is the oldest moral code and it predates religions. No God is needed for the Golden Rule; “do not do unto others that which you would not want done to you.”

          THAT is where our morality comes from. EVOLUTION.
          Religion takes the credit for morality but this has been round debunked.

          I do not need a God to know what is right or wrong. Religion will only interfere with that question.

  13. I am reminded of a conversation I had in Rome with a Dominican priest from Switzerland who was a former Calvinist. I asked him why he left and he said, “Because Calvinism is a mental illness.” After reviewing its theology, I could not agree more.

  14. Samuel Johnston

    A few years back I attended a debate between a theist and an atheist, sponsored by a local “Bible College”. The debate was not very interesting, but what i did notice was the students, who presumably were “encouraged” to attend. They took no notes, but were rather handed prepared notes. I did not notice any of them marking up the prepared notes. Perhaps that was not encouraged.
    The one thing I do recall from the debate was the atheist holding up a book with the title “2000 Gods” and remarking rhetorically “The only difference between myself and my opponent is that he disbelieves 2000 gods and I disbelieve 2001 gods!

  15. Susan Humphreys

    Another reason Max why “fairness” is not always just, is that what is fair for one can be unfair for the other. Is it fair that young black men are incarcerated more frequently than young white men? Justice would or should be color blind, if they did the crime they do the time. Right? Wealth can buy a persons way out of prison. Is that fair or just, for society, for the accused, for the one harmed by the accused? Forgiveness requires all the parties involved to participate, the one wronged must forgive, as well as society must forgive for the violation of it’s social norms or laws, AND as well as the one being forgiven, they too must find forgiveness for the one that caused them to do wrong or for themselves. IF all the parties aren’t to get mired down in anger, guilt and vindictiveness. Our justice system is more often than not a vindictive system, and certainly not a fair system. Forgiveness doesn’t mean a person can’t be punished, it doesn’t mean that a crime is ignored, NOR that restitution of some type can’t be required.

    • @Susan Humphreys,

      You are proving my point that ‘forgiveness’ is NOT the highest form of justice.
      I have no idea why you ever said it because you clearly don’t believe it either.

      • Susan Humphreys

        Forgiveness Max is not holding a grudge, it doesn’t mean that you look the other way and pretend a crime didn’t happen. Forgiveness has nothing to do with punishment or retribution. You can still apply the rule of law, as I said, require restitution, send someone to jail as required by law, require the payment of a fine. Forgiveness is about living up to the ideal that a person can pay their debt to society and then move forward. UNFORTUNATELY, many criminals aren’t given that opportunity, they discover our system is designed to make them and pay and pay over and over and over again. They are never forgiven and never given the opportunity to go “straight”.

    • samuel Johnston

      Susan,
      Would that I had you and Max in a class and could make each of you defend, or even describe at length your positions. Please consider:
      1. The natural world is one of natural selection. The strong destroy the weak.
      The sperm are destroyed at a massive rate. Half the human fertilized eggs perish.
      Many fetuses abort “naturally”, many are born weak and sickly. Some children are lovable and charming, some not. Half of the young children in this world are undernourished. Millions are captives or suffer abusive conditions that rob them of their chance to make a productive life for themselves. Need one go on?
      2. If History teaches us anything, it confirms that the few rule over the many. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, is distributed “fairly”, whatever that may mean. Nor is there any known remedy.
      3. Order not “justice” is the role of the law. I have practiced law since 1978, and I am still amazed that folks expect the legal system to correct for the human condition. That it functions as well as it does, is a tribute to the desire of most people to be decent (if it does not cost them very much).That is not to say that order is not important. Disorder is much, much worse. Mobs and gangs have no interest in the future and often delight in burning the town and debauching the citizens.
      4. All Utopian societies are either promptly disbanded or rapidly become tyrannies.
      What about forgiveness I hear you saying. Well, how do you plan to force me to forgive? The myth of the Crucifixion of Jesus addresses that. Do you really think that you would be more successful than he? Do you really think that anyone would?
      5. When I was young I was better and resentful. At three score and ten I am more impressed with my fellow humans continuing efforts to make the most of their lives, and to care for their children.
      As for justice, the “law” of Karma seems to work more often than not.

      • @Samuel Johnston,

        I agree, of course!
        And religion, with its uncivil injunctions: “offer the other cheek” to evil, to NOT RESIST evil, to expect vicarious redemption and even complete forgiveness for ANY outrageous misbehavior adds only misery and nonsense to society’s best efforts to build decent and humane communities.

        Though we can be thankful most religious people ignore these injunctions outside of church, religion remains the great corruptor.

      • Susan Humphreys

        First of all what is your point about nature?The natural world is as it is, The lesson to learn about natural selection isn’t that the strong destroy the weak (that is a misperception of ignorance), IT is that the fittest survive. This means that a gazelle can outrun a lion, and the fittest gazelles with the sharpest instincts aren’t brought down by the stronger animal. You can’t force someone to forgive, NOR did I apply in my statements that you could or should. I only point out that forgiveness is the highest form of justice! Also note I wasn’t the one arguing for fairness, that is Max’s fallacy. Now I also never said anything about Utopian societies. Is that adding something that no one else addressed and trying to use it to discredit or belittle us. The standard tactic of a lawyer? Now I agree that “order not justice is the role of the law”. HOWEVER–“justice” is what people crave over or beyond order. Or perhaps “vengence” is a better word to use here than “justice” because it is retribution that they really seek from our legal system. AND as I point out others far wiser than I have discovered and made clear–forgiveness is the highest form of Justice. BUT you will have to spend some serious time THINKING about those passages I mentioned before you are able to grasp or fully understand the concept. BUT hey enlightenment doesn’t come easy and some never get it!

        • Susan Humphreys

          One more point in my reply to Max I did say that all parties MUST participate in forgiveness……. BUT I also said IFall the parties aren’t to get mired down in anger and vindictiveness. But I guess you missed the “IF” part of my earlier statement. Perhaps I should also have made clear that for ourselves, we still should strive for forgiveness whether or not the others participate, or whether the other parties accept our “forgiving them their trespasses”. Refusing to forgive, holding a grudge, being angry as Max is angry, obsessing about vengence HURTS us not the other party.

          • @Susan Humphreys,

            I disagree with you completely. Forgiveness is immoral and destructive.

            We are not talking about “holding grudges”. A grudge is a pathological condition not a matter of forgiving someone.

            Forgiveness damages all parties involved and it is often an insidious manipulative maneuver. And it is dishonest.

            If you ever had an alcoholic brother, a sociopathic father or a selfish mother you would understand that forgiving such people will not only destroy YOU it will enable others to be destroyed by their own IRRESPONSIBILITY. If people do not act responsibly action needs to be taken early to prevent the unravelling of lives!

            It takes more responsibility and honesty to fix a leaky roof than to let it continue to leak all over your house. A leaky roof needs to be stopped.

            Repeatedly forgiving is absolutely immoral in countless ways and religion encourages this destructive immorality on steroids!

            “I tell you, forgive not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)

            This is a recipe for personal IRRESPONSIBILITY as well as personal abjection. Spectacularly immoral and dangerous.

            I wonder if you care about people at all?

        • samuel Johnston

          Of course you are correct about the Theory of Natural Selection, but my point was simply that the faster gazelle effectively allowed his slower companion to be eaten. The result is the same, the stronger eat first, escape first, mate first, and the weak die out. Evolution is extremely complex, so by being brief, necessarily one distorts what is known. In college I was taught that genes were set at conception and unfolded according to set unalterable instructions. Now we have the science of Epigenetics which contradicts that revision of Darwin’s original thought and proves his instincts were right all along.
          As to law, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but yours is immoderate and uninformed. Liberalism/progressivism contains this trap: “I love mankind, he said, “but I find to my amazement that the more I love mankind as a whole, the less I love man in particular.” ” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

  16. Apparently NOBODY reads the book of Revelation anymore. It is very straight forward and clear on exactly what the plan will be. No man will ever be able to argue with the words laid out for us there. To him who has an ear… let him hear.

    Also, remember what happened to Annanias and his wife, and this was AFTER Jesus died for the sins of the world. Were they not instantly judged for lying to the Holy Spirit? What do you think happened to their souls after that incident?

    Jesus clearly states that not everyone who says “lord” will enter into Heaven, and if I’m not mistaken He Himself said that there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Where will this weeping take place? And what of the rich man who looked up out of hell to see Lazarus?

    Sorry, not worth risking my soul reading books by so many men and their interpretation of scripture.

    • samuel Johnston

      Hi Rick,
      Why are you so frightened? Is life so terrible that you have no one to trust or share your troubles? Please ask for help.
      love,
      Sam

    • Susan Humphreys

      Your ignorance Rick has already put your soul in jeopardy. I suggest you read Matthew 25:31 to the end of the passage. When you can reconcile that with what you read in Revelations you will be headed in the right direction.

      • Susan Humphreys

        Oh also Rick the same concept of Matthew 25:31 is found in Revelation 20:11 to the end of the passage.The books mentioned by the way are the Hebrew books of life and death, they contain the names of everyone ever born NOT as some Christian apologists try to claim the names of “good” Christians in one and the names of “bad” Christians and everyone else in the other!

  17. Susan Humphreys

    Max you don’t comprehend the concept of forgiveness. You think it simply means ignoring, looking the other way. That is plain and simply WRONG. Forgiveness is giving up the wish to “settle the score”, to “get even with”, giving up the demand of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”. IF you want to help the Alcoholic you have to be able to “forgive” them for being one, then you can help them find the way past their “affliction”. They are like you, human all to human. Forgiveness is the ability to accept them as they are in order to help them progress to where they could be.

  18. Susan Humphreys

    Max you made it sound as though you have personally been harmed by an Addict. Many don’t understand that Addiction starts from a coping mechanism that has run amuck—been taken to the extreme! One of the problems with 12 step programs is that they fail to address the underlying issue that led to the coping mechanism that then led to the addiction. Another problem with 12 step programs is that they trade one weakness/dependency for another. They don’t encourage the addict to become a self-assured, self-controlled, self-directed individual. The programs create a dependency on the other participants and on God.

    Then there is the problem of chemical dependency and how substances and our emotions stimulate the release of those feel good chemicals (endorphins I think they are called) as well as Adrenalin (that gets released with anger and fear).

    Anger is a coping mechanism and is just as addictive and self-destructive as the overuse of drugs, alcohol, food, or sex. Many respond to the Drug or Alcohol addict with anger and I certainly don’t blame them for their response, it is a human response, a coping mechanism for frustration, for hurt, for feeling let down…… That anger helps feed the addicts sense of worthlessness, helplessness and isolation and they seek more comfort in their addiction. Forgiveness breaks the cycle for both the substance abuser and the person controlled by their anger.

    Watch the news tonight. The problems in the Middle East will never be solved until All the parties involved agree to forgive others their trespasses as they hope to have their own forgiven. Their anger feeds their frustration and vindictiveness in a never ending cycle of “tit for tat” carried unto the nth generation.

    Forgiveness breaks the cycle of addiction to fear, to hate, to anger…… and that is the Wisdom found in the Bible and in the Tao teh Ching and in the teachings of many other ethnic and religious traditions around the world.

    • out of care for alcoholics and addicts, I caution you about your comments on 12 step programs. From your comment I’m pretty sure you have not been in one. I am truly surprised and ask you to think about this part of your comment. “one of the problems is… they trade one weakness/dependency for another. They don’t encourage the addict to become a self-assured, self-controlled, self-directed individual… they teach dependency on God “. Right. I’m speechless that this is a criticism from a Christian. Is dependence on God a weakness? Dependence of self better? If self-control was the answer to addiction, there wouldn’t be addiction. I say this in love and to help since it’s in a public forum. I don’t expect anyone who hasn’t experienced the devastation of addiction to fully understand. But you would be surprised how quietly parallel the 12 step program is to your own beliefs. (Note: it is not a religion – it’s primary purpose is to stay free of addiction & to help others to achieve that freedom). Thanks in advance for remaining teachable on this.

      • Also- the entire program is about the underlying issue that drove the addiction. (To your first “problem”mentioned) Most of the sharing in meetings is around this subject – encouraging growth and using tools to change behavior while taking responsibility for our own actions -and not the subject of the actual addiction/substance. Thanks.

      • Susan Humphreys

        Jackie I am NOT a Christian. My comments are based on discussions with people who have found the 12 step programs seriously lacking (both participants and other addiction counselors) and from reports about the numbers that actually are able to free themselves of their addictions. You inadvertantly proved my point, thanks, with your statement “If self-control was the answer to addiction, there wouldn’t be addiction .”

        • Ah. Thanks for clarifying. And sorry about assumption (Christian). Makes sense now. Yes, sadly the numbers for recovery in general are tough including treatment. I’m so involved w/recovery and have been sober myself a very long time so I see daily how powerful the program is. And I’ve seen people I’ve loved die from addiction. But just trust me on this – every addict has tried to control it. (So I don’t think I made your point.) I meant if it was as simple as self control, no one would be an addict. Anyway, spirited comments all through! Peace to you Susan.

          • Susan Humphreys

            Jackie self-control is NOT SIMPLE! It is just one of many self-skills that are important IF a person is to be self-actualized, autonomous being. All the self-skills fit together, reinforcing each other. They are self-discipline, self-motivation, self-control, self-respect……There are some self-skills that aren’t helpful and get in the way of the development of the positive skills. These are self-centered, self-righteous, self-deceiving, …… There are some that benefit from 12 step programs, BUT they will always be addicts and will always need the help of the support group. There are others that are able to completely break with their addictive behaviors by strength of character. I know what I am talking about, I have interacted with both! It is a person’s character that needs to be strengthend. 12 step programs also send confliocting messages and that is one of their problems. You can’t tell people they are weak and helpless without God and then expect them to learn to be strong and self-assured! Then there is the problem that asking for help from a God that doesn’t exist doesn’t work for many folks!

  19. Susan Humphreys

    One last comment before we all move on to next weeks topics and this takes us back to the topic of this essay. The cross symbolizes different things to different folks. Some Christians focus on the message of suffering, and this confirms their preconceived concept that humans are sinners, they killed God on the cross and ONLY with God’s grace and the intervention of THE CHURCH can they (the select few, the TRUE believers) ever be saved.

    Other folks focus on the redemptive symbolism of the cross, a symbol of resurrection and forgiveness of ALL of humanity and their sins and a reuniting with God here and now.

    Still others (many non-Christians) see the cross as a sign of oppression and persecution.

    Calvinists are taught to see the suffering symbolism (I think this is correct) not the redemptive symbolism. One sees God as the all powerful Tyrant the other as the compassionate and forgiving Lord. Both strains run through the Bible from Old Testament to New and clear through Revelations.

    What vision you choose to follow or whether you choose to reject all is up to you.

  20. Atheist Max, no Jesus is not God, but he is the son of God, acknowledged by God himself (Matthew 3:16,17). Colossians 1:15,16 brings out that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation and that all other things in the heavens and on earth were created through Jesus. Jesus was beside God as a master worker in the heavens before he became a man on earth (Proverbs 8:30). 1 Corinthians 11:3 also brings out that the head of Christ is God, again emphasizing that Jesus is in submission to God, his Father, disproving the trinity doctrine. Concerning sacrifice, God loved the world of mankind so much that he gave his only-begotten son, Jesus, so that everyone exercising faith in him might have everlasting life (John 3:16). Almighty God is the Most High (Psalms 83:18) and Jesus is in a position just beneath him. Jesus is in a superior position to angels and man. God never had a start and will have no end (Psalms 90:2) but Jesus, as God’s son, had a start, died as a sacrifice for mankind and was resurrected back to life by God. It is impossible for God to die. The sacrifice was necessary because it required the death of a PERFECT man (as a paid ransom) to do away with man’s imperfection and sin. Both God and his son showed their supreme love for us by accomplishing this so that mankind, through God’s kingdom or heavenly government, with Jesus as King, will eventually live forever on earth without sickness, old age and death, the results of sin and imperfection. (Psalms 37:29; Revelation 21:1-4). In addition, that ransom sacrifice provides the basis of resurrection back to life on earth of those we have lost to death (John 5:28,29; Acts 24:15). The love of both God and his son, Jesus, is emphatically evident here. Without that ransom sacrifice, mankind would only continue to get sick, get old and die until the end of time.

    • samuel Johnston

      Hi Fran,
      Do you seriously think that those of us having this discussion have simply not read the Bible, and if we would read it carefully that would clear everything up and we would all join in a great Hosanna?
      If you really want to clear something up, then explain the Trinity.
      “Three gods in one, four gods in one….just tell us how many gods in one there are, so we can go out and play” Alfred Loisy (commenting on his experience teaching in a girls Catholic school.)

      • Neither the word, “trinity” nor the explicit doctrine of it appears in the New Testament, nor did Jesus and his followers intend to contradict what was said at Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, oh Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord’. Said man-made doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies. By the end of the 4th century, the trinity doctrine took the form it has kept ever since. Jesus referred to his Father as the only true God (John 17:3) and never do we find Jesus’ Father, Almighty God, referring to Jesus as ‘my god’. There is only one true Almighty God, but the fact remains there are also many ‘false’ ones.

          • Unfortunately, there are millions of people who say foolish things that God is a trinity or that the God of love torments mankind in a fiery hell forever after death (when they only go to the grave, whether good or bad, and are conscious of nothing, Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10). False religion has been and still is responsible for misrepresenting Almighty God as well as his son, Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit, which is the active force of God, and it will be exposed as such, besides being judged by God accordingly.

      • Susan Humphreys

        You know I too have wondered why a Trinity why not five in one (Father, Mother, Son, Daughter, Holy Spirit”? Why not 20 in one? Hindus envisioned the many faces of God and all of what Christians claim are sub-Gods (polytheism at its worst), are actually representing one aspect of the main deity, just another part of that “multiplicity”. In some ways there understanding is healthier than that of the monotheist!

  21. John McGrath

    We are saved by love alone, love tied to justice and mutual respect and solidarity. Holy Communion connects us to a saving Christ and to each other as partners in making the world better. Love alone. Those who show love of any faith or tradition, even atheism, are reflecting God.

    • “Holy Communion connects us to a saving Christ and to each other as partners in making the world better. Love alone.”

      Well said. And your thoughts on forgiveness as well. Thanks.

  22. John McGrath

    Perhaps the cross was an act of solidarity, Jeus wanting to experience all the suffering that humans have inflicted on each other and through his suffering show us forgiveness and a better way, joining to do god’s will on earth as in heaven, to create communities of mutual respect and love.

  23. John McGrath

    @Atheist Max … Forgiveness simply means commending the wrong doer to God, praying that the wrong doer repent and make reparation as far as possible and reunite with God and the human community. Meanwhile we must pursue justice, which means stopping the evil doer from doing more evil. We cannot wish the evil doer to hell, but we can and must act to get the evil doer constrained from doing more evil. Forgiveness cannot be separated from justice.

  24. John McGrath

    Then there’s St. Maximus, the Byzantine cleric. He preached that no one is saved until all are saved, apparently establishing that repentance can occur in hell (and why do we think hell is as it came to be understood in the Middle Ages?).

    St. Maximus was put on trial, of course, but fled to the pope in Rome, who approved his teaching. The emperor was furious, had the pope beheaded, and Maximus arrested for trial back in Constantinople. But Maximus was eventually exonerated and his teaching became an important spiritual tradition in eastern Europe among both Orthodox and Roman Catholics. His views disappeared in the west, except for the occasional music such as St. Mechtilde of Magdebourg.

    Heaven is the presence of God, and so is hell. For the wrong doers (all of us to some degree) the presence of God is painful but also a provocation to repent and be purified.

    • Hell, referred to as Sheol in the Old Testamentand Hades in the New Testament, is the common grave of both good and bad mankind (Genesis 3:19; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6,10; Psalms 146:4). The heavens is only where God resides (“As regards the heavens, to God the heavens belong, but the earth he has given to the sons of men.” Psalms 115:16; Matthew 5:5). The earth is mankind’s forever home. Psalms 37:29. Thankfully to God in the near future, and because of his intense love for mankind, through his Kingdom or heavenly government, all sickness, old age, death, wars, wickedness, immorality and the rest of the terrible conditions on our home will be done away with by Him (Revelation 21:1-4; Isaiah 11:1-9) . And those we have lost who are “sleeping in death” (John 11:11-14; Acts 7:58-60) have a resurrection hope back to life on earth after that takes place. (John 5:28,29; Acts 24:15; Isaiah 25:8).

  25. Thank you Jonathan Merritt for this post. I’ve read much about this topic lately and until now had only found confusion and verbal sparring – non of which resonated or rested in me. You asked my questions and I appreciate his answers greatly. I will continue my walk and will revisit your blog. Thanks again.

  26. Great interview. I went down a similar path. In my studies I sensed that I had to accept a monstrous God if I was going to remain Calvinist. I’m grateful that the Christian tradition offered some other alternatives.

    While all theological camps can do this, my time studying Calvinist theology felt a bit like someone who has a perfectly good car but he spends all of his time taking it apart and working on it without actually taking the car our for a ride.

  27. I did not grow up going regularly to church and I certainly was not taught anything of theology. When I became a Christian, I was “by default” an Arminian. When I first heard of what is commonly called Calvinism, I wanted to throw up. It was so offensive to me and to my sense of “fairness.” But over the course of two years, I was confronted with the view of scripture and I became a Calvinist not because I liked the doctrine or liked the groups it would put me in, but because I could not unsee truth once I saw it. Often, the most objectionable parts of Calvinism are the idea of limited atonement and the idea that your salvation is not ultimately dependent on you. But, unless one is a universalist, everyone “limits” the atonement – arminians limit it in its effectiveness (i.e. that it actually accomplishes salvation for no one, but is dependent on human decision to accomplish it; and Calvinists limit it on the basis of God’s sovereignty in choosing the scope to which it actually accomplishes salvation for the elect.

    • And as far as God choosing “unfairly” – all of humanity was guilty and out of the guilt mercy was shown to some. Does God not have the right to show mercy o whom he will have mercy? The only fair thing would be to send everyone to hell. And since God is no respecter of persons and does not choose because of beauty, intelligence, morality, charisma, physical prowress, or any other supposed good thing in people, there is nothing in us that draws him to us. In fact, the only hint of a reason within the elect of their choosing might be that God chooses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise. But even then, God does choose some who are wise, some who are rich, in order that it is known that salvation is clearly not on the basis of something in us (or not in us), but in God’s good pleasure …

  28. I don’t get how someone can use reason and logic to refute one branch of Christianity, yet fail to apply that same reason and logic to Christianity as a whole. That’s like arguing that unicorns are pink, not purple. The premise is completely meaningless, therefore any debate on that premise is arbitrary.

  29. FormerCalvinist

    I am so glad to see I am not alone in my departure from the Calvinist scene, despite many wonderful friends who still cling to the teachings. I hope and pray that many will see the dangerous and subtle deceptions in these heresies. So close to the truth, and yet so far in many ways. I realized that Calvinism distorts the nature of God, making it closer to the teachings of Islam rather than true Christianity. It also dangerously twists true Gospel of Jesus Christ – that true good news of love and self-sacrifice. The penal substitution heresy is a form of syncretism between true Christianity and pagan mythology. God the Father did not pour out his wrath on God the son – Jesus was offered up to God the father as a sin offering, an offering of love which the Father loved more than He despised the sin, thereby making atonement for the sin of the entire human race. However, the most dangerous part of the Calvinist heresy is that it has torn men and women away from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church with our Lord founded upon the seat of the apostle Peter and has subsequently devolved into myriad denominations and fractures without any real living, inspired authority. To truly reject Calvinism and all its deceptions is to return to the Church that John Calvin left.

  30. It is not arrogance or self-righteousness to form an opinion outside of your own belief. Far from it.

    Arrogance is the singular belief that your religious views are the only ones which have any form of validity. Your belief in the only and living God is not the only one out there of note. But your arrogance and self-righteous attitude makes you dismiss all other beliefs out there.

    Humanism at least acknowledges that people not only have different opinions on the subject, but are entitled to them. There is no need for anyone to agree on whether God exists and what form(s) that may take.

  31. It is not *our* or *my* belief that is right. Each one of us came to faith outside of our own “right thinking.” It is ultimately because the resurrection is an historical fact that we believe Jesus over any of the other teachers/leaders/founders of any other religion. Confuscius, Mohammed, Buddha, and the rest are all still in their graves. Only Jesus’ life and ministry was validated by God by raising him from the dead to life evermore. Christianity is true because it is true just like the multiplication tables, not because I follow it. I follow it because there is no other truth. It is actually exactly the opposite of arrogance – humility in our submission to this truth. Arrogance is thinking that we can somehow figure out the meaning of the universe from our little vantage point of life here in the 21st century, and rejecting God’s self-revelation that he has freely shared with us so that we might know the truth.

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