Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"Moderate" or "Modified" Calvinism? John Calvin and the Doctrine of Temporary Faith

“I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though NONE ARE ENLIGHTENED UNTO FAITH, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are foreordained to salvation, yet EXPERIENCE SHOWS THAT THE REPROBATE ARE SOMETIMES AFFECTED IN A WAY SO SIMILAR TO THE ELECT, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence it is not strange, that by the apostle A TASTE OF HEAVENLY GIFTS, and BY CHRIST HIMSELF A TEMPORARY FAITH, is ascribed to them. Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption. Should it be objected, that believers have no strong testimony to assure them of their adoption. I answer, that though THERE IS A GREAT RESEMBLANCE AND AFFINITY BETWEEN THE ELECT OF GOD AND THOSE WHO ARE IMPRESSED FOR A TIME WITH A FADING FAITH, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, ‘Abba,’ “Father.” Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only forever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this THERE IS NOTHING TO PREVENT AN INFERIOR OPERATION OF THE SPIRIT FROM TAKING ITS COURSE IN THE REPROBATE...nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. HE ONLY GIVES THEM A MANIFESTATION OF HIS PRESENT MERCY. In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure forever. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterward proves evanescent” (John Calvin, “Institutes of the Christian Religion, “ Book 3, Chap. 2, Sec. 11. Pg. 362).

I learned as a child that I should aim for honesty in all things. And that is no different with the Center for Theological Studies. I pray that I have been honest in my presentations of theologies with which I disagree, as much as I am honest with my own theology.

As a result, I believe in bringing out the truth, even if it is cold, hard, and ugly. So today, my readers will get to see a side of Calvinism that few people, if any, are aware of. Today, we will be exploring Calvin’s “Doctrine of Temporary Faith.”

Regarding this doctrine, Keith Stanglin writes:

“The doctrine of temporary faith explains the fact that some people who seem to possess saving faith and presently demonstrate the signs of being a faithful person, occasionally end up demonstrating that they were really reprobate all along” (“Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation: The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609” by Keith D. Stanglin, PhD. Leiden & Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2007, page 183.)

In other words, some are given faith for a while...but this was never intended to be forever (hence, “temporary faith”).

Going back to Calvin’s quote, let’s first note his statement regarding experience:

“...for though NONE ARE ENLIGHTENED UNTO FAITH, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are foreordained to salvation, yet EXPERIENCE SHOWS THAT THE REPROBATE ARE SOMETIMES AFFECTED IN A WAY SO SIMILAR TO THE ELECT...”

So the reprobate actually feel an assurance of faith for a time! Now, even the reprobate can have some sort of assurance of faith. But of course, the assurance the reprobate has is not the same as the assurance of the elect. Calvin makes it clear here that our experiences can deceive us into thinking that some are elect---when in reality, they are more reprobate than we can imagine. In fact, the experiences can be so similar at times that humans cannot tell the difference between the elect and the reprobate.

Let’s go further:

“Hence it is not strange, that by the apostle A TASTE OF HEAVENLY GIFTS, and BY CHRIST HIMSELF A TEMPORARY FAITH, is ascribed to them.”

Here is the doctrine of temporary faith in its fullness. The reprobate receive two things: first, “a taste of the heavenly gifts”; and, secondly, “a temporary faith BY CHRIST HIMSELF.” Notice that Christ is the one who gives the temporary faith.

And this is what is quite troubling to me: the idea that Calvin does not blame the person for their lapse in spiritual things, but Christ. Christ gives it to them, according to Calvin, “for a limited time only.” Christ gives faith to them, knowing that He never elected them to salvation, but let’s them enjoy the “crumbs” of salvation for a time. And, need I remind you that in Calvin’s doctrine, CHRIST is the one responsible!!! This does not sound like today's Calvinism, where Calvinists claim that man is responsible. If they desire to be consistent, like Calvin, they too must say "Christ gave them temporary faith"...and I don't think they can morally commit to that idea.

Not only does Christ give them a “temporary” faith (a defective faith), but He also gives them “a taste of heavenly gifts.” Calvin’s reference here shows us that, unlike most Calvinists today, he believed in incorporating Hebrews 6:4-6 into his theology. The question is, what happens to those who “fall away”? Do they fall away because Christ only gives them a “temporary faith”? Or do they fall away because they choose to walk away from Christ? Calvin chose the former; but I choose the latter.

Finally, the last shocking comment of Calvin in the above quote is thus:

“But in this THERE IS NOTHING TO PREVENT AN INFERIOR OPERATION OF THE SPIRIT FROM TAKING ITS COURSE IN THE REPROBATE...nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. HE ONLY GIVES THEM A MANIFESTATION OF HIS PRESENT MERCY.”

The last sentence of Calvin’s quote here is the most striking: “He [God] only gives them a manifestation of His PRESENT MERCY.” To John Calvin, God showed mercy to these reprobate---but it was never meant to be “eternal.” It was always meant to be “an inferior operation of the Spirit”...and yet, I could never blaspheme the Spirit and accuse Him of doing “an inferior operation” within the hearts of individuals...

What does all of this have to do with “moderate” Calvinism, as the title of the post suggests? Well, I’ve said what I’ve said regarding the doctrine of temporary faith because most Calvinists today would not agree with Calvin’s take on Hebrews 6; instead, they would just say, “Well, those persons were never saved to begin with,” and leave it at that. The only problem with the modern Calvinist response is that, if a person intends to identify themselves with John Calvin’s theology, then that person must assent to all that Calvin said about the elect and the reprobate---which INCLUDES the doctrine of temporary faith. So, when a modern Calvinist says, “That person was never saved to begin with,” they are disagreeing with Calvin’s theology; what they should say is, “Well, God only gave them a temporary faith,” if they desire to be theologically consistent.

Most Calvinists today label themselves as “moderate” Calvinists; but, in reality, they are really “MODIFIED” Calvinists---for, while holding to many tenets of Calvin’s own theology, they differ from him in some areas (one of them being the doctrine of temporary faith, as shown above). And what “modified” Calvinism shows us is that Calvinism, as John Calvin designed it, has major moral and theological problems. What today’s infralapsarians, Amyraldians, Molinists (and even hyper-Calvinists) have shown us is that Calvinism needs some major revisions. But, for those who choose to remain in the tradition...well, they’ll just have to continue to agree and disagree with John Calvin, all at the same time.

5 comments:

Kaitiaki said...

Diedre,
Let me deal with what, I imagine, makes this a "hard and ugly part" of Calvin's teaching. Though, as a Calvinist, it appears to be nothing like your description.

Part 1. Calvin's Logic. You say: Calvin does not blame the person for their lapse in spiritual things, but Christ. Christ only gave them "temporary faith." This is absolutely not true. You have to take seriously Calvin's doctrine of Sin.

Let's imagine you come home one day and the house has been taken over by some people who claim a right to it. They lounge around an mistreat the members - most of whom are adopted children. Investigation shows their claim is bogus and your disclosing this information to them makes them apologetic. They promise to move out but never do. Then a few days later they are back to treating you and the others in the house the same as they did before the court ruling.

Their grasp of the truth, being temporary, was your fault because they were not changed to become honest and upright citizens, recognizing your right? Certainly not!

That Christ shows the reprobate, temporarily, what is their real state is not Christ's fault. He was under no obligation to show them any part of their state.

If Christ chooses to make his Lordship plain to any sinner so they have a temporary repentance under the influence of the Holy Spirit's common grace - a repentance which, by their falling away again, is demonstrated to be false - Christ is not to blame because he did not intend for them to be saved.

The difficulty is that, when developing a systematic theology, logic is to be kept subject to the Scriptures. God is not the author of sin. Ergo, when it appears that our logic would have us draw a conclusion contrary to Scripture the conclusion is false. Better to have holes in ones logic than to contradict the Scriptures in any way.

Calvin believed that even the redeemed sinner is still affected by sin and he included himself in that description. He would not place anything above the Word of God, not even reason. Logic was useful as far as, and no further than, it allowed him to clarify the Bible's teaching. He believed that was what led scholars of the Middle Ages astray.

Kaitiaki said...

Part 2. The cause of Reprobation. You say you want to present opposing views honestly - I applaud you for that. Yet you claim Calvin put the blame for a sinner's reprobation on the fact that he received a temporary, not a saving, faith. To Calvin, reprobation is only, and always, because of sin.

Living in God's world, with God's glory clearly on display, man should worship and serve him. But he does not. According to the Bible this is sin and sin is punishable by eternal damnation. God could have left us alone in our sin until Judgment Day. it was his right. He did not.

The doctrine of temporary faith is intended to explain how some of those who deserve damnation appear to be truly Christian and yet fall away. If it has anything at all to say about reprobation it shows how wicked sin is. Any glimpse of the glory of God should lead us to true faith. If it always did things would be simpler. But such is man's wickedness they would find even in this, something to cavil about.

Instead God chooses to make some of the reprobate see enough of their plight so that, for a time, they turn from sin and embrace the Gospel. Then, so that no one can say their damnation rests on not having the same insights as the elect he allows them to continue on their own and they return to their habitual sins.

The whole history of Israel bears this out. They were blessed with the very oracles of God, they had the symbols of the presence of the God who made heaven and earth in their midst. They were repeatedly shown God's love and his anger at sin (hadn't they just returned from an exile?). Yet, when God is now, physically, in their midst what do they do? Everyone deserts him, even those who walked with him, shared his blessings and love. The contrast between the attitude of the elect and the reprobate over their sin is clear if we compare Judas and Peter. But you don't mention that.

Israel's faith was temporary at best. And, these things happened to them so that we, on whom the end of the ages has come, might profit from their mistakes.

Romans 3ff demonstrate how well we can try to shift the blame from personal sin to systematic theology - the Jews had plenty of that. So did the Middle Ages. But when it is all boiled down the crunch point is: Are you going to accept God's authority over you today? Knowing God's majesty and glory I gladly say yes and leave tomorrow in his hands!! Is my faith temporary? I have no idea. But one day walking with the Lord and enjoying his blessings is worth much more than an eternity in hell.

Kaitiaki said...

Part 3. Election and temporary Faith. The Bible says quite clearly that God chooses without regard to blood ties, or education or even actions we have or have not done. The plain deduction from these facts is that election is based purely on God's choice. It's truly scary to let your eternal destiny rest on the "whim" of God. It's even worse when you know that you can never (no matter how hard you try) influence God's choice in any way.

The Calvinist accepts that is the case and is overwhelmed by the fact that God actually did choose him - when he had no reason to do so but his love. For the rest of his life he is a man overcome by a sense of the wonder of the gracious love of God towards undeserving sinners. His every action demonstrates how gracious God is to a sinner (himself) as he sees even his best works tainted by the awful sin which still remains.

He has already tried (and failed) to find some reason in Scripture for God's choice of one person and not another. He tried the thought that his salvation might rest on God foreseeing his faith but the faith he sees in himself is so flawed it doesn't deserve the name. It is these attempts Spurgeon refers to when he says we are all Arminian in the beginning.

Finally, for this Calvinist at least, he discovers God's foreknowledge. In Romans it says that whom God foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. These were known beforehand and known as Christ's - there are echoes of Christ's prayer in John 17 here. "I pray," Christ said then, "not for the world but for all that the Father has given me ..." I found this prayer very instructive when placed next to Romans.

The order is clearly, God knew (loved?) a particular someone first, then he predestined him to be conformed to the image of his son. it was that someone he had predestined (to be conformed remember), that he called, then having, called him, he justified he also glorified him.

The point in Romans 8:26-30 is the sovereign disposition of the universe for God's purposes is beneficial for the foreknown, predestined, called, justified and glorified sons of God. The reprobate, no matter what else may happen, are condemned by their sin and rebellion (as in Romans 1-3).

The strange thing is that this section of Scripture, Romans 8:29,31) brings peace to the Calvinist. To him it shows his fate is in God's hands not his own. For him there can be no safer fate. He accepts that his faith may be temporary but that only makes him strive the harder. So glorious is his perception of God he has no greater desire than to serve him. His final destination is less important because God will get the glory either way. God is his glory and he desires nothing more, in this life or the one to come.

Deidre Richardson said...

Kaitiaki,

The problem with Calvin's doctrine of temporary faith is that, if the person is reprobate, then what need is there to give them faith? If God has already condemned them in the end no matter what, then why do they need to even experience faith at all?

And yet, Calvin had to deal with this bc there are passages of Scripture like Heb. 6:4-6 that do deal with this problem. Notice though, that Hebrews 6 does not say anything about "God causing" the person to fall away, but it says that "they themselves" fall away. The verb in the Greek is "parapesontas," which is from the words "para" (alongside, from) and "pesontas," which is an aorist (passive) form of "pipto" (to fall). The verb itself with the "as" in it indicates that it is a plural verb. So it is those who fall away who have taken themselves away from Christ, not Christ Himself. The Greek here poses a problem for Calvin's doctrine.

About this doctrine: what you seem to be missing in your idea of God is that the Bible tells us who God is. 1 John 4:8 tells us that "God is love." It doesn't tell us that God is "wrath" or anything of the sort. The burden of proof for God "damning and teasing the reprobate" lies with the Calvinist camp. And what's even worse for the Calvinist is when they arrive at 1 Corinthians 13, which tells us what love is and does. Do you honestly believe that God would tell us to be one thing, and He be something else? That He would tell us to "not rejoice in iniquity but the truth" (1 Cor. 13:6), but then turn around and glory in the fact that He has damned the reprobate?

But this all goes back to your view of logic, that it doesn't have to make sense to us. Well, if that's how you think about God and man, then the Bible remains just one good ole' "mystery Book."

Deidre Richardson said...

Kaitiaki,

You state the following:

"But when it is all boiled down the crunch point is: Are you going to accept God's authority over you today? Knowing God's majesty and glory I gladly say yes and leave tomorrow in his hands!! Is my faith temporary? I have no idea. But one day walking with the Lord and enjoying his blessings is worth much more than an eternity in hell."

The problem with this statement though, is that it doesn't matter if you spend one day with the Lord. The days in hell forever far outweigh the one day with the Lord that you did have. And secondly, what need is there to have one day with the Lord? I mean, if the material blessings are all a person will ever receive from God, what do they matter? the person will die and leave them to someone else, but they will never stop being tormented in Hell's fire. So I applaud you for being bold...but I think u and I both know that no one would be that enthusiastic if they knew that God was gonna remove faith from them and damn them with the reprobate. I think this whole discussion about the reprobate carries on bc most Calvinists assume they are the elect. Very few of those who consider themselves "reprobates" even sit around and discuss this idea.

Well, it actually gets much worse for the "elect." Read Augustine's "The Gift of Perseverance," and you will find that not even all of the elect received the gift of perseverance...and, as a result, not even all of the elect will endure to the end and be saved. So to be elect for one day doesn't matter if, on the grand scheme of things, you're damned for all eternity. And no Calvinist, as a result of these doctrines, can have any assurance of their faith (despite what Calvin says in his "Institutes"). Since God is above, and He is "mysterious," all believers just have to wait and "hope" that God is gracious. This doesn't sound to me like the "unconditional eternal security" that Calvinists have paraded around with for so long. While the average person believes Calvinism to be one thing, it really is another. And when you say that God has no moral obligation in anything, what you are doing is stating that He doesn't even have to be true to His Word...which is theologically questionable, to say the least.

I applaud you for trying to defend Calvin's doctrine. But I've got quite a few posts here at the site that show the problems with Calvin's work. You should read those when you get a chance.

In addition, let me just say that while u seek to defend Calvin, a whole mass of people who call themselves "Calvinists" have problems with Calvin's doctrine. I have actually gone and explained the logic to them, and most of them tell me that Calvin's view of faith differs from God's Word. The truth of the matter is that no one is defending Calvin's view of the reprobate much because it can't be defended. Where in the Bible do we read of God preparing Hell for anyone BUT the devil and his angels (Matt. 25)? As a result, I can boldly say that God never damned a person to hell from before the foundations of the world. Likewise, He did not elect certain people before the foundations of the world, either. Everyone gets an opportunity to accept or reject Him. This is just bc, when a person stands before God, they will never get to say, "I didn't have a chance...I didn't know..."