Divine Providence

The Calvinistic theological model can be understood nicely through the acronym TULIP.

(TULIP definitions are from Michael Robinson: The Storms of Providence):

T- Total depravity- unregenerate humans (due to sin) are unable to desire or to perform righteous acts or saving faith

U- Unconditional Election- God predestines human beings either to glory or hell without regard for their actions or merits

L- Limited atonement- Christ’s death on the cross (while it could have atoned for the death of all persons) in fact only atones for the sins of the elect

I- Irresitible Grace- God’s call to salvation in fact only atones for the sins of the elect

P- Perseverance of the Saints- Those whom God has elected certainly persevere in their faith and, consequently, attain salvation.

Naturally, many questions arise when trying to understand such a theological framework. The most pertinent question might be- how can humans be truly free if from all eternity God, in his divine decreed, willed in such a way that all things were previously established and predetermined? Even that of the salvation of humans?

Admittedly, there is no easy answer.

Before I get to this issue directly, there is a something else I’d like to get off my chest:

While discussing this issue in class a few things troubled me. First, my teacher, being a philosopher, ironically attempted to delegitamize the position of Calvinism on the basis that it is primarily not a philosophical position (That is, a position that is held by philosophers). The real question however is- should the subject of Divine Providence ever be exclusively a philosphical issue? It seems to me that it is a greater error for a philosopher to fail to interact with theology, than for a theologian to fail to interact with philosophy. Hence, I believe that my professor should be more eager to interact with Biblical passages. But I digress.

Going back to the previous discussion, the one way to approach this topic is to discuss the nature of human freedom.

There are two prominient positions on human freedom:

The first is, Libertarian Freedom. In a nutshell, this type of freedom states that a person in any given moment is free to do A or not A. For example, there is right now a pen sitting on my desk. Libertarian freedom says that I am at any moment free to grap the pen or not grab the pen.

The other type of freedom is what, I believe, Jonathan Edwards has called, “freedom of inclination” (otherwise known as compatibilistic freedom) That is, you are free to do what is in accord with your highest desire. If my highest desire is to grab the pen, then I will necessarily grab the pen. I can’t simply change my highest desire.

Calvinist’s (a good Calvinist) should not affirm the first type of freedom. If one were to affirm the first type, then in what sense is God still soveriegn? If God has made it such that humans are self-determining, that is, they by virtue of there freedom can be determintive of their lives, then in no sense can God guarantee his future promises. He must simply cross his fingers and hope that humans find the way he chooses to be better.

But, a Calvinist can affirm the second type of freedom. This is because this type of freedom is compatible with God’s soveriegn reign. Also, Jesus seems to somewhat describe this notion of freedom:

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” -Luke 6:43-45.

Specifically, the part “…for out of the abundace of the heart his mouth speaks.” Key to understanding this passage is in having a clear understanding of how the word “heart” (greek: “kardia”- i think) is used in the bible.
The new covenant is about the transformation of the kardia. The term kardia in Scripture is primarily used “for the real or the core of a person.” Also, “kardia” is most used term of any psychological dimension in Scripture. As said by Dr John Coe (prof at Talbot)- “The heart is what directs our life. What is in our heart will govern our whole of life.”

The seems to be exactly what Jesus is saying in this passage. What you desire in your heart the most… this you will necessarily do, or speak of.

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