Since the blog “The Day I Became a Calvinist” is way too long, I thought that I would take a very good question concerning the tension that Calvinism allows andÂ post it along with my answer here. I guess it is Calvinism week here at Parchment and Pen!
Michael . . . Please explain the statement, “The point is that Calvinism is the only system that allows tension.”
How does Calvinism allow for tension? I am trying, I just cannot see it.
I do see both sides of the issue and really appreciate why people struggle and fall out on both sides trying very hard to stay true to the text. Yet, I still cannot understand how Calvinism allows for tension.
Calvinism is the only system that can allow for tension. I am not saying that all Calvinists do. Some, for example, will deny God’s universal love to resolve the tension concerning God’s love and His unconditional election. But the most respectable Calvinists that I know of do not.
Arminianism, as a theological system, solves the tension once and for all by saying that God loves everyone, therefore, He could not have unconditionally elected only some. For this reason, they will define election in a conditional sense. He must have elected all “in Christ” or His election must be based upon foreknowledge. Either way, conditional election is a necessary part of the Arminian system. Therefore, tension does not exist.
My point is that Calvinism does not have this “problem.” It is important to understand that a denial of God’s universal love is not a necessary component of Calvinism (even though some do). Neither is a denial of universal atonement. One can be a Calvinist and believe that Christ’s atonement has universal application, whether it be ontological (four point Calvinists), potential (Calvin himself), or some nuanced practical (John Piper).
In the end, you can be a Calvinist who affirms both unconditional election and God’s universal love, atonement, and desire for none to be lost. I know it sounds contradictory, but this is my point. Calvinism allows for this tension. John Piper, Tom Schriener, and Michael Horton, and other contemporary Calvinists, including myself, believe that God loves all people, does not want any to perish, but has only elected some. We must live with this tension.
Tension does not make the view right, but it does evidence, to me, exegetical integrity. It is like text criticism. When people are comparing manuscripts that don’t agree, the temptation is to go with the reading that resolves any tension. But good text critics know that this lacks integrity. That is why one of the basic principles of text criticism is “The harder reading is usually the best.” Usually is the key word. While Calvinism allows for “the harder interpretation,” it does not mean that it is the correct one. But one must take this into consideration.
Arminians, because of their absolute and necessary denial of unconditional individual election, have alleviated their system of such problems. In other words, they go with the reading that resolves any apparent conflict—theological or emotional. My own thoughts are that their system is, to some degree, as it is defended today, a product of the enlightenment. Why? Because they can’t live with the unresolved tension. Either God loves all people and has conditionally elected everyone, or God does not love all people and has only unconditionally elected those He loves.
It is the same thing with Jehovah’s Witnesses with regards to the doctrine of the Trinity (although, not the same level with regards to orthodoxy). JWs cannot live with the tension of their being one God and three persons. Therefore, they deny the persons to resolve this tension. The problem is that they have to deny clear biblical teaching to do so.
There are five main things that I think serve as illustrations as to how I believe the Christian faith, properly grounded in Scripture, must live with tension (though not contradiction):
1. Creation ex nihilo (out of nothing). How can something come from nothing?
2. Trinity. How can God be one and three?
3. Incarnation. How can an eternal timeless God become man?
3. Hypostatic Union. How can one person have two complete natures, God and man?
3. Election. How can God have elected only some but love all?
Each time these issues are resolved, I believe that more than likely you have embraced a false doctrine of some sort and to some degree. Therefore, don’t try to resolve it. Just live with the tension.