Thursday, August 31, 2006

Wrestling with Calvin

UPI Column

Recent conversations on this topic got me writing and thinking and rethinking. Thanks to all who contributed in the various by-ways of my Internet wanderings. You know who you are. (And I love each of you.)


Carrie said...


Did I really just read that?? Wait, I'm going back and rereading.

I'll come back later and comment. I have to make sure.


Carrie said...

But wait. There's a difference. God isn't choosing and un-choosing people throughout their lives like a puppet master. We get into trouble when we think that way. Fluctuating beliefs show us that there is not a once-for-all faith that is either granted or withheld.

This is where it gets fun! You have my full attention.

A person could conceivably believe certain tenets at one time in life, then not believe them later in life, or vice-versa. If God is in control to the degree Calvinists say he is (which in Calvinism is to the nth degree), then we may assume that Calvin's God is able to keep even those who cannot keep themselves.

You've said a mouthful here. This is resonating with where I am coming to right now. I do believe in the sovereignty of God, and yet I see people making real choices, or changing their minds. I don't feel forced to believe anything, nor can I make myself believe something I don't. I'm not a passive recipient of my beliefs, I interact with them and let them work on the inside. Somewhere inside, where I can't even see it, things change sometimes ...the thoughts move and change and it suddenly isn't what it was before. So, I interact with ideas, yet I can't simply pick an idea and believe it cold. I've been feeling like God has to be bigger than my choices or all is lost. I'd walked away from my once solidly reformed positions, but not really as far away as it might seem at times.

Sounds like grace to me. YES! Isn't that what God gives? Grace for those weak in practice or for those weak in doctrinal clarity, grace for all who believe and for those who don't any more, grace for everyone who fails to reconcile all the parts of what Christianity is supposed to be.

This is essentially what I've always believed..yet with a narrower interpretation.

Grace even for Calvinists. Yes, even for those who are passionate about God being much bigger than anyone or any thoughts. Perhaps Calvinists are most guilty of believing God eclipses all, that God is so awesome (in the old sense of the word) that we are nothing in comparison, which has some biblical support. But god seems to balance all those facets of himself better than strict Calvinists do..God is also the suffering servant and the lover of our souls.

We don't choose grace. We're predestined to get it.

I loved this. Thanks. I can't tell you what a shot in the arm this column has been for me. You never know, do you, what will ease a soul in stress?


TiaDavidandOurLittleChickens said...

God is able to keep even those who cannot keep themselves.>>

This has pretty much been what I "beleived" and what I hang on today. I'm on a teeter-totter, but if God is who I've really thought He said He was/is, then I'm fine.

The whole idea that I'm sitting here even *thinking* teeter-totterish thoughts reminds me that I didn't really choose this. I was just going along, living my little life rather deliberately, when all of a sudden I wonder if the whole thing is just a myth we pass along to keep people i line and to give hope to make it through another day. Where the *beep* did THAT come from? Thing is, if it IS real, then people (me especially) should be different. We shouldn't just be "good" and we shouldn't talk about Him like he's not in the room with us. It's inconsistant and I have to decide (snicker) what I"m going to do about it.

Kansas Bob said...

Hi Julie,
What you write makes perfect sense in a time based chronology of our life journey. We seem to be making God choices all throughout our lives and ultimately we arrive at one place or another.

But what if time didn't exist and we were able to view our lives through some weird timeless eyeglasses? And what if these glasses saw us at a heart level and were able to see the beginning from the end.

I think that most of our struggles with sin and grace are temporal based. We cannot get our brains around these eternal concepts yet we still try to put temporal logic in place to determine eternal rules.

I am convinced that the eternal issues of heaven and hell are beyond my comprehension because my understanding is limited.

Is it not enough to just love God and love people? Why not just leave the issues of heaven and hell to God? Really, why do we need to know?

Blessings to you, Bob

Bilbo said...

I just wanted to comment about what Bob said. Hi Bob....You wrote: "Is it not enough to just love God and love people? Why not just leave the issues of heaven and hell to God? Really, why do we need to know?"....I empathize with your comment here...but...wonder how the church and the Christian community can get a handle on this because so much of their mission is tied up in evangelizing others. We don't call them Evangelcals for nothing....and....question how this is even possible if one believes in a literal hell....Just curious....Bilbo

TiaDavidandOurLittleChickens said...

Is it not enough to just love God and love people? Why not just leave the issues of heaven and hell to God? Really, why do we need to know?

ARGH! The question that has come to keep me awake at night....

julieunplugged said...

Bob, I find it hard to trust about heaven and hell if there is any chance that people go there and I can have a hand in rescuing them. I think this issue cuts to the heart of one's belief system and theology.

I had to decide if I even believe in heaven and hell... then I could start thinking about God.

My comment in the article sort of gets at the feeling. How can I feel good about heaven when others are going to hell?

I've had to rethink everything based on that one question.


Kansas Bob said...

Someone smarter than me said this:

"My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind." -- Albert Einstein

I guess I really don't need to know about heaven and hell ... who goes where and whether either exists ... because I believe in the message of the cross. That message, for me, is the simple message that God gave what was most precious to Him to bring me to him and have a relationship with him. This, to me, is a message of love - God wants to have a relationship with me.

About ...

"How can I feel good about heaven when others are going to hell?"

... I would counter with ...

How can anyone feel good about humanity when they look at the cross?

I guess the question one asks depends on one's (temporal/eternal) perspective.

About Bill's comment on evangelization, I have to say that being witnesses to love is what it is all about. I have never really been able to get with the '4 Spiritual Laws" agenda. I think that all we need to do is care for people, not because they are going to hell (or not) but because God has given us a new heart of love for people.

That said I have to say I am enjoying the dialogue Bill and Julie! Blessings to you both.

SusansPlace said...

Hey Bob,

You said:
"About Bill's comment on evangelization, I have to say that being witnesses to love is what it is all about. I have never really been able to get with the '4 Spiritual Laws" agenda. I think that all we need to do is care for people, not because they are going to hell (or not) but because God has given us a new heart of love for people."

When we love someone, we will do everything we can to save them from torture. Hell is torture, pure and simple. The only means we have for saving them is to "proclaim the good news" that Jesus died for our sins so that we can have eternal life and not eternal damnation. So, we have to think about Hell and we have to speak about Hell in order to "rescue the perishing". Boy, I wish we could just speak of God's love but there is that other side of God's "love" that is the very horrible eternal damnation and death. If you take scripture literally you can't have one without the other. Have said that, I don't take scripture literally anymore but I wanted to share the perspective I used to have...thus the above rant. ;-)
If there is a God, He is love and his grace covers, as Julie so eloquently expressed in her UPI blog. If I can get to a place of belief in this God of grace, then I think I can get to the place you speak of where we just love God and other people. I'm not there yet but maybe someday.


SusansPlace said...

I watched a WWII documentary the other day and it brought back the horrors of the gas and fire chambers of Auschwitz. All those innocent people tossed in there to just roast. Thank goodness it was over pretty quick...they didn't have to roast for eternity. You see where I'm going. Hell is eternal roasting. We see Hitler as a very evil man for tossing people in the chambers and yet we are silent (or we evangelize feverishly) when we think about God doing the same. Why? Because His ways are greater than ours? Oh really. I believe that if God put a heart of love in us (because we are new creations and He told us to forgive 70 x 7) and we love people too much to roast them eternally, then so does God..because He/She is the one that gave me such a huge heart or love. That makes sense to me.
mmmm...Julie your UPI blog has really got me going today. I am sounding rather fanatical but this is such a huge deal. It is really huge when you look at the death and destruction that goes on in the name of religion these days and you look at the Hebrew God who condones eternal death for the simple fact of not believing in Him(some have tried 44 years to keep the faith-that's me- and some have never heard and some have to leave everything to believe or face death) and you can see why someone would think it's ok to kill for God's glory. God kills for His glory. Well, that doesn't make sense to me. So, I pray that there is GRACE, like Julie described, if there is a God. If there isn't a God then no one is going to roast. I hope for grace and Heaven...I really do.


Kansas Bob said...

Hi Susan,

I think that people see through religious agendas and are turned off to people who seek to make converts without really loving people. Why do people need to be lured to heaven or threatened with hell anyway? Why isn't love enough?


SusansPlace said...

Good question, Bob! I wish love was enough. However, the Holy Bible says it is not enough. Love isn't enough to cover everyone's takes love PLUS believing in Jesus to do that. If you don't believe, you don't pass go and in to Hell you are tossed.
That's the traditional fundamentalist version and why fundamentalist feel the need to talk about more than order to "rescue the perishing". It tis a viscious cycle. Alas, if it could only be about love. ;-)


Kansas Bob said...

When the scripture say the greatest is love I believe it means that love is pre-eminent to faith. You really can't believe, at a heart level, without love.

I didn't get this until I parted ways with my fundie past. Faith is of the heart (to be experienced)and not of the head (to be figured out).

julieunplugged said...

Bob, I think what Susan is saying and what I was saying is that the belief in hell, period, is hard to live with. So even sheeding the responsibility to have to win people to Christ isn't enough. The "fact" of hell's existence is troublesome. It makes it hard to trust God or love God or even to love on God's behalf.


Kansas Bob said...

Saying ...

"The "fact" of hell's existence is troublesome. It makes it hard to trust God or love God or even to love on God's behalf."

... puts us in a place of judgment. It is like a teenager telling a parent that they know better ... and to the teen it may appear that way.

I think that hell is problematic for some because we suppose that we understand the criteria for entrance based on our fundamentalist type thinking.

Here is another question for you all:

Is it valid to imprison a 16 year old for life just because 12 jurors say that he is deserving of such a fate?

Regardless of your answer you have to admit that you did not have the information that the jury had and cannot make an informed decision.

I think that, in the same way, we just do not have enough information to pass judgment on God based on our limited understanding of heaven and hell.


Dave said...

I've held back from commenting on this one. "Wrestling with Calvin"... Calvinism... such a vast topic, so close to the bone for me... a Calvin College grad living and working in the North American community that is arguably most strongly affected by his legacy than any other... Let me come to grips here...

First, I think that you might be careful about climbing into the ring with Calvin, given your present worldview. Ever heard the story of Michael Servetus?

"TULIP" - you hardly had to spell out the details for my sake... they were impressed upon me at an early moment in my post-conversion Christian education. But I know you have other readers who when they hear "Calvin" they think little kid with pet tiger. (Hey another tiger reference!)

So if I read you carefully enough and correctly (it was a struggle because so much of your column got my mind referring to thoughts and experiences of my own) you are saying that you initially rejected the Calvinist view of double-predestination and that your subsequent missionary work and other involvements were built on a free-will theology (some variant of Arminian or Wesleyan, perhaps?), or was this an on-going struggle back and forth? My basic question being, how much time have you spent living under the constraints of assent to Calvinist doctrine (God chooses some but not all and our job in sharing the gospel with unbelievers was to "call them out" into the salvation that they were predestined to receive accdg. to God's plan)?

Because that whole issue was really at the heart of my own mid-90's spiritual struggles that were heightened so acutely when the church I was involved with took a direct right turn to become more specifically Presbyterian and Calvinistic in its preaching and teaching.

The supreme irony in all this is that when I was a student at Calvin finishing up my bachelors degree at the age of 36, what I studied there played a huge role in helping me make the necessary shift in my own thinking, and ultimately led to me pulling away from formal Calvinist faith and worship! But I will always love and respect Calvin College for the role it played in my eventual enlightenment and liberation.

That's where I'm going to cut myself off now. Thanks Julie.

julieunplugged said...

Hi Dave.

Lol! I am sorry to have pushed so many buttons.

You must know from the years of reading me online that I am no fan of Calvin. Have never been. Won't be now. My comments about him in this column were a part of an ironic twist of thought that has developed in me over the years.

It is the sense that free will is conditioned. It is not "unfettered" and "free" to the degree that I hoped for it to be. That meant that even my missionary activity was limited and behind the eight ball before we even began it. What a dreadful discovery! That my hope that salvation could come to the lost would not come as easily as it ought, as unconditioned as it ought to if truly God were offering it to all.

I have never accepted the TULIP (it was spelled out by my editor for those who didn't know what it was). I still don't.

What I hoped to do in this column was to play with Calvin's concepts - to undermine and reinvent them (a bit of theological creativity, I suppose). If it is true that our wills are not free, then it is also an illusion that we choose or un-choose faith. We swim in a much larger sea than our wills.

If that sea is God, then the primary message that the reformation offered us: grace through faith, may in fact be true... Grace is what is unfettered and free.

We already know that faith is not free. It requires decisions, beliefs, actions, will. Yet how can it be a gift if it requires all of that?

The faith part is just one of the conditions in which grace exhibits itself, but faith is certainly not anything we can grasp or own or choose with our wills. I also don't think that we can be held accountable for losing faith either, then, because both are beyond our conscious control.

And it seems just perfectly wrong that God would choose some for faith and others for damnation. I think Calvin has this entirely wrong.

So please don't misunderstand me.

The reformed friends I have were the ones whose description of faith sent me down this journey of deconstruction seven years ago. I was so unsettled by Calvinism (which I repeatedly encountered throughout my years as a Christian), that I felt I finally had to settle the score in my soul.

And I've been working on that conundrum for seven years.

And tosay, this is how I did a little dance with my current impression of Calvin. :)


Carrie said...

Without heaven and hell, why do people need grace?

Can people refuse grace?


julieunplugged said...

Grace, to me, isn't about eternal destiny but about a quality of living in relationship. It's a sense of belonging, of being in a state of acceptance.

Heaven and hell, to me anyway, represent metaphors for how we experience this life (alienated, separated, isolated, outside - hell, or related, accepted, forgiven, belonging - heaven).

These are quick thoughts and not meant to be exhaustive. This is where I am today.

If there is application for the after life, fine by me. I just don't know if there is and can't live in that space (perhaps I'm too damaged frommy background).

Bob's point that we just don't know is part of it.


julieunplugged said...

Carrie, I should add that people do experience not having grace.... all the time. Are they choosing not to receive it? Back to our conundrum. Their conditions of life may cause them not to experience it.

That's where love from those who are experiencing it comes in. Being people who help those who can't help themselves enter into the grace that is there is what I think life ought to be about. Not winning them to a viewpoint, but entering wholly into their troubles and finding ways to foster experiences of grace (practically, emotionally, psychologically, educationally, monetarily, morally, ethically... whatever the need is).

To me, that would be heaven on earth and the Kingdom of God at last.


Vynette said...


"So, I pray that there is GRACE, like Julie described, if there is a God. If there isn't a God then no one is going to roast. I hope for grace and Heaven...I really do."

No need to worry, Susan. Church teachings about a literal place of eternal torment are based, not on the gospel of love preached by Jesus and the apostles, but rather on the need to keep the faithful in obedient thrall to a doctrinal system of rewards and punishments.

Gehenna, as used by Jesus, was a symbol for the spiritual horrors of isolation from the one, true God of Israel. That's all.