Tuesday, February 21, 2006

What has Love Got To Do With It?

I have been reading a book called Debating Calvinism by James White and David Hunt. In this book White represents the Calvinist side of the debate while Hunt argues the Arminian perspective. I have been intrigued by the debate and I have to admit some things up front in posting this blog. (1) I am an Arminian. This means that I am going to be somewhat biased in my critique of this book. (2) I am also a Methodist. This means that although I agree with the position Hunt presents, I would have presented a slightly different approach. That being said, I will give my opinion about the book and the issues at hand. (Not that anyone cares what I think, but it is fun to talk about)

As I have been reading the book, I have to admit that James White is very consistent in his beliefs and seems to do a great job of articulating his position. I think it is quite obvious that he gets to the heart of the issues in the opening section in which he is the presenter. For example, in his opening chapter he clearly defines God’s sovereignty as God working all things in accordance with his will so that nothing comes about which God has not determined. This is clearly the Calvinist position.

He then goes on to explain how God can do this, that is determine all things to happen while people are still morally responsible for their actions. He explains this by defining “Compatiblism.” This is the view that says that on the one hand God determines all the events so that nothing could happen other than what does happen. On the other hand humanity is still responsible for their moral choices because they will to sin. They could not change their will to sin, but they still willfully sin.

It is important to note that this is different from another view of freedom called “libertarian freedom.” This is the view that there are some things that do not have sufficient causes so that a person could have chosen other than what they do. This also places moral responsibility upon the agent who performs the action because they freely chose to sin. This is the type of freedom held by Arminians.

The interesting thing about this book is that White acknowledges that his view of freedom is different from that of Hunt. However, it appears that Hunt never makes this distinction. Instead of recognizing the differences, he argues that throughout the Bible, people are given a free choice. This is a fact that White continually agrees with. Of coarse, his definition of “freewill” is very different from that of Hunt.

This is just one of the times that I felt Hunt dodged major issues in the book. Overall, I think White offers a far better explanation of the Calvinist perspective. That being said, I do think Hunt picked up on the key issue in this debate. The issue is God’s nature. The real issue is whether or not God loves his creation. If God, as the Calvinist says, can determine that a person accept salvation without affecting their freewill and that all who God desires to save will be saved, then the only thing preventing God from saving sinners is his own will. If this is true, you MUST conclude that God does not love everyone.

I will have to admit, again because White does such a great job addressing the vital issues, White gives two ideas in defense of Calvinism. He suggests like most Calvinist, that God does love everyone just in different ways. For some, he loves them with redemptive love and others he loves them through providing them life and material blessing during this life, even when they do not deserve it. First, he argues that God is justified in doing this because all people dissevered Hell anyway so people are getting their just reward. Secondly, he tells us that just like we are free in loving people at different levels, so is God. We love our family in different ways than we love strangers on the street. White claims that God is just as free (or more so) to love differently then we are.

While I appreciate that White addresses the issues, I do think they fall short. For one thing, we are told in Scripture that it does not profit a person to gain the whole world, if the person looses his soul. If we take this seriously, God can give a person all kinds of material blessings, but in the end, it profits the person nothing if God does not give him saving grace, which is something that a Calvinist believes God can do if he wanted.

Secondly, love is love, even if the degrees of it vary. Hunt points this out in the book. Think about this illustration. If I am outside of a restaurant and I see a person who I have never met dying in front of me and I have the means in my hands to save him. If the only thing preventing me from saving his life is my willingness to give him the means and I choose to not save him, would I not be unloving? If I choose to give him the thing that will heal him, then am I not showing love. This does not mean that I love him the same way as I love my family. After all, is this not the story of the Good Samaritan? Jesus tells the people to love their neighbor and when he is asked who is my neighbor he responds by telling a story of a Jewish man in need being helped by a Gentile who was his enemy. This illustrates that anyone in need is your neighbor. Now, if Jesus tells us to love anyone in need, even your enemies, I think we can expect that God will love the same way. God even loves rebellous sinners and offers them redemption. It is not that I think God owes us this because we are such great people, but I think it is in his nature to love us because he is God.

In conclusion, I think this is an OK read. If you really want to understand the Calvinist tradition, then I encourage you to read it. If you want to know the Arminian position, read Why I am not a Calvinist by Joe Dongell and Jerry Walls

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