Please Don't Eat the Tulips
It's spring, and the flowers are blooming, but there is one whose blossom never fades, even in the snows of Geneva: the TULIP of Five-Point Calvinism.
- Total Depravity
- Unconditional Election
- Limited Atonement
- Irresistible Grace
Five-point Calvinism used to belong to Presbyterians and some Baptists, but today, it seems that everything outside of Catholicism (and evangelicals along with some mainstream denominations) is coming up TULIPs. The face of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" Jonathan Edwards appears on tee shirts of young Protestants like Che's on coffeehouse Reds. Behind the praise band and uplifted hands of your local nondenominational church may lurk Calvin's idea of a Sovereign God whose will is behind everything from the flea biting your dog to 911.
Also, who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell.
The theological issue is legitimate. If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, how can a mere creature defeat His sovereign will? Even St. Augustine wound up in this brier patch when he tangled with the Pelagians.
The Catholic answer (the Bear has misplaced his CCC; most conversations with Red Death start with "I can't find my...") is, to the best of Bear's recollection, that God grants grace and we cooperate or not. If you wind up in Hell it is because you have decided to reject God.
On the contrary, according to TULIP, (1) there is not one atom in a person capable of either moving toward God or resisting His grace; (2) the game is rigged from the start; (3) Jesus did not die for everyone, but only those destined for salvation; (4) if you're predestined, you cannot escape God no matter what; and (5) no one can ever lose his or her salvation.
If you Watch Porn, God Will Make Your Wife Miscarry
Following that logic, God, according to Calvinist superstars like John Piper, determines everything, including every sinful act. And God punishes accordingly. Not just 911, but, well, hang on for this one:
A man asked if his wife miscarried as punishment because he watched pornography. Pastor Piper did not give an unequivocal "yes." It was more like, "You're probably onto something there, Sunshine." Why God caused the miscarriage if He also caused the guy to watch porn was not addressed. You can't have a rational discussion under the pretzel logic of Calvinism.
The Bear admits that fewer issues have been thornier and more controverted than exactly how we are saved. Pope Francis reintroduced "Pelagianism" to the vocabulary of Catholics. But, the Bear figures you didn't come for a monograph on soteriology, including the relationship between the sovereign will of God and the will of man.
The leaders of the Reformation parted first from the Church's teaching, then from each other.
Bear Conducts Research in the Field
The Bear's curiosity led him to discover the "young, restless, and reformed" movement. It is a sort of backlash from the more vapid expressions of evangelicalism. Aside from a few outspoken Calvinists like Piper, you are not likely to hear it preached. "God loves you and wants you to prosper" goes down a lot better than, "most of you sitting out there are going to Hell and there's not a damned thing you can do about it, so why are you even here?"
The Bear asked one young minister recently about the discrepancy between what he preached and what his nondenominational church actually believed. He quoted 19th Century English preacher Charles Spurgeon that there can be no misunderstanding between friends. In other words, he, like Spurgeon, did not preach the doctrine he believed and excused it by hand-waving.
That seems a bit disingenuous to the Bear.
The Bear read Spurgeon's own "Defense of Calvinism." Its deficiencies are typical: highly selective proof-texting to justify an emotional experience of great comfort. Both Spurgeon and the young preacher with whom the Bear spoke described a sudden comfort in knowing the saved could never, ever lose their salvation. (Spurgeon said a salvation you could lose is not worth having.) Come to think of it, whenever the Bear has talked to a Calvinist, he gets this same testimony centered on "comfort."
No one has ever been presumptuous enough to tell the Bear he was certain of his predestination, but that is the tenor of the witness. One assumes if they believed the contrary - that they were among the damned and there was nothing they could do about it - they would not be so comforted.
The Bear also read Roger Olson's "Against Calvinism." Olson does a thorough and even-handed job of demolishing TULIP - especially the idea that God must be behind sin.
The controversy is instructive in this way, though. Evangelicalism was found wanting and there was a reaction. One heresy is the revenge of some other heresy, Bear supposes. No matter what Catholics think of Pope Francis, they should understand that Protestantism is not just fractured, but unhealthy.
Don't sell your soul for all-you-can-eat doughnuts and a variety of fresh coffee.
The Tower of Siloam
The Bear is surprised how Calvinists can miss how Jesus Himself addresses worldly calamities. In Luke 13 1-5, Jesus was questioned whether the people who lost their lives in the collapse of the Tower of Siloam were being punished for their sins.
Jesus, typically, uses the question to illustrate a broader point. Everybody dies. Make sure you're ready, because you never know the hour. If Jesus had wanted to launch into a discourse about how God punishes people for their sins with bridge collapses or the like, He would have.