Because circles, for the love of God, aren’t square

My family and I were on vacation, and so I missed the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. I mean, July 10th happened where we were, it’s just that he wasn’t on my mind. I used to be a Calvinist. Many people I love are Calvinists. Others worship in churches that subtly advocate Calvin’s stern predestinationism, though they themselves don’t hold to it. I suspect a good many people remain Presbyterians only by virtue of ignoring the substance and implications of Calvin’s teachings.

A common challenge from Calvin’s devotees to someone who says such a thing, is: “Have you actually read Calvin?” It’s a fair enough question, though sometimes tinged with arrogance. There’s an underlying notion among some that if a person rejects Calvin, it must be because he hasn’t read Calvin closely enough. Calvin is so obviously right, in other words, so clearly steeped in the truth of scriptures, that he can’t be wrong. The problem is with you, pal. Or to quote the stern Frenchman himself, in response to those who recoil at the notion of God roasting infants in eternal hellfire to satisfy his sense of justice:

“For why, pray, should it be made a charge against the heavenly Judge, that he was not ignorant of what was to happen? Thus, if there is any just or plausible complaint, it must be directed against predestination.”

Which is sound advice, so I think I’ll take him up on it. The issue is indeed with predestination, or to be necessarily precise, with Calvin’s rendering of predestination. My Catholic and Orthodox friends would find a whole host of other issues, but for me the issue that began the slow unraveling of my confidence in Calvinism was that I can’t square the picking of eternal winners and losers with a generous God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son for its salvation.

But there’s so much more to Calvin, reply his admirers. Indeed there is. But tell me where in all his writings we can find a retraction of this claim, in Book III of his Institutes of the Christian Religion:

“. . . God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at his own pleasure arranged it.”

He follows with the specious argument, running through the heart of Calvinism, that because God can direct all things, therefore He does direct all things. It goes afoul of James’s observation that God is not the author of evil, but never mind, this contradiction is one of Calvin’s “mysteries,” a sleight of hand designed to lend man’s illogic the trappings of God’s unknowability. God can certainly be unfathomable and yet also Abba, Father. But puny man isn’t allowed to draw square circles. At least not according to my ninth-grade geometry teacher.

So we have this heinous claim that God arranged the fall of man for his own pleasure. I’ve certainly not read all Calvin’s work, so please tell me where he repents this blasphemy. And if he does not, then what are we celebrating? That he challenged the corruption in Roman Catholicism? Fine, applaud him for that (along with a lot of other reformers, more than a few of them in the Catholic Church itself). But for the love of God, let’s not forget the love of God.

And that’s the crux of the matter, for me. In the midst of telling us that He is unfathomable, unknowable, undiscernible, God tells us that He is Love. He crossed the great chasm created by sin, and was humiliated and killed, out of love for man. Does this sound like a being who, in the words of Calvinist writer John Piper, is the “ultimate hedonist”? Are we to believe Michael Horton, who claims that “We are on this earth to entertain [God], please him, adore him, bring him satisfaction, excitement and joy”? What would we say of a parent who had children solely to be satisfied and excited? Are these the descriptions of a loving father, or of a petulant, self-absorbed tyrant? How could it be that we, being evil, love our children more than God loves us?

It can’t, because we don’t. God loves His creation fiercely, beyond measure. To suggest that He created us in order to cause our fall into sin, that He might in turn torture most of us for eternity with no hope of salvation, is to call Him a monster.

Do I believe in heaven and hell? Absolutely. But I reject the logic which concludes that God’s sovereignty demands He give man no choice about where he ends up. A king is free to give his subjects free will. I understand the argument about how original sin made everyone wicked from birth, unable to choose good and therefore deserving of eternal torture, and that there’s mercy in God sparing even just a few, and that therefore a loving God does create humanity to be tortured with no hope of salvation. I get it. I just reject, along with a good many Christians over the centuries who are wiser than me, that these conclusions flow from a right understanding of scriptures.

Then again, I’m no theologian. But I’m inclined to take Paul at his word when he writes to Timothy, “God our Savior . . . desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Does He know how everything will turn out? Of course. But that doesn’t mean He predestines some to hate Him and others to love Him. He is a loving Father, not a tyrant. Which is why I’m not a Calvinist anymore. And I hope my Calvinist friends will understand that this doesn’t make me less a Christian.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that. Up next, a rundown on the many ways in which Wife is a far better water-skier than I will ever be, also known as the story of how Tony drank half a lake.


  1. Ellen

    Thanks for this. I’m sending the link to my Calvinist husband because you explained it better than I could.

  2. Daniel

    As a long time reader and admirer of how you parent and live, I can’t wait to hear the vacation stories!

    Also as a long time reader, I’ve become concerned you have made Calvinism into some sort of Bugbear. Maybe it is, we _should_ be leery of any Christian “-ism.” I grew up in a Catholic church that preached a social justice gospel called liberation theology (maybe Jim Wallis-ism?) Dour stuff. Next to that theology, Calvinists do seem like fun-loving hedonists.

    So, I guess I’m encouraging you not to let any theology get you down. Theology is the study of God, but is not God. Unless you think something adds the law to the gospel of grace, let it go. Be at peace to love and serve the Lord!

    Have a great vacation!

  3. Jon Sink

    This would require a long conversation if one wanted to defend Calvinism. There’s a few assumptions embedded in this post that eventually fall apart though. One correction is understanding that God can have two wills – a will of command and a will of desire. The second is that we can’t just assume we know the definition of love. “God is love” doesn’t mean that God is the embodiment of a principal we all universally feel is right or the cultural definitions of the term that differ on many levels. It means that God defines love. What He decides to do is always loving. We should work hard to humble ourselves by molding our understanding into what he has demonstrated. Paul tells us this in Romans 5:8 – “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” It doesn’t say that what God did fit into what love means, it says that he demonstrated love – there is a difference. With as much commitment as you hold fast to Paul’s words in 1 Timothy, are you just as much inclined to take Paul at his word when he wrote Romans 9?

    I will agree that Calvin takes his zeal a little too far when he says that God takes pleasure in the damnation of souls. God didn’t approve either (Ezekiel 18:23, 32 and 33:11). That gets back to the two wills issue.

    Question: Do you think God caused the crucifixion? Jesus prays that not his own will be done but the will of the Father. Because it happened, we see that God did will for the greatest act of sin in all of history to take place. That to me has to mean that he has two wills. There’s no pleasure in seeing his son crucified, but he also willed that it happen.

    As always, I enjoy our discussions on this topic.

  4. Bobby

    I have an issue with what you write. Foreknowledge is the same thing as predestination. If God knows in advance that Person A will not accept Christ and allows Person A to be born then God is condeming said person to hell. The only way Free Will works in my mind is if God doesn’t know what will happen, which is a dangerous heresy.

    I certainly do not believe you are less of a Christian (or that Calvin is some latter day Paul) but I do think your logic is a little mixed up.

  5. Tom

    As a long time reader, and a Catholic, I found this very interesting. Having not made a study of the various sects of Protestantism the only thing I knew about Calvin was his connection with the idea of predestination.

    I have recently, to use Chesterton’s phrase, been falling towards orthodoxy, and subsequently thinking about God and our relationship to Him.

    I’m not sure that humanity will ever know more about the nature of God then Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets have already told us. As it is we have a great deal of their thoughts about God and some Christians would spend the rest of eternity splitting hairs into ever finer strands. I’m not sure that we can truly comprehend the nature of a being who stands outside of time and was able to create time, space, and everything held therein.

    As for Jon’s question, no, I don’t think that God caused the crucifixion. I believe that Jesus, and every other person involved had free will and could have acted differently. They didn’t but they could have.

    As for my two cents, I believe that God has a plan, that He knows how it will all turn out but He’s a big picture kind of guy. There may be many roads that will get us to finale and He’ll let us travel the ones we choose.

  6. Tracy Milstead

    After reading a couple of books, The Shack by William P. Young, and He Loves Me by Wayne Jacobsen, I finally realized God does love me! A few months ago I started on this journey to try and focus on God’s love for me, and trying to put aside my feelings of always being judged by God and trying to appease him for whatever it was I felt I needed to appease him for.

    I grew up in a legalistic Baptist church and know just about everything there is to know about the justice and anger side of God. I’ve also always known God loves me but, honestly, most of the time I don’t feel it. What you wrote here has taken me a bit further in my journey and I want to thank you for that!

  7. john posey

    Dave Riggs forwarded your blog about Calvinism to me. Amen, Amen, Amen. You wrote what I have always tried to put my finger on that urks me about a huge amount of Calvinists. A little smug. Arrogant.

    “Well, God loves the non-elect. But it isn’t with the same ‘special love’ that He loves the chosen.”

    What the ^%$# does that mean. If I let 3 of my four children play in the street and made my 4th stay in the yard, would that be OK with my wife or neighbors? I loved the 3 that got killed, but I had a “special love” for that 4th.

    thanks for writing this.

    John Posey

  8. Curt Treece


    The problem with your little analogy is that we are not innocent children that our Father is letting play in the street. We are murderers spitting in the face of God. It is not unjust for him to sentence us to death. That he would pour out his wrath against murderous sinners on his Son is a demonstration of his love. It also upholds his righteousness.

  9. karen

    Dear All, I submit Curt’s position lines up with reality. For those of you who insist that Calvinists are arrogant,(e.g. sinful) you are onto something; but go back and look at what you wrote-it seems you are in the same camp.

    God is good, all the time. Karen

  10. Zach

    I think the parenting analogy is a poor one. To say that if God does something contrary to the way we show love to our children then He is not really loving them and to then say because we can’t love our children more than God does then he obviously doesn’t do things contrary to the way we do them is, again, poor. It makes us equal with God in our methods and ability to show love. We define attributes like “Just” & “Holy” in relation to what God does. That is, if God does it, it is good, holy & just.

    In 1 Timothy Paul also said that Christ is “the savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” ESPECIALLY of those… Your problem is that you emphasize the broad extent of God’s atonement but you never talk about the nature of that atonement.

    I agree Christ died for all people but we would disagree as to what that death accomplished. If He died for all men the same way what exactly was it that He accomplished? Did it really save anyone or did it just make them savable?

    If its the former then you have a big problem with scripture that pretty clearly says all people won’t be saved. If its the later, again, then you have big problem with scripture that says men do not seek God and that we are naturally hostile towards Him so how could we be saved if Christ’s death only made me savable? Good works? No. Personal holiness? No. How?

    There are a lot of smaller points where we could disagree but if you can reconcile the extent and the nature of the atonement we have through Christ’s death apart from saying that God predestined some people then we can argue about those points but I think you have some work ahead of you.

  11. Matt Phillips

    Calvin is not Scripture. Horton is not the Word of God. Why are you spending so much time and energy finding how these authors disagree with your point of view? You’ve been on their case for months. And, why do you quote them and not Scripture? At least Calvin and Horton back themselves up, admittedly with scriptures that support their points of view. Whom should the casual, or even serious student, beleive?

    I’d much rather see you struggling in these electronic pages squaring 1 Ti 2:4 (which you quote but do not cite) and for instance Ro 9:13-16: ‘Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.’ If you are better, smarter, or closer to divine truth than Calvin, then do a better job than he, i. e. don’t tell me it’s a mystery.

    And at the risk of divine displeasure, I will opine that God would be better served, and His name better edified, by that kind of sand in the gears.

    Maybe I’m unfair, if so, let’s have coffee.

    I love you Tony.

  12. Zach


    I’d be interested to hear what you think is blasphemous about Curt’s post. He really didn’t say anything too provocative from a Biblical stand point. Nothing really all that Calvinistic either.

    We are horrible sinners who are infinitely guilty for our sins against a perfect God (Rom 3:23). The just punishment for that sin is death (Rom 6:23). God pouring is judgment onto the son is a HUGE demonstration of his love (Rom 5:8).

    So what exactly was blasphemous? Maybe you have a different perspective.

  13. Curt Treece


    I consider the understanding of God, man, sin, wrath, and redemption that I expressed in my original comment absolutely fundamental to a right understanding of the gospel.

    You have said that you think it blasphemy. Please clear it up for me. What is the gospel?

  14. Jonny


    Forgive me, but I find your undertanding of God, man, sin, wrath, and redemption absolutely abhorrent. To quote a wise man who loves God but has no background in Protestantism, “Why would anyone want to spend an eternity with a god like that?” Amen!

    You ask, “What is the gospel?” The Gospel is the good news of the Word. The Word is Christ Himself.

    Zach- I and the Church Fathers take a vastly different view than you or Calvin. I am neither intelligent nor handy with words, so I am going to let the words of others speak to some of your queries (I edited the words of Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky for readability in the first quote I give you). I hope you find them helpful:

    “The expressions of the early Fathers in general (apart from Blessed Augustine in the West) do not go into the “how” of what has been termed “original sin,” but simply state:“When Adam had transgressed, his sin reached unto all men” (St. Athanasius the Great, Four Discourses Against the Arians). From Adam we have indeed inherited our tendency toward sin, together with the death and corruption that are now part of our sinful nature, but we have not inherited the guilt of Adam’s personal sin. The term “original sin” itself comes from Blessed Augustine’s treatise De Peccato Originale. In Greek, there are two terms used to express this concept, usually translated “original sin” and “ancestral sin.” One scholar describes them as follows: “There are two terms used in Greek for ‘original sin.’ The first, progoniki amartia is used frequently in the Fathers (St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Maximus the Confessor). I have always seen it translated ‘original sin,’ though Greek theologians are careful when they use the term to distinguish it from the term as it is applied in translating St. Augustine. The second expression one sees is to propatorikon amartima, which is literally ‘ancestral sin.’ John Karmiria, the Greek theologian, suggests in his dogmatic volumes that the latter term, used in later confessions, does not suggest anything as strong as Augustinian ‘original sin,’ but certainly suggests that ‘everyone is conceived in sin.’” In the expression ‘original sin,’ the West often includes original guilt, which so clouds the divine potential in man that the term becomes burdensome. This Western notion compromises the spiritual goal of man, his theosis and speaks all too lowly of him. Yet rejecting the concept because of this misunderstanding tends to lift man too high — dangerous in so arrogant a time as ours. The balanced view is that man has received death and corruption through Adam (original sin), though he does not share Adam’s guilt (original guilt). The King James Version rightly translates Romans 5:12 as: “And so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” It does not say that we have all sinned in Adam, but that, like Adam, we have all sinned and have found death.”

    “The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image. In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once and for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image [of God].” St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation

    “God becomes powerless before human freedom; He cannot violate it since it flows from His own omnipotence. Certainly man was created by the will of God alone; but he cannot be deified [made Holy] by it alone. A single will for creation, but two for deification. A single will to raise up the image, but two to make the image into a likeness. The love of God for man is so great that it cannot constrain; for there is no love without respect. Divine will always will submit itself to gropings, to detours, even to revolts of human will to bring it to a free consent.” Vladimir Lossky, Orthodox Theology: An Introduction

  15. Zach


    I appreciate you taking the time to look those passages up but Im afraid they have little relevance to post I made. The concept of “original sin” vs “original guilt” is not totally foreign to me but I am not an expert. That distinction, however, isn’t relavent at this point because even the Church fathers would agree we are dead in those sins.

    What are you thoughts on the justice of God? How does he respond our sin?

  16. Jonny

    You state “Im afraid they have little relevance to post I made.” Au contraire. Your post was made in questioning the incredulousness that I still have with respect to the content of Curt’s original post which stated “we are not innocent children that our Father is letting play in the street. We are murderers spitting in the face of God. It is not unjust for him to sentence us to death. That he would pour out his wrath against murderous sinners on his Son is a demonstration of his love.”

    As to the justice of God, I’ll say that the term “justice” is a poor choice for the translation of the Hebrew word that is so translated. It’s a poor choice precisely because of the courtroom notions we have poured into it out of our Roman (and Roman Catholic) heritage in the West. The Hebrew notion, as Alistair McGrath has so comprehensively set forth in his book, Iustitia Dei, is much more along the lines of “setting things right relationally.”

  17. Curt Treece


    You said, “The Gospel is the good news of the Word. The Word is Christ Himself.”

    I know what the term gospel means. What I want to understand is:

    1. What is the news?
    2. What makes it good?

    Surely there are propositional truths about what God has accomplished in Christ that you can affirm here. What are they? You have denied my articulation of some of them but have not offered any of your own to correct mine.

    Seeing your interaction with Zach also has me wondering what it is that you hold as authoritative in these matters. Do you affirm that Holy Scripture is the authority and not what you, or I, or Calvin or some Orthodox theologian has to say about it?

    Still puzzled…

  18. Jon

    Tony, your post is like a Christian version of Richard Dawkins – lots of rhetoric, but not too much substance. It is mainly an article on why you don’t like Calvinism. I am more interested in hearing why it is not rationally true based on scripture. And no, appealing to the problem of evil does not help your case but hurt it, as Arminianism does no better job of explaining it. How would you resolve the problem of evil?

    You don’t like the “God of Calvinism” but do you consider the effects of the “God of Arminianism?” Such a weak, helpless God who is powerless to save anyone is hardly worthy to be called God at all.

    When we ask people if they have ever read Calvin, it is not because we are arrogant, but because we talk to or read people that completely caricature Calvinism and show such a poor understanding of the system.

    I hope you will continue to wrestle with these hard truths before coming to a hard and fast conclusion.

  19. Joseph Norris


    “The fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” James 5

    Thanks for the post. It was thoughtful and passionate. I’ve been going back and forth on this and other issues for awhile now. You really could spend every waking hour studying, searching, praying… if TIME allowed. It doesn’t. BUT, if we could, I do not believe we could ever grasp on an intimate level the issue set forth! I believe though you are using a good analogy to try and grasp the spiritual. The relationship between you & your sons. Scripture uses it repeatedly.

    The matter at hand. I have to say both but still searching the matter out. Like you said, “Does He know how everything will turn out? Of course. But that doesn’t mean He predestines some to hate Him and others to love Him.” You say this but I don’t think you really know. It’s a fearful thing. When we approach this, the mind of the living God in regards to eternity, it’s like approaching the edge of a shear cliff a mile high.

    Now, maybe I’m wrong, but this isn’t a formal debate forum. But I have to imagine that Tony & his wife enjoy the comments alot.

    I don’t believe you can put God in a scriptural box. We make these statements and then defend them to the point of silliness. I believe that is human nature though. To defend what little we know instead of being teachable. I believe we should be dogmatic on the things that really matter.

    God bless your family. I look forward to each post Tony!

  20. Jonny


    On the issue of “justice,” you might find the words of St. Isaac the Syrian to be enlightening (and here he is referring to man’s conception of courtroom-style justice):

    “Mercy and justice in the same soul is like the man who worships God and idols in the same temple. Mercy is in contradiction with justice. Justice is the return of the equal. Because it returns to man that which he deserves and it does not bend to one side neither is it partial in the retaliation. But mercy is sorrow that is moved by grace and bends to all with sympathy and it does not return the harm to him who deserves it although it overfills him who deserves good. … And as it is not possible for hay and fire to be able to exist in the same house, the same way it is not possible for justice and mercy to be in the same soul. As the grain of sand cannot be compared with a great amount of gold – the same way God’s need for justice cannot be compared with his mercy. Because man’s sin, in comparison to the providence and the mercy of God, are like a handful of sand that falls in the sea and the Creator’s mercy cannot be defeated by the wickedness of the creatures.”

    — Jonny

  21. Jonny


    If you’re looking for propositional truths about Christ’s work, the very best I think that anyone can do for you is thus (although, even with this, we must be cautious about trying to say this is the full extent; a better way may be to say that this is what we must affirm):

    “I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made, Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;
    And ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.”

    You ask about whether I believe that Holy Scripture is authoritative: Indeed, I do. However, it must be interpreted. We do this when we read it, and much of it depends upon the presuppositions through which we read it. My presuppositions are very up-front– I prefer to view Holy Scripture through the lenses of those closest to it temporally who are in the deep parts of the channel we call the Church and try to avoid reading it through my own modern eyes. In other words, I prefer to defer to the Church’s interpretation of Scripture than to my own mini-papal version which happens to be based thoroughly in a temporally distant society.

    St. Vincent of Lerins, addressing this same issue in the early fifth century, summarized this nicely in his “canon”:
    ” Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly ‘Catholic,’ as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality [i.e. oecumenicity], antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.”

  22. Zach


    Again, I appreciate your research and knowledge thus far in our conversation. I can also appreciate you desire for a faithful interpretation of scripture but I think you can do that with out passing that responsibility on to someone else. Could you take the research you did concerning justice and mercy and explain what that mean in realation to the death of Christ? Taking Alistair McGraths usage, how does Christ’s death relate to “setting things right relationally”?

    Did Christ have to die?
    What did His death accomplish?

  23. Jonny

    Let me see if I get this right . . . You prefer the relatively unlearned and unholy words of me to the words of someone who was drenched in Scripture and the Holy Spirit? That’s like asking a fresh law school grad’s opinion on the Founding Fathers intent when you could have Thomas Jefferson’s, isn’t it?
    — Jonny

  24. Zach


    No I am not seeking an opinion from an unlearned unholy person. I am trying to draw out the logical conclusion of what appears to be the worldview of a professed Christian who should be a student of the Bible and a possessor of the Holy Spirit.

    You are opposed to a “legal” view of God’s justice and you are strongly emphasizing the mercy of God but you have yet to answer the question Curt or I raised with any scripture or even your own words for that matter?

    Essentially, what is the Gospel as it relates to you the individual? What did Christ’s death accomplish?

    I feel that your high view of church, Roman Catholic I assume, and emphasis on mercy without justice seems to be preventing you from seeing Christ as He really was and from understanding the gospel as it relates to you as the individual. So again, what is the Gospel as it relates to you the individual? What did Christ’s death accomplish?


  25. Jonny

    The Gospel does not relate to individuals; it relates to persons. It relates to all persons in all time throughout the world the following: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life. THIS is the good news in a nutshell.

    By His Incarnation, He has taken on human nature and made it holy. By His baptism in the Jordan, the entire world is sanctified. Through His Death and Resurrection, we are granted the means of communion with God, Himself, in His Divine Energies. By His Ascension and Sitting at the Right Hand, our humanity is now raised above the angels themselves. Salvation is not some sort of weird post-death insurance. We, being part of this world and, further, made in His Divine Image, are sanctified and made holy– permitted, if we so choose, to partake in the life of God in the here and now. “All things are made new” in Christ. As St. John Chrysostom observes: “For He has brought us up to heaven, and endowed us with His Kingdom which is to come.”

    I hope this answers your questions as directly as you wished and apologize to all readers for any misstatement I may have made in my own words; all errors are mine.

    Thank you for sharing your feelings about my view of church. A couple of observations: (1) it’s not my view of church- it’s the Scripture’s and the Church’s view of Church; (2) I do not emphasize mercy without justice but claim that God is just, as He is merciful; it is the West’s Roman legal heritage, its reliance on Blessed Augustine, and modern “lenses” that inform an understanding of “justice” as that of a courtroom rather than as a Hebraic setting right of relationships; and the former notion is an heretical distortion of Scriptures’ clear teaching that God is Love (not that God loves but that He IS Love itself); (3) because Protestantism arose directly from Roman Catholicism, I think you’ll find little fundamental difference in the legalistic approach each takes to the work of Christ, evidenced thoroughly by your own emphasis on “what did Christ’s death accomplish” (as opposed to “what does Christ accomplish in His Incarnation, birth, life, death, Resurrection, and coming again?”); no need to cast me in an RC mold; and (4) I labor under no illusion that I can somehow see Christ as He really is (I find your use of the past tense “was” rather puzzling); may God, the Lover of Mankind, grant that to me as I struggle daily to conform myself to His likeness.

  26. David L.

    Calvin’s contribution can be debated, but the theology that often bears his name–Calvinism–should be supported or disproved by Scripture alone, not our personal feeling about what a loving god would or wouldn’t do. Personally, I agree with the Calvinist view because I see it taught plainly and repeatedly in Scripture: God is sovereign above all (Ps. 103:19) and He “has mercy on whom He will” (Rom. 9:11-23). If God says He is love and desires for all men to be saved, and also tells me that He chooses who wil be saved, then my understanding of love needs to be matured and I do believe He will teach me over time. Furthermore, I’ve concluded that God chooses His elect in both the Arminian and Calvinist scenarios. That is, even in a pure “free will” scenario, God still chooses the family, community, nation, and era into which each person is born, He is still sovereign over the number of times each person hears the Gospel message or doesn’t, and in so doing shows “preference” for some to be saved and not others (I’ll also say that I believe man chooses God, but only after God has regenerated his heart and given him the ability even to desire God–in which case God elected him to salvation). The alternative is to believe in universalism, which isn’t Biblical, or to believe that God relinquishes His temporal sovereignty, which isn’t Biblical (I haven’t been shown good Biblical support, that is). If He’s not sovereign, then I need to find another savior–one who can guarantee my salvation, not just hope for the best.

  27. Tony

    There’s much to take up here, the notion that God’s love is entirely alien to us, for example, or that foreknowing is predetermining. Something I suggest we all consider, underlying as it does the comments that are some version of “my examination of Scriptures tells me…”, or, “the Scriptures make plain…” is the origin of our worldview. The Trinity, for example, is only plain to us today because the Church worked it out centuries ago, such that it became part of accepted dogma for all Christians. Only as a consequence can a modern Christian read his (Church-created) Bible and imagine that the essence of the Trinity is plain as day.

    Thus when one looks at Scriptures and imagines he sees a view of atonement that amounts to a debt owed to God being paid by Christ, or a God who has already damned people before they are born, he should at least recognize that the Scriptures only make these teachings clear to him because he has come to them within a church tradition that teaches such things.

    We cannot, in other words, neglect Church tradition, because it informs our interpretation whether we like it or not. About this even Calvin agrees. Then the question becomes: which tradition shall guide us? Calvin believed he was returning to early Church tradition. But he came to Augustine and Chrysostom and others with a legal, Roman mindset. He attempted to rediscover tradition while tacitly relying on a corrupted worldview. He attempted to reinvent church rather than come in humility to the Church which God Himself promised would not be overcome.

    So the thing is, we can all proof-text our way to a position. Far smarter people have already done it, in fact. What you have to ask is: by what light shall I understand the God-breathed word? By my own intellect? By the reasonings of one man, be he Calvin or Aquinas or Augustine or the Pope, or for those with more modern tastes, Piper or Sproul or the charismatic talking head up in front of a non-denominational megalith?

    We should immerse ourselves in the Word of God, yes, but what will be our guide, when so many smart people can come to so many varied conclusions about its meaning? Is there no place where right practices and understandings have been preserved over the centuries? Did the gates of Hell really prevail against the Church somewhere after the Nicene Creed, until a few Europeans re-established it?

    These are the questions I think we ought to be asking, but we can only honestly do so if we are willing to admit that we are already carrying a worldview to our interpretation of Scripture, and that what may appear plain to us may be completely wrong.

  28. Curt Treece


    John 3:36 affirms that the wrath of God remains on all who do not believe in Christ:

    (Joh 3:36 NET) The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him.

    Paul says in Ephesians 2:3 that we were children of wrath:

    (Eph 2:3 NET) among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest…

    Paul elsewhere notes that God will punish with flaming fire, those who do not obey the gospel (their penalty=eternal destruction):

    (2Th 1:8,9 NET) With flaming fire he will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength,

    He says in Ephesians 5:6 that God’s wrath comes on the sons of disobedience:

    (Eph 5:6 NET) Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God’s wrath comes on the sons of disobedience.

    After proclaiming that by nature we are children of wrath, Paul goes on to say:

    (Eph 2:4,5 NET) But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you are saved!

    Paul again says in Galatians 4:4,5:

    (Gal 4:4,5 NET) But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights.

    The way he accomplished it was by what you call “heresy” and “blasphemy”. The Son of God bore God’s curse for me in my place:

    (Gal 3:13 NET) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”)

    The message of Christ crucified is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but for those who are called by God (from both the Jews and the Gentiles) it is the power and wisdom of God. (1 Cor 1:24).

    I urge you to consider whether what you call blasphemy is actually at the heart of how God demonstrates his mercy and love toward us while himself remaining perfectly just.

  29. Jonny


    I think Tony is exactly right in his comments regarding the worldview from which we proceed. You tend to adhere to a view and interpretation of Scripture which relies on relative modern ideas (the Fathers did not teach TULIP, you know), whereas I have found over the years of my life (during part of which I would have described my outlook as Calvinist) that I would much rather trust folks steeped in Scripture and closer temporally and culturally to the writers thereof. This may explain my penchant for referring to their wisdom rather than spraying the world with what purports to be my own.

    I doubt that the following will sway you at all, but I offer it to you for consideration and by way of explanation that all modes of what passes for Christianity don’t necessarily involve a courtroom god:

    In his “First Century on Theology,” St Maximos the Confessor wrote, “God , it is said, is the Sun of righteousness (cf. Mal. 4:2), and the rays of His supernal goodness shine down on all men alike. The soul is wax if it cleaves to God but is clay if it cleaves to matter. Whichever it does depends upon its own will and purpose. Clay hardens in the sun, while wax grows soft. Similarly, every soul that, despite God’s admonitions, deliberately cleaves to the material world, hardens like clay and drives itself to destruction, just as Pharaoh did (cf. Exod. 7:13). But every soul that cleaves to God is softened like wax and, receiving the impress and stamp of divine realities, it becomes ‘in spirit the dwelling-place of God’ (Eph. 2:22).”

    Thus, St Maximos wrote in his “Third Century that “the ‘wrath’ of God is the painful sensation we experience when we are being trained by Him’. It is not a change that has occurred in God, but literally our ‘passion’ that produces the perception of ‘wrath’.”

    FYI, we can thank St. Maximus for opposing Monotheletism. Prior to the Third Council anathematizing Monothelitism, he strongly advocated the doctrine that Christ has both a human and a Divine will.

  30. Curt Treece


    First of all, let me just point out that the arguments I am making here have nothing directly to do with Calvinism or TULIP per se. There are many a non-Calvinist that affirm exactly what I expressed regarding the atoning work of Jesus Christ.

    I do understand your preference to defer to early church writers who were “steeped in Scripture and closer temporally and culturally to the writers thereof.” And I affirm that their testimony is helpful. I deny (as I hope you do too) that those early church writers are infallible or authoritative. The danger I see in your approach is that you seem to deny that we have access to the Word of God without the words of early patristic writers.

    This simply cannot be. The Word that they had…we have. Scripture is authoritative, not church fathers. God has revealed himself with sufficient clarity in the scriptures. We can look at the words that God himself breathed out (the scriptures) and discern what they mean.

    My previous comment was intended to demonstrate the biblical foundation for the position I expressed in my first comment, namely that Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God/the penalty for sin on our behalf and in our place (penal substitution). I here note that I am not the first person in all of Christian history to affirm that view. If the scriptures teach it, then it is true, regardless of whether I or any particular church father articulates the view.

    Therefore, I’d urge you again to consider the *biblical* case and not simply some 3rd century writer.

  31. Jonny

    I don’t quarrel at all with your statements: “I here note that I am not the first person in all of Christian history to affirm that view. If the scriptures teach it, then it is true, regardless of whether I or any particular church father articulates the view.” On the other hand, you should note that, as a matter of history, Augustine was the very first to articulate this particular view and it remained a Western peculiarity until Anselm picked it up– Anselm who lacked access to the Greek Fathers to balance Augustine; in other words, Western penal substitution theory is exactly what you describe– a doctrine built on the back of an heretical theology developed by Saint Augustine. Rather than building a doctrinal point of view based on the exploration of the wandering tributaries of one person’s opinion, I advocate finding Truth in the deep, rich channel of the Church where we have a consensus and continuity from the earliest times regarding a truly Christian interpretation of Scripture. This will help us avoid proof-texting and trying to make squares round simply because our modern lenses ask us to.

    I have no doubt that God has revealed Himself with sufficient clarity in Scripture. I just don’t have faith in mankind that it can see clearly. Otherwise, why the explosive proliferation of doctrinal opinions, schisms, and “denominations.” I am not denying the authority of God’s words–I am denying my authority as an individual to divide them rightly and without bias.

  32. Curt Treece

    Ah, I see. So you are “denying [your] authority as an individual to divide [God’s words] rightly and without bias.”

    Whose authority do you not deny? Maximos’, Athanasius’, Michael Pomazansky’s, Vladimir Lossky’s, Alistair McGrath’s, Isaac the Syrian’s, Vincent of Lerins’?

    You have quoted all of these men to make your case-never making a case from scripture. So, if you cannot make your case from scripture because you do not think you can rightly divide the word of truth without bias, can you point me to a list of writings that I can consult for the correct interpretation of scripture?

    Incidentally, I would say that Athanasius affirmed the doctrine in the century prior to Augustine (see his work On the Incarnation chapter 2 sections 6-7 and 9

  33. Jonny


    You should really be far more versed in Athanasius before trying to use his work as a proof-text for your proposition.

    No, I cannot point you to a list of writings that you can consult for the correct interpretation of Scripture. I have no doubt that any one individual’s interpretations will suffer from imperfections. I can simply suggest you seek and find the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church against whose gates Christ promised that hell itself would not prevail, in whose heart the rivers of truth run deep and clear, and from which those who stray into the shallows (and, here, I don’t exclude myself by any means) become endangered.


    — Jonny

  34. Brad

    Perhaps I’m a bit late in joining the argument, but I must.

    Quote: “God loves His creation fiercely, beyond measure To suggest that He created us in order to cause our fall into sin, that He might in turn torture most of us for eternity with no hope of salvation, is to call Him a monster.”

    Am I misunderstanding Calvinism, or at least reformed, covenantal doctrine by stating the following?:

    If God had not created and allowed man to be damned in an eternal state of sin without salvation, then where is the power of that salvation in the death of Jesus Christ? If God’s love comes without judgement, then Christ’s death is meaningless. In fact, Christ’s death would then be the very torture you describe as one that only a monster could conceive. I submit from the scriptures that God created man to be redeemed, and that redemption must come from a savior who overcomes the fallen world that God also created.

  35. David McGinnis

    The key difference between what you said, and what Calvinism says is: “allowed man”

    God indeed loves us so much that he allows us to choose. That was his intention from the beginning. In the same way that you can’t have Darkness without Light, since it is merely the absense of light, but not an entity in and of itself. Evil is simply the absense of God. God allowed us to choose to be with Him or without Him. The “without Him” is reffered to as evil.

    In other words: I think you’re right. I don’t think your statement and Tony’s statement conflict. So perhaps a strict Calvinist would disagree with the way you worded it…

  36. Jon

    God does not prevent us from choosing Him; WE prevent ourselves from choosing Him. Our dead, fallen natures can never choose anything good (Romans 8:8). God never interferes with our wills. He allows some men who hate Him to continue in their ways, and thus follow their wills. And he changes some mens’ hearts such that they WILLingly follow Him. At no point is injustice done to man’s will.

  37. Jonny

    If God is omnipresent (everwhere present and fillest all things), then how could evil exist under your definition? Evil requires the consensual act of a person– in other words, free will, but it does not banish God. Likewise, real love requires a completely free will, else it is not Love but compulsion. Just some thoughts.
    — Jonny

  38. Jon


    I think the first thing is to define what we mean by “free will.” We all believe that the will is limited in some sense. For instance, could you stop sinning tomorrow? Are you as free as God? No, so you see already there are limitations on the will.

    Now, when it comes to moral decisions, we do not possess what is known as libertarian free will, (the possibility to do otherwise). Romans 3 says we only ever do evil continually; we never seek God. Even the good things we do are done from a wrong motive, in our unregenerate state. We are born morally dead in our trespasses. Anything less presents an insufficient view of the fall. We still willingly sin.

    Now couldn’t God just let us do our natural will and be perfectly just? Of course. But he lovingly and graciously chooses to generate a change in some people’s hearts. As a reaction to their changed hearts, their WILLS freely choose the things of God. THey willingly put themselves in submission of His authority.

    In this way God is still sovereign, man is still responsible, and no damage has been done to his will. He freely hates God when he is spiritually dead and he freely loves God in his quickened state. It’s a perfect system!

  39. A friend

    Tony…you might consider this quote by Jeremiah Burroughs before you make such bold statements about the nature of God. I understand your feelings but I can’t agree with them, and I know God will not let you call Him a tyrant without consequences. I write this because I care about you! I’m praying for you too.

    “You who think that God is only mercy, and who think that God is not as severe against sin as many ministers would make Him out to be, do but attend to what I shall say unto you, how God has manifested His displeasure against sin in the angels. Consider these five or six particulars, I will only but mention them.

    1. That God should cast so many glorious creatures as the angels are forever from Himself, considering the excellency of their nature.

    2. Consider their multitude.

    3. Consider that the chains of darkness that they are cast into our eternal miseries.

    4. Consider that this was for one sin.

    5. And consider that this was but the first sin that they ever committed.

    6. Lastly, consider that God should not now enter so much into any parley with them about any terms of peace, nor ever would, nor ever will. This is the sore displeasure of God against them, that God should not look upon the angels whom He has made glorious creatures, the most excellent of all the work of His hands. There were many thousands and millions of them (for so the Scripture speaks of legions, even in one man there were legions of devils), though there were thousands and millions of such glorious creatures which God made, and these were in heaven about His throne, beholding His glory, and when these committed but one sin against Him, never but one before their fall, and the first that was ever committed, they had no example before them of God’s wrath, but upon the very first sin, though it was but one that all these glorious creatures committed, they were immediately cast down from heaven, and of angels were made devils, and reserved in chains of eternal darkness.

    And so God is set against them for that one first sin, so that He will never enter into parley with them to be reconciled upon any terms; never to consider any terms of peace, but He will cast them away form Him unto eternal torments without any recovery. This is the dreadful displeasure of God against sin.

    Now brethren, of what I am speaking there is NO doubting or controversy, but not among Divines who have knowledge of anything about Scripture. And if you do not know this, you certainly were never acquainted with the Scriptures. Though other points are controverted, yet no one who knows GOd’s Word questions this; this is clearly granted by all.

    And the consideration of this might strike an abundance of fear and terrr into the hearts of wicked and ungodly men and women, to think ‘Lord, how have I thought of Tee all this while, and have looked upon God as a merciful God. Though I have sinned, I have thought things would not be with me as I have heard by such and such ministers; but this day I have heard that such was the sore displeasure of the infinite God against sin that when He had to deal with those glorious angels for one sin, He cast thousands of them into eternal misery, and upon no terms will be reconciled now or ever.’

    You think that if you sin against God, you will cry to God for mercy and God will pardon. True, there is a difference between mankind and the angels, because we have a Mediator and they do not; but most people who speak of crying to God for mercy look upon God’s nature as nothing but mercy, and not as dealing with us through a Mediator. They do not understand the necessity of a Mediator between God and them, but they think that this God who made them will hear their cry.

    Now God made the angels, and they were abundantly more noble creatures than you. Now the angels who sined but once, for that one sin are cast out forever, and God resolves that, though they should cry and shriek and shed thousands of tears for sin, He will never hear them. God’s displeasure against sin is so great. Certainly then, sin is a dreadful evil.

    Then learn to make such a conclusion from God’s dealing with angels, seeing God is just, and can do no creature wrong. Yes, God is infinitely merciful, and yet casts His noble creatures, those that were the highest He ever made, for one sin with no means of reconcilation. Certainly sin has more evil in it than men are aware of, for though God has no dealt thus with mankind, yet He might. There is so much evil in sin that God might have done this with any of us and, had it not been for the mediation of His Son, we would have been irrecoverably miserable for all eternity.”

    You say that God loves His creation fiercely, but the angels were His creation, and they were more noble than you, and He showed them no mercy. Whether you like it or not, this IS the nature of God. When God says that before Jacob or Esau were born and before they had done anything good or bad, He said, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated,” does that make Him a tyrant? If you think it does, than your qualm is not with Calvin, but with God.

  40. Jonny

    Jon- Please be careful of telling me what “we all believe.” You ask- “. . . could you stop sinning tomorrow? Are you as free as God? No, so you see already there are limitations on the will.” Indeed, I tremble a bit to say that I am free, like God. He made me in His image and formed me in His likeness. It is out of my freedom that I can love him. And, if I am free to love him, I am free to stop sinning tomorrow. This tells me something about whether I really love God, now, doesn’t it?

    You also say: “In this way God is still sovereign, man is still responsible, and no damage has been done to his will. He freely hates God when he is spiritually dead and he freely loves God in his quickened state. It’s a perfect system!” Christianity is not a “system,” it is the following of a Person. How heinous to think that a god would create a bunch of persons who have no option but to choose to do things that will ultimately subject them to torture by that god. This is not freedom; it is slavery.
    — Jonny

  41. Zack R.

    “how heinous to think that a god would create a bunch of persons who have no option but to choose to do things that will ultimately subject them to torture by that god.”

    Perhaps ‘heinous’ isn’t quite the word, but isn’t that essentially what is taught by Romans 9?

  42. Josh Dyson

    Johnny, I think the biggest problem you have approaching the understanding of God is that you think you can know him and understand his ways to an extent that no right-minded man I’ve met has. Most of your arguments basically boil down to “but that CAN’T POSSIBLY be the case – who would want that?” What room does that leave for God’s original design to be greater than our understanding? Just how small of a box do you think you can cram God into?

    Quite frankly, this is blasphemy in a nutshell.

  43. Jonny

    “A friend”- How utterly horrid to say: “consider that God should not now enter so much into any parley with them [the fallen angels] about any terms of peace, nor ever would, nor ever will.” That is to claim to know the mind of God. Can you really unequivocally say that God would turn away a repentant angel? Lord have mercy! Don’t attribute the unrepentant state of a fallen angel to God; rather, if at all possible, let us find pity for them in our hearts and pray for them. Then, again, maybe it’s just that I probably am not acquainted with the Word of God like Jeremiah Burroughs . . .
    — Jonny

  44. Curt Treece


    You say, “maybe it’s just that I probably am not acquainted with the Word of God like Jeremiah Burroughs”.


    Regarding the hopeless state of the angels:
    2 Peter 2:4
    Jude 1:6-7

  45. Zack R.

    So, would it be fair or correct to say that, in your opinion, the Romans 9 text “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” should not be interpreted straightforwardly?

  46. Josh Dyson

    Romans 9:14-16 “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

    This implies that God is just BECAUSE he chooses on whom to have mercy. Tell me, what other standard would you have?

  47. Jon


    So you are denying the fall? Pelagius was deemed a heretic for the same thing. If you really believe that you can stop sinning, then you are a Pelagian.

    You are created LIKE God, but you are not God. Hence you are less free than him. You are similar in that you are both persons, but different in that he is infinite and you are finite.

    Perhaps your view of God is too low and your view of man is too high?

  48. Jonny

    A denial of the fall does not follow from a belief that one can stop sinning. Similarly, the existence of “less freedom,” does not follow from being created in God’s image.
    Finally, I do appreciate your concern that I understand that I am not God and that, as a result, I am not infinite, but I can assure you that I am quite aware of these ontological differences between me and God– quite aware.
    — Jonny

  49. Jonny


    As I have mentioned, above, I prefer to interpret Scripture as it has been interpreted for ages, rather than as it has been interpreted in modern times. I would rather look for interpretive guidance to the people who were closer to its writing than to people who are closer to me temporally. The standard I would have is the one actually found throughout Scripture, interpreted consistently and in accordance with the Church’s understanding through the ages, rather than one picked out by someone who reads a singular verse or a chapter in a modern translation of the Bible and fills the words he finds with his own content from his own temporal milieu. But, then again, I’ve said that already in this thread. I think you can hardly call that approach unScriptural. See above.
    — Jonny

  50. Zach


    Let me be as clear as possible, you are not “interpret[ing] scripture as it has been interpreted for ages”, you are in fact not even reading the scriptures at all. By reading the Bible and not interpreting it yourself you are effectively passing that responsibility on to someone else. You might as well just read a book review of the Bible. You have used the phrase about looking to someone who was “closer to the writings” at least 3 times in this thread…did you read a book about that recently?

    This issues is so important because the Bible is expressly clear about its own purpose which you cannot experience by continually deferring to someone else.

    Jos 1:8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

    Does this mean you shall meditate on what someone else tells you?

    Do you think that when David said: “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name (Psa 86:11)” he really meant “Lord, give me someone to teach me your way?”

    I wonder what Col 3:16 means when it says: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing ONE ANOTHER in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” ?

    Exactly how close is close enough, temporally that is, to the scriptures? 300 years? 500 years?

    Do you think God, in his infinite wisdom, gave us the text we have in our Bible so that we wouldn’t be able to understand it on our own?

    I don’t advocate a reckless interpretation of scripture and I even concede that some people interpret the Bible wrongly, I know I have. My problem is that you seem to be incapable of even approaching the scriptures. Are not your local Church and fellow believers capable of helping you work through the difficult passages of scripture you may be struggling with or are they also too temporally far away? What role is there for preaching anymore? Why not just hand out old sermons and letters from St. Anthony the Abbot?

    I think its strange that the Jews in Berea were able to search the scripture that had been given to them for answers but you cant. Exactly what scriptures is Luke talking about here? OT prophesy I would imagine, like Isiah, which was given to them almost 750 years earlier.

    Acts 17:11 – These were more noble minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

    So exactly how long is the statute of limitation you have constructed? 750 years? 1000 years? 150 years?

    What is close enough to interpret the Bible so I can start reading those guys?

  51. Josh D


    In a word, your approach to who ought to interpret scripture is hypocrisy. You say that you don’t trust yourself to interpret the scriptures, and that you’d rather trust those who were “temporally closer” to the Biblical texts. Yet you are the one with the monopoly on WHICH of those old saints is to be trusted. That’s just ridiculous – it’s a self-defeating argument. This line of thinking is what lead to the Protestant Reformation. No man or group of men or period of time since Christ has the monopoly on Biblical interpretation.

    Paul tells us that the scriptures are all we need for salvation and good works (2 Tim 3). Jude (ch 3) tells us that the word was delivered ONCE, for ALL saints. Interestingly enough, he also points out that there are men who were PREDESTINED for the EVIL work of perverting that word. I wonder how you would interpret that.

    If it’s quite alright with you, I’ll trust Paul and Jude. I’d implore that you do the same.

  52. Jonny

    Zack et al.,

    It’s all well and good to advocate for Scripture to “speak for itself” and our own ability to “just read the words,” but that’s just not reflective of reality, our experience, or our psychology. Show me one word in history that has not been interpreted by the human who heard or read it. In other words, words are simply media for ideas and are often imperfect expressions of that idea which are given in a particular culture to particular people. Is it realistic or honest to claim that a person (“Modern Guy”) living 2,000 years after another (“Ancient Guy”) and who doesn’t naturally speak Ancient Guy’s language is going necessarily to comprehend fully the idea that Ancient Guy intended to communicate to his audience? I’m not saying that he won’t but am simply pointing out the attendant difficulties and the possibilities that Modern Guy will comprehend a different idea– whether subtly different or vastly different.

    For all those advocating that Scripture speaks for itself plainly and straightforwardly, tell me honestly whether you interpret Matthew 26:26-28 in such a way? If my challengers, here, are Protestant, you’ll tell me no such thing. You’ll tell me that this must be “properly interpreted.”

    So, let’s boil this all down: You are reading Scripture and making your own personal interpretation of it– and that is OK. However, when I read Scripture (which, you might be amazed to know, I actually do) and look to the Church’s ancient and long-standing interpretation that reaches back to the inception of the Church, that’s not OK? I’m always a bit skeptical of such unbridled arrogance. So, given the option, yes– I think I’d rather have Abba Anthony’s treatises, steeped in the deep waters of the Church, day-in and day-out than I would the personal interpretations and musings that may proceed from a modern pulpit, blogsite, or friend.

    — Jonny

  53. Zach


    When taking about the history, literature, etc. your argument makes sense. By all means consult the “ancient guy.” This makes sense b/c they are human authors in a specific cultural context with specific pre-understandings about any given topic. We are talking about the Bible though which has a divine author. Surly God did not give us his Word and not make it understandable to all men.

    Are you arguing contrary to this or are you arguing that those who want to REALLY understand the Bible will read those “other guys” because they had a secret understanding because they were only 500 years after the death of Christ?

    You never answered my last question, how long after an event is temporally too far away to to fully understand a text? Was Paul too far after Moses to interpret Genesis or Isiah? Did the culture of the Jews not change between wondering through the desert and establishing them selves in Israel?

    I get the feeling this decision is kind of like pornography, you don’t really know but you can tell when you read it.

  54. Jonny

    Lord have mercy, Zach! I never once even implied that God made Scriptures incomprehensible to man or advocated for some gnostic understanding of Scripture. You are the one who proposed a “statute of limitations,” as not once have I said that any interpretation of modern man is somehow invalid or that antiquity alone is somehow some touchstone of truth. I have carefully laid out my position above and have fully answered the questions you have posed regarding what I have stated (versus what you falsely imply that I have stated). I have also indicated my agreement with Tony’s comment.

    I get the sense that, rather than addressing my statements, you like to throw in a distracting question to take us off the path we were on. Rather than continuing to chase your balls in various directions, I think I’ll just settle down right here and wait for some meaningful and cogent discussion once you have had an opportunity to digest, rather than simply react to, my position.


    — Jonny

  55. Zach


    My questions lacked neither cogency nor meaning. I never believed you advocated either gnosticism or that scripture was incomprehensible but rather asked those questions to show the flaw in your argument. Im sure you don’t care if I consult church father or not but I care that your lack of confidence to approach and interpret the scriptures is based on the weak idea of temporal proximity.

    How do you establish what is temporally close enough? From your tone I assume you think Jeremiah Burroughs was not but you think Abba Anthony is. You have not made this clear. You defer YOUR responsibility of interpretation to old guys but im not sure how you make the discernment who is old enough.

    Any given passage of Biblical text has only one meaning. If you need some help to understand or discover that meaning, fine, but you can’t overlook the fact that any given text will have varying significance to the reader. The Bible is not just a static document of propositional truths. It does have those but biblical truths have different impacts (consoling, edification, conviction, teaching, etc.) on the reader. The catch is that the the individual must actually read it for them selves and work through the difficulties of scripture for this impact to be seen. If one were to defer the interpretation there is no benefit other than acquired knowledge.


  56. David McGinnis

    Zach, Jonny,

    I don’t want to be attacked, so instead of telling you what you think, I’ll ask a few unpointed questions…

    Why have none of you mentioned the Holy Spirit? Doesn’t the Holy Spirit help with that translation issue and time gap?

    What is your purpose of the discussion at this point? I sensed a lot of “head” out there and that the “heart” part of the argument was waning as the discussion continued.

  57. Beth

    Tony, I’m briefly emerging from LurkerLand to thank you for this post…I, too, am a former Calvinist-type person. I’ve been a lover and follower of Jesus for 33 years and have steeped myself in the Scripture. I’m not going to pull single verses from here and there, but based on my growing knowledge of Jesus that has come from loving and obeying Jesus, I agree with you.

    No, we can’t compare God to ourselves and draw conclusions. But we are made in the image of God. Jesus did point to our human relationships (especially as parents and children) in helping us to see how God relates to us. I MUST believe that our Father is MORE loving, MORE kind, MORE good than we are, not less. Calvinism makes God unrecognizable to me. I believe it is a terrible lie.

    I get lots of criticism for this. I don’t care. I’m going to keep following Jesus and loving Him. He is showing me the Father through His Spirit. Just imagine a Savior too good to possibly be true…I believe He’s infinitely better.

  58. Jon


    This is a nice assertion “A denial of the fall does not follow from a belief that one can stop sinning.” But please support it with fact. Because in my book, if you think you can stop sinning, then you are basically a Muslim or a United Pentacostal, or some other form of heretic. But I’m sure you’re not, so please explain. Thanks.

  59. D

    First, let me thank you for providing a safe place for thoughtful questions on the topic of Calvinism.
    For many adherents of this belief system are such with a “Jehodist” bent.
    I have been to numerous web-sites, blogs etc where the members are all “in the faith”.
    A few minutes of reading and I am overwhelmed with the air of narcissism.
    Anyone daring enough to pose a question there will eventually get an Aristotelian razor to the throat.
    What’s then worse is they come over to other web-sites not created for the fostering of the their theology and lash out at people there as well.

    When I started to review historical writings concerning Geneva it all started to make sense.
    The natural byproduct of embracing a sadistic God, is to become one.
    I do not observe this level of intense aggression in any other form of Protestantism.
    Didn’t Cain slay his brother in order to claim God’s approval?

    There is a saying that I like:
    Scratch a beast, and the beast comes out.
    Scratch Christ and blood and water comes out.
    That is how you recognize the spirit they are of.

    Blessings to you!

  60. D

    The priests of the image:

    We see a story related in 1st Samuel, chapter 5
    The arc of the covenant placed besides an “image” of dagon.
    The “image” falls over.

    Lets look at the essence of the dagon priesthood.
    A) By virtue of strategic teachings the image of dagon is given a place of “Pre-eminence” before the people.
    B) What does the priest gain? Plenty! Honor, prestige, money, respect. Within his community, he walks in what is called “the aura of the priest”.
    C) The priest/teacher as an ambassador of dagon therefore derives a measure of dagon’s “pre-eminence”.

    But what will they do if the image falls?
    The EFFICACY of the “image” will be manifest as a FALSE EFFICACY.
    And therefore the priests of the image would lose their place of “pre-eminence”.
    The priests must become “Solders of the faith” in order to keep the image raised up.

    Now if you look at some of the historical documented writings of Calvin where he is involved in killing people who refuse to acknowledge his teachings, you can clearly see the parallels?
    Here is one sample: “If that man comes into the territory under my authority, I will have him killed! (see To understand the context, Michael Servetus is a professing Christian who publicly ridiculed Calvin’s writings.

    Out of the heart the mouth speaks.
    By his own words he manifests “unchristian” aspects of his own character.
    The unbiased reader should easily recognize that Calvin is a GIANT IN INTELLECT, and an INFANT IN SPIRITUAL MATURITY.
    His actions would be totally abhorrent to any true believer in the early church, no matter how low his stature.

    Now it is easy to see what the priests of the “image” will do in order to keep it raised up.
    A labyrinth of ingenious exegetical teachings will evolve.

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