Kevin Deyoung recently reviewed Austin Fisher’s book that was deliciously titled, Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed. I will admit beforehand that I have not read the book, nor is the purpose of this post to comment on or echo Deyoung’s perceptive critiques of it. Rather, reading Deyoung’s review reminds me of something that I’ve noticed over and over again as I interact with Arminian thinkers and as I read books of the Arminian persuasion.
The comment from Deyoung that struck me was this: “No Longer Reformed is full of pithy phrases and arresting sentences, but often the most clever lines set up false dichotomies that can’t be supported by Scripture. Do we want a God who reigns from a rugged cross, or a God who reigns from a celestial throne? A God who controls everything, or a God who wants to have a genuine relationship with us? A God whose love is just a cog in the glory machine, or a God who loves because he is love? These are biblical themes meant to be held together, not driven apart for rhetorical effect.”
The rhetorical strategy of positing those dichotomies, no matter how false, we must note, is completely understandable. How can a God who reigns on a celestial throne be the God who is on a rugged cross? How can the God who controls everything also be the same God who wants a genuine relationship with his creatures? How can a God of Love also be the God of the so called ‘glory machine?’ At first glance we might say none of these things go together. We simply cannot wrap our minds around how this might be the case. Thus here is, I believe, the allurement of both Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism. Arminianism denies that God controls everything to preserve the truth that God is a relational God. Hypercalvinism denies that God is a relational God to preserve the notion that God is in control everything. Logical consistency, so we might be tempted to think, demands that we deny one of those two poles, right?
But this is exactly where Scripture refuses to lead us. The God who controls everything (Eph. 1:11; Lamentations 3:37-38) is the God of relational love (Jn. 3:16). The God who never delights in the destruction of the wicked (Ez. 33:11) is nevertheless the God who will delight in it (Deut. 28:63). The God who died on a cross is also at the same time the God who is on his throne (Heb. 1:1-4). The Bible just holds all of these things as true, as if there were no tension to them whatsoever. The allurement is to deny one pole to affirm the other for the sake of rational consistency and our own cognitive pleasure. The whole impetus, it seems to me, behind process theology, Open Theism, and Hyper-Calvinism is simply that. It is much easier to deny that God offers genuinely the Gospel to all people when we affirm that God has predestined the elect. But biblical consistency demands that I affirm both.
Deyoung also rightly noted that Arminianism is not without its mysteries. But my contention is simply this: often times when these (false) dichotomies are posed for rhetorical effect, we become selective and neglect that there are many more dichotomies that are found in the Bible. How can a God of One be also the God who is three in Persons? How can two natures subsist together into one Person, as found in Christ? How can a God who is omniscient be a God who grew in knowledge and wisdom? How can a God who is omnipresent be walking in a particular location? How can an eternal God relate with those who are inside of time? If logical consistency is the goal of theological thinking, then it seems to me that we simply should also be consistent in denying one pole over the other. We will end up with the god of the rationalistic Socinians, a god who is no longer Triune, incarnated, nor sovereign. Why affirm the mysteries of the Trinity, but refuse to accept the mystery of divine meticulous sovereignty with the reality of human responsibility? There seems to be no principle to stop us from doing so. And indeed some philosophers have denied many of the biblical attributes of God precisely for this reason.
I affirm, again, that Calvinism (Monergism) preached is the Bible preached, and whenever the Bible is truly preached it is a message that tests we who are by nature theological rationalists. To accept the Bible is to abandon every ounce of our would-be autonomous reason. To accept the Bible simply demands that we cast off our rationalism.
The crux of Calvinism that I return to again and again, and that which keeps me wholly Reformed, (and though I am still quite young, being Reformed makes me quite restful rather than restless!) is stated well by Deyoung: “But [Fischer] doesn’t own the uncomfortable conclusion at the bottom of free will theism, namely, that the reason some people open the gift of salvation and others don’t, the reason some people surrender and float up to safety while others struggle and drown (to use Olson’s analogy), is owing ultimately to our decision. Why are some people in heaven and some people in hell? The Calvinist says the decisive factor was God. In free will theism the decisive factor is you.” Emphasis mine. The Bible proclaims a God who will have all the glory. I contribute nothing to my salvation, and on this truth my whole life and salvation depend.