I am a child of Western thought. Therefore, I like to figure things out. If possible, I like to figure it all out. This causes problems between me and God sometimes, and I need to deal with it better. Sometimes I only really follow or engage with God when I get it. When things make sense to me, my intellectual anxiety is eased and my will can engage. Who? What? Where? How? and especially Why?

Attempting to Look God Eye to Eye

Theological gurus call this “cataphatic” theology. Cataphatic theology emphasizes God’s revelation and our understanding of it. Taken to an extreme, we can find ourselves in the arrogantly awkward position of, as A. W. Tozer put it, “trying to look God eye to eye” (reference needed). When we have to understand everything, we attempt to trade our finitude for infinitude.

Accepting Mystery as a Primary Epistemic Category

And this should scare us to death. We need a healthy dose of “apophatic” theology. This emphasizes mystery. Our Eastern brothers and sisters normally get this better than we do. They are content without publishing a new theology book every year. They don’t normally write papers to explain the mysteries of the world, form societies to discuss the nuances of our faith, or engage in excessive arguments. For these, accepting mystery is their primary epistemic category.

The Dangers of Both Apophadic and Cataphatic Theology

I don’t mean to characterize either people from the east or the west. Of course, so far, I’ve spoken in generalities. Each of these characteristics, taken to extremes, can lead to down a dark path. Apophadic theology can lead to unexamined faith, where people know what they believe but they have no idea why. And God did go through a lot of trouble to explain quite a bit of himself to us. Cataphatic theology can lead to arrogence and mischaracterization as we force pieces of our theological puzzle in places they don’t belong or we introduce foreign pieces to the puzzle to make it fit together.

Finding Balance in the Secret Things and the Things Revealed

Deuteronomy 29:29:

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

While there are secret things that belong to the Lord (apophatic), the things revealed belong to us (cataphatic). We need balance. We need a cool yet passionate head about us. We need to hold some theological ropes very tightly, but we need to loosen our grip on others. There is quite a bit that we can know about God, but there are so many things that we don’t get and we will never get.

My Intent so Far

Why all of this? Because I am going to talk about something that is very divisive in the Christian life. And, for the most part, I am going to try to encourage some of my Western brothers and sisters to take a cue from my Eastern brothers and sisters, step down off the stool, and quit trying to look God eye to eye. I am going to encourage us to allow some tension in a very debated issue in Protestant Christianity.

Calvinism- Closed System?

Calvinism is not a closed, rationality-based system. I am a Calvinist. It is funny. I often hear people talk about Calvinism as a closed box system that forces everything to fall in line, even when we have to sacrifice biblical integrity to do so. I often hear the accusation that Calvinism is a system that makes rationality its primary goal. And this is sometimes true. Often, Calvinists do attempt to fit things into a system and engage in questionable, logic-driven hermeneutics to do so.

The Tension Allowed in Calvinism

However, I think we need to take a step back and see that while the shoe fits when it comes to some particular issues in Calvinism, these accusations are far from forming the bedrock of the primary issues in Calvinism. You see, one of the many reasons I am a Calvinist has to do with the tension that is allowed within the Calvinistic system that is not allowed in other systems.

The Central Issue

Calvinism centers on one primary doctrine: God’s sovereignty in predestination. While the general doctrine the sovereignty of God has its place, it does not ultimately determine where one lands. An Arminian can believe that God is sovereign to a similar degree as a Calvinist. But an Arminian cannot believe in unconditional election in the same way as a Calvinist.

Both Calvinists and Arminians believe in predestination. In other words, whether or not God predestines people is not the issue. All Bible-believing Christians believe this doctrine. The issue has to do with the basis of this predestining.

Calvinist’s View of Election

The Calvinist says that God’s predestination is individual and unconditional. God did not choose people based on any merit, intrinsic or foreseen. This is called unconditional predestination, because there are no conditions man needs to meet. It does not mean that God did not have any reason for choosing some and not others. Election is not arbitrary. It is not a flip of the coin. It is simply that His reason is not found in us. It is his “secret” and “mysterious” will that elects some and passes over others. Once one believe this, for all intents and purposes, whether he or she calls themselves such, they are in the Calvinist camp.

The Arminian View of Election

The Arminian says that God’s predestination is conditioned in us. God elects either the person who chooses Him, Christ Himself, the Gospel, or the best possible world. All of these are options. In the end, his election is actionable, ultimately, because the faith of the predestined. For the majority of Arminians, here is how it works: God looks ahead in time, discovers who will believe and who will not, and then chooses people based on their prior free-will choice of Him. Therefore, God’s predestination of people is “fair” and makes sense. After all, there are too many questions left unanswered when one says that God chooses who will be saved and who will not. Why did he choose some and not others? Did God make people to go to hell? Is God fair? “Why does he still find fault, for who resists his will?”

Book Recommendation: Against Calvinism

The Arminian Solution

The Arminian chooses this position because, for them, it is the only way to reconcile human freedom and God’s election. Both are clearly taught in Scripture. Therefore, in order to have a reasonable and consistent theology, one or the other must be altered. If God unconditionally chooses individuals, then people don’t have responsibility in their choice, good or ill. Therefore, in order to make things fit, the Arminian defines (re)divine election or predestination in such a way to make it fit with their understanding of human libertarian freedom. The Arminian says that God’s choice is based on man’s choice. Alternatively, as I said, they say God’s choice is for something else like Christ, the Gospel, the Church, the best possible world (it gets confusing, I know).

Therefore, we have achieved consistency. The tension is solved. There is no tension. No mystery. Cataphatic theology trumps what seems to be an apophatic mystery. The “secret things are exposed. We have looked behind the curtain of God.

The Calvinist Solution

However, the Calvinist is not satisfied with a redefining of God’s election to make it fit. To the Calvinists, man is fully responsible for his choice, yet God’s election is unconditional. This creates a problem. It creates great tension. For the Calvinist, this tension cannot, and should not, be solved (although, some, unfortunately, do).

So how does the Calvinist live with this? How does the Calvinist answer the Why? questions? “Why does God choose some and not others? Why does he still find fault?” What is the Calvinist answer to the How? question? “How can there be true freedom when God is sovereignly in charge of election of individuals?” We have no answer. We have an option that the Arminians don’t. We can get off our stool and stop trying to look God eye-to-eye. We can and should punt to apophatic theology. The tension is left intact. We place our hand over our mouth here and say, “Though we have no answers to why God did not choose people he truly loves and how people are truly   responsible for their rejection of him, we will trust that His gavel is just.” We will redefine neither divine election nor human responsibility to make them fit a more rational or logical system.

Revelation Over Reason

While there is nothing wrong with using one’s reason to understand truth, there are problems when reason takes priority over revelation. If the Bible teaches both human freedom and sovereign election, we leave the two intact. If the Bible teaches that God loves everyone more than we can imagine and that God desires all to be saved, yet He does not elect some, we trust God’s word and live with unanswered questions. These two issues, human responsibility and sovereign election, are not contradictory when put together, but they are a mystery.

Tweet “Calvinists will redefine neither divine election nor human freedom to make them fit a more rational system. ”

This is one of the mistakes I believe the Arminian system of conditional election/predestination makes. There is no need to solve all tensions, especially when the solution comes at the expense of one’s interpretive integrity.

The Mystery of Divine Election

There are many tensions in Scripture. There are many things that, while not formally irrational, just don’t make sense. The doctrine of the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union, and creation out of nothing all fit this category. All of these are beyond our ability to comprehend. Once we smush them into a rational box and tell ourselves we have figured them out, we have entered into hererodoxy (I do not believe the Arminian view is heretical in the proper sense).

The issue of human freedom and unconditional election is in the same apophatic domain. We can’t make sense out of them and once we do, we have entered into error. There are many things God reveals that confuse us and baffle our thinking. They seem irrational. Yet we find God saying, “Chill. Just trust me. I’ve got this under control. While I have revealed a lot and I know you have a lot of questions, this is a test of trust. I love everyone but I did not elect everyone. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Will you trust me or will you redefine things?”

Book Recommendation: For Calvinism

Putting it all Together

God’s sovereign unconditional election can stand side-by-side with man’s responsibility without creating a formal contradiction. We may not know how to reconcile these two issues, but that does not mean God does not know how. Their co-existence does not take away from their collective truthfulness.

Tweet “God’s sovereign unconditional election can stand side-by-side with man’s responsibility without creating a formal contradiction.”

I believe that the Arminian system sacrifices biblical integrity for the sake of understanding and doctrinal harmony. The Calvinistic system allows tension and mysteries to abide for the sake of Biblical fidelity.

As I said before, I have had people say to me (often) that they are not Calvinists because the system attempts to be too systematic with all its points for the sake of the system itself. I think it is just the opposite. The Calvinistic system creates more tensions than it solves, but seeks to remain faithful to God’s word rather than human understanding. I think it is a good illustration of how West meets East. Revelation meets mystery. Cataphatic theology meets apophatic theology. While Calvinism is not formally irrational, it is emotionally irrational. I get that. But I think we need to take both pills.

Now, I must admit. I am confused as to why most of the “progressive” Evangelicals I know are more attracted to the rationalistic approach of the Arminians than the mystery-filled approach of the Calvinists. While Calvinism is not irrational in the former sense, it does cause tension as it recognize God’s ineffibility in the doctrine of election.

Let the assault begin . . .

Course Recommendation: The Theology Program Soteriology

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    502 replies to "The Irrationality of Calvinism"

    • Here is a fair quick overview of Pelagius…

      I have read several of Gerald Bonner books here, as well as one I liked by BR Rees: Pelagius, A Reluctant Heretic. (Woodbridge, Boydell Press, 1988) Of course I am an Augustinian! 😉

      @Wesley: It appears you are an EO?

    • JB Chappell

      @Fr. Robert

      -“Indeed the biblical doctrine of God demands both God’s Transcendence and Immanence!”-


      -“And both the terms ‘transcendent’ and ‘immanent’ are relative to the created world, God is transcendent ‘to it’ and immanent ‘in it’.”-

      Herein lies the conundrum. Is rationality part of the “created world”, or is it part of His nature? Those claiming that God is “trans-” or “SUPER-” logical would seemingly be referring to rationality as part of the created world. As such, God transcends it.

      This may be true, no question. However, the more people use this claim, the more I am convinced that they don’t appreciate where it leads. For instance, most people would claim that God cannot do nonsense. It is part of a lot of theodicies, in fact. God cannot prevent all evils while allowing for free will, cannot create a stone heavier than He can lift, etc. None of this is true if God can transcend reason. If God can transcend reason, then there is no reason to say that God cannot do anything. God can square a circle, for instance. He can even violate His own nature.

      So, while acknowledging that the “trans-rational” God is a possibility, it seems to me obvious that rationality is a part of the created order, whether by His nature or choice. As such, it can tell me things about Him. It is not as clear that “trans-rationality” is part of the created world, and so if we are going to appeal to it, we would need adequate justification, and then be consistent with this idea. Not many are, as so many would prefer instead to follow reason wherever it leads, until it leads to ideas that are inconsistent/contradictory, then they appeal to the principle of “trans-rationality”. In other words, they like to cherry pick.

    • JB Chappell


      -“Here we have an Ariminian claiming that I believe that God can do literally anything and still be the God of the scriptures.”-

      Please point out where I said this.

      -“Yet he then turns around and declares that God can damn righteous men to eternal perdition out of pure caprice.”-

      Again, please demonstrate your claims. Where have I said this?

      -“… aghast at the very thought of a God who condemns where there is no sin.”-

      You appear to have me confused with someone who claimed this actually happens. I have not done so. You asked me whether God would damn a sinless man. I said God has no obligation to show such a man mercy. Do you disagree?

      Likewise, I said that God has no obligation to torture such a man for eternity. Do you disagree?

      I then stated that I could offer you my own opinions on what a “good” God would so or what scripture says God does, but passed. You seem to have taken quite a bit of liberty with what I have said.

    • @JB: I cannot get to the depth of this great issue here on a Blog. But, in more modern thought one should look at the great debate between Emil Brunner and Karl Barth. The issue of so-called Natural Theology! Btw, WIPF and Stock has a book: Natural Theology, with letters or replies from both: Brunner and Barth. There is also a fine book by Stephen Grabill: Rediscovering The Natural Law In Reformed Theoligical Ethics, Eerdmans, 2006.

      Myself, I tend more toward John Calvin himself, which Brunner comes somewhat close, but too Barth does have some high ground here! See btw, an old classic by THL Parker: Calvin’s Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, (my copy is an old 1959 revised edition, 1959). A grand book!

    • *That latter book is also Eerdmans.

    • And btw, I could argue the Wesley brothers all day long as closer to Calvin & Luther, noting just John Wesley’s Journal itself! Here I speak more towards their agreement with the Reformers as to Justification. The Wesley’s were Anglican Protestants!

      I have many old sweet books on the Theology of the Wesley brothers! One of my favorites is by an American Methodist scholar: Dr. William Ragsdale Cannon…The Theology of John Wesley, etc. (Abingdon, 1946). Cannon was one time dean of Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

    • S. Wesley Mcgranor

      Greg, we inherited the sin of Adam. Although it was not a sin as you, or i would make autonomously. Original Sin was collective; on behalf of all of mankind. It is the only time that mankind will inherit such a thing. After that one must sin either by himself, or with another; in order to receive sin’s penalty.
      You might be an Emergent, or just curious. I was raised non-denominational, and i seen the corruption of the institutional churches. However, i do not want them to wither, i want them to be renewed.

    • Rick

      No, the God of the Bible cannot damn a man in whom there is no sin – He would cease to be just and cease to be God.

    • Rick

      Not sure what those warnings were about so reposting. No, the God of the Bible cannot damn a man in whom there is no sin – He would cease to be just and cease to be God.

    • JB Chappell


      -“Can the God of the bible damn a man in whom there is no sin? Not WILL he, but CAN he?”-

      The God of the Bible is “good”. A problem exists here, however, in that the Bible does not express very clearly WHY God is good. Does He simply “know” what is good & evil, as in Genesis 3:22, or is whatever He does simply “good” by definition (which is, unfortunately, how too many portray it)? This is obviously Euthyphro’s dilemma.

      To “split the horns” of the dilemma, it is said that God’s *nature* is ” perfectly good” or even “goodness itself”. Therefore, there is neither an external standard that God needs to adhere to (avoiding the first horn), nor is God’s goodness completely arbitrary (avoiding the second horn). There are a few problems with this: 1) while God being “good” is scriptural, the idea that His nature is “goodness itself” is not supported by any scripture (that I know of) and 2) while technically avoiding the horns of the dilemma, it still amounts to whatever God does, is “good” by definition – IF He cannot violate His own nature – and 3) we still only know “good” by revelation and/or intuition.

      So, if we grant the following:

      – God’s nature is perfectly good
      – God cannot violate His own nature
      – God’s goodness approximates my own understanding of “good”

      THEN I would say that *NO*, God cannot torture a morally blameless man for eternity. Such a notion is simply incompatible with “goodness” as I know it. But therein lies the problem. Is there any reason to believe that our moral intuition is an accurate reflection of God’s character?

      There is an additional problem: the 2nd premise above hinges on God being rational by nature. If God is “trans-rational”, then there is no reason to think that God CANNOT violate His own nature. Of course, it may still be that He *would not*. But that is not what you asked me.

      BTW, Greg I have no problem answering your Socratic questions. However, it would be nice…

    • JB Chappell

      … if you reciprocated. (sorry, got cut off).

    • S. Wesley Mcgranor

      Pardon me Greg, i have been reading rather loosely. I am glad you have bias for the Emergent.
      I would like to add that God is the head of reason. If you are curious as to if he truly is; then ask him.

    • JB Chappell

      @John & Greg

      -“Actually that question was to JB John LOL!!”-

      Couldn’t help thinking this was a Godfather III moment for John…

      “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in!”

      • John

        “Couldn’t help thinking this was a Godfather III moment for John”

        LOL, it’s worse than that. Some other guy is posting as “John” on another thread, and Greg is saying “finally, John we agree on something”. I don’t have the heart to tell him and get dragged in there.

    • JB Chappell


      -“JB go ahead n ask. The next one is all yours. I will answer as best I can.”-

      I was referring mostly to questions you have left unanswered. If you look back, I ask you numerous questions in my replies, and you consistently fail to answer them, and instead respond with a question of your own. It is not out of bounds to respond with additional questions, but it does seem courteous to at least address the questions asked of you as well.

    • Rick

      Even though it was by imputation that Christ had to be made sin; nevertheless, He who knew no sin had to be made sin in order for salvation by substitution to be just – which at the cross it seems like an innocent One was condemned (yet He had to be made sin for God to be just).

    • JB Chappell


      -“Scripture REPORTS boundaries on what God can and cannot do by virtue of His nature either requiring or preventing it.”-

      Please provide an example of scripture reporting something cannot do, or reporting something God’s nature requires.

      -“You have serious problems with the authority of God…”-

      Ha! That is laughable. Because I disagree with you, I have problems with God’s authority? Don’t put yourself on too high a pedestal, bro.

      -“… and His Word JB.”-

      Ah, well that depends on what you mean by “His Word”. If by that you mean “the Protestant Bible”, then it is true that I do not share the same “high” view of scripture that evangelicals do. However, I am perfectly willing to carry on a conversation with scripture being authoritative, so that isn’t the problem here.

      -“Are you actually telling the people here that God is not good…?”-  

      Here is where you failing to answer my questions rears its ugly head again. Instead of actually addressing what I actually wrote, you are taking too many liberties by reading (waaaaay too much) into it. When have I said God isn’t good?

      -“I don’t care what problems the pagan philosophers of the world have wrestled with in this sense.”-

      Who’s talking about pagan philosophers? Not me. I’m referring to your brothers and sisters in Christ. There is a philosophical difference between character and nature. Scripture is clear on the character of God, silent on His nature. You extrapolate from one to the other, in another example of reading too much into things.

      -“Please give me one of your questions that you prefer so I can answer it.”-

      Again, I have already asked you several questions and you’ve addressed none of them, much less answer them.

    • JB Chappell


      -“I’m saying without assuming the God of the bible first neither you nor any other created being can ask any question at all.”-

      This makes no sense at all. I’m fairly certain that there are some aboriginal tribes who have never heard of “the God of the Bible”, and yet they are perfectly capable of asking questions. So, either you accept that the presumption of YHWH is unnecessary, or you accept that they are, in fact, presuming YHWH – and so I suppose don’t need the gospel.

      -“You would neither exist nor be endowed with the intellectual equipment to be aware of 2+2 equaling 4.”-

      If God doesn’t exist, then presumably this is all true. But that doesn’t mean that we need to assume God’s existence to make thought possible. These are two unrelated ideas. Assuming God’s existence does not make my brain “go”.

      -“We REQUIRE by necessity of created finitude that we begin with a first principle that IN AND BY OURSELVES is unprovable and yet can account for our knowledge of ANYTHING whatever.”-

      Let me translate the jargon here, and tell me if I have faithfully captured the essence of what you mean: “Because we are finite, we need to assume an unprovable first principle that is capable of accounting for all knowledge.”

      What should be obvious is that the dependent clause does not follow from the conditional. In other words, simply because we are finite does not mean we *need* to assume anything, much less ONE thing that can account for everything. It would be equally valid to simply say “Because we are finite beings, our knowledge-gaining efforts are limited”.

    • JB Chappell


      -“You have thus far preached to me the false gospel of pure pagan skepticism…”-

      Is this to be distinguished from Christian skepticism, or is all skepticism “pagan”? Because I’m fairly certain that it is not wrong to doubt. You seem to be very skeptical of what I say, for example.

      -“…centered on yourself as the final arbiter what can and cannot be known…”-

      Not sure what you mean by this. Clearly, I am not the final arbiter of what can be known and what cannot, because there are plenty of people that know things that I do not. That I do not know something is hardly grounds for believing it cannot be known. Furthermore, that I don’t think things can be known with absolute certainty does not mean that I think we cannot know anything at all. Knowledge does not require certainty.

      -“… and what is and is not good.”-

      “Good” is a flexible word. I know what things seem “good” to me, but I would hardly assume that they are all “good” to you. I do not deny that there is an “objective good” or standard in God whereby we can compare our own conceptions. However, it is clear that we do so in a subjective way (otherwise we’d all agree).

      -“Do you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, eternally begotten Son of the eternal Father God fully, and alone for your escape from eternal damnation? Yes or no?”-

      Yes. See, Greg, that is what we call “answering a question”. (<– and that is what is called a "hint"). It is interesting that you use the word "trust", however. Do you know why?

      -"That is a serious question because what you are espousing is not Arminian Christianity. it is as I say, pure skeptical unbelief."-

      I've never claimed to be an Arminian, have I? I just don't agree with Calvinism (at least not fully). In any case, you need to specify how I am advocating for "unbelief". "Uncertainty" does not equate to "unbelief".

    • JB Chappell

      @Tiribulus (Greg)

      -“Yes all skepticism is pagan”-

      Then perhaps defining what you mean by this term would help. I think it is obviously not, as scripture teaches to doubt/question certain things, you obviously doubt/question certain things (old-earth creationism, for example), etc. So I assume you must mean something other than “doubting or questioning things”. The dictionary definition is:

      —A doubting or questioning attitude or state of mind; dubiety. See Synonyms at “uncertainty”.—

      A questioning attitude seems very consistent with “test everything”.

      -“uncertainty most definitely IS unbelief.”

      With “uncertainty” simply being defined as “the state of being uncertain” (thanks, dictionary), here is what “uncertain” means:

      1. Not known or established; questionable: domestic changes of great if uncertain consequences.
      2. Not determined; undecided: uncertain plans.
      3. Not having sure knowledge: an uncertain recollection of the sequence of events.

      As opposed to “unbelief”:

      —incredulity or skepticism especially in matters of religious faith—

      For good measure, “incredulous” is defined as:

      —unwilling to admit or accept what is offered as true : not credulous : skeptical—

      From this, it should be quite clear that “skepticism” is much more related to “unbelief” than “uncertainty” is, but nevertheless none are the same. If you consider them to be, it is because you define them differently, and I think it is important for you to articulate how this is so.

      -“Are you Catholic JB?”-

      Roman Catholic? No. My mom’s whole family was RC and from “the North”, and my dad’s whole family was Baptist and from “the South”. As you might imagine, they had to meet in the middle. They started with a Methodist Church, but evolved quite a bit. You name the denomination, I’ve probably been in one of their churches. Currently I attend a non-denominational church (with Baptist ties).

    • JB Chappell

      @Tiribulus (Greg)

      -“I don’t care about dictionary definitions”-

      I suspected as much, but if you don’t hold to accepted definitions, then you need to explain what you mean. An entire Wikipedia entry discussing numerous different iterations of philosophical skepticism doesn’t help much, I’m afraid.

    • JB Chappell

      @Tiribulus (Greg)

      -“In this commitment to live in surrender to my beautiful Lord Creator, it is my great joy and privilege to allow HIM to tell ME how and what to think.”-

      And how do you know when God is telling you something, as opposed to your own mind, or the Devil?

      -“The living Word in my heart testifies to the written Word in my hand that it IS the Word of almighty God.”-

      If you remember a while back, I asked you how your argument boiled down to anything more than a subjective experience (another question you ignored). It seems relevant to ask again.

      -“They invariably simply agree with you guys who say you believe in the same God I do. They and you declare that NOTHING can REALLY be known at all. That IS skepticism.”-

      No, that is not skepticism. Simply declaring it to be so, does not make it so Greg. What you describe is a VERY specific form of skepticism known as “academic skepticism”. And before you get excited and think that you get to declare all scholars as pagans, the “academic” here refers to a specific Greek philosophical school of thought. No doubt there are some today who would hold to it, but again, it is not my contention that “nothing can be known”. I believe in knowledge, and that we can attain it. But I hold that knowledge does not require certainty, and that the knowledge we have is provisional (always subject to more/better information).

      • John

        @Greg “”The living Word in my heart testifies to the written Word in my hand that it IS the Word of almighty God.”

        I think I know what’s going on here Greg. You’re a mystical Christian! The experience in your heart is the foundation of your faith. I think I suggested that a while back, but you ignored it and kept going on about 2+2. I don’t have a problem with mysticism either. In fact, Christianity differs from other religions in that it is based on a personal experience of the incarnate God. chrisitianity is the mystical religion, par excellence.

        The problem Greg, is you are wrapping up a very mystical viewpoint in a scholastic wrapping paper by talking about 2+2 and certainty. Yes, mystical people are certain, but not in the scholastic sense of 2+2. That’s why I think you are getting everyone confused. My suggestion is to embrace the fact you are a mystical Christian and drop this 2+2 stuff. Express your mysticism in the traditional way.

    • […] Michael Patton on the Irrationality of Calvinism. […]

    • Proper Biblical Theology always includes epistemology, and the approach of proper biblical mystery. Btw, just a note, but John Calvin’s writings are full of his understanding of God’s “mysteria fidel”: the mysteries of the faith, these doctines known by revelation that transcend the grasp of reason. Calvin loves God’s mystery and great transcendence.. Sensus Mysticus!

    • kelton

      @ John:
      That might apply to very basic programming, but more sophisticated programming can choose means to achieve a particular outcome. Not just do x y z without prior evaluating outcome.

      Response: Sorry, I had a very busy week at work. But what you’ve written is different than intent. What you’ve rendered here is more of how a computer can solve a problem of sorts. Intentions are willful desires to act in a certain way, that takes place in the mind. Computers don’t intend on doing anything, they just do whatever they are programmed to do. Our intentions are deep inside of us to act in a manner that we decide.

      • John

        @kelton ” Intentions are willful desires to act in a certain way, that takes place in the mind. Computers don’t intend on doing anything, they just do whatever they are programmed to do. Our intentions are deep inside of us to act in a manner that we decide.”

        LOL, you are the Calvinist, and I am not, right?

        So these “intentions” that “we decide”, they are not because of an external “programmer”, they come from the force of self alone, is that right? They are not because of the structure of our mind, our genetics or environment?

    • JB Chappell


      -“The only thing that’s certain is KNOWING HIM. Not just ABOUT Him.”-

      I’m confused again. I thought 2+2=4 was certain? And please explain how one can know someone for certain without knowing anything about them for certain.

      -“Imagine a computer where most of the apps refuse to acknowledge their dependency on the certain operation of the OS.”-

      Well, such programs would be fatally flawed indeed. In fact, I’d say they were in need of a “savior” – someone who could fix the code.

      -“I’m sayin “look here folks, we DO live in this operating system and we ARE enslaved to it to function at all.”-

      I’m not completely following the analogy here, to be honest. If you are saying that we are “enslaved” to the OS that God has programmed, then fine. The question is who wrote the software; or more importantly, who broke the software? The Calvinist would have us believe that God wrote all of it, but it somehow is still the program’s fault for breaking. How dare that program have faulty code!

      -“What’s disturbing is the ones who DO say they believe in the creator designer, yet go about acting as if THEY are in a position to question the operating system…”-

      Please explain what the alternative is. We are in a position to ask questions. We have the ability to ask questions. Should we refrain? If any program, whether it be trojan or not, inputs “Word of God” is the program obliged to “accept”? Or would it be better to run some malware checks – especially knowing the software has vulnerabilities?

      -“There is only ONE who is NOT in this OS and who is therefore NOT subject to it though He designed built and operates it all. Guess who that is?”-

      If you believe that God built/programmed according to His nature, and therefore His works are a reflection of such, then this claim becomes problematic. God is not “subject” to His own works, but if there is dissonance between what He has done and who He is, then this is worth investigating,…

    • JB Chappell

      @Tiribulus (Greg)

      -“And yessir , it is God”s eternal decree that your mind be thus locked.”-

      Well, according to Calvinism anyway.

      -“And yes further sir, that is YOUR problem LOL!!”-

      Yes, because what could be more “good” than decreeing someone’s mind be locked, then roasting them aflame for all eternity because of it! The sulfury smell of God’s burning wrath wafting up to Heaven will provide others with such a deep-seated appreciation that they were spared such a fate. An appreciation, of course, they were programmed to accept.

      -“I tell you the truth in Christ.”-

      No offense, Greg, but a cursory examination of Christ’s teaching will reveal not much favorable to Calvinism, which pretty much is rooted in Romans 8-9 (and/or Van Til, apparently), through which the rest of scripture is filtered. And, it cheapens the word “truth” to simply water it down to mean whatever a subjective experience tells you. Subjective is, by definition, applicable only to you. So, by “truth”, you must only mean “true for Greg”. Unless that is just another “mystery” I need to (mindlessly) accept

      -“Nothing is more natural for me than to simply accept .”-

      It is natural to accept what our senses tell us, I admit. That is why it is so difficult for hallucinators to accept that what they perceive isn’t real. But, of course, I would think even you would admit that our senses are not “certain” – they are easily deceived.

      Accept WHAT, Greg? That is the question. Mindlessly accepting whatever your subjective experiences tell you is different than a schizophrenic mindlessly following the voices in his head, how…? How is that “test(ing) everything”…?

    • JB Chappell

      @Tiribulus (Greg)

      -“…we are nonetheless commanded to “KNOW” by faith is quite disconcerting”-

      Can you please cite an example of Christians being commanded to “KNOW” something *by faith*?

    • JB Chappell

      Greg, you seem to write well enough, do I’m going to assume you’re not ignorant of basic English grammar rules. The content I asked for is obviously lacking in English. Is there a command in Hebrew here that I’m not aware of?

    • JB Chappell

      Closer Greg, but there’s no command to *know* anything, only believe.

    • JB Chappell

      @Tiribulus (Greg)

      -“You are not certain whether God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth? Is that right?”-

      That is correct. But I believe it.

      -“The demons know more than you do?”-

      Why shouldn’t they?

      And, of course, none of this is relevant to whether or not the Bible contains a command to know things through faith. It was a simple request, Greg: where is such a command? (hint: it isn’t there).

      Here’s an interesting, and relevant, anecdote for you: Some LDS folks dropped by my house the other day to proclaim their message. I generally try to be courteous, so I invite them in, offer them a drink, etc. I listen to what they have to say, and engage them in conversation. I make it a point to say that there’s simply no good evidence to suggest that any of the Mormon-specific claims they tout are true.

      Do you know what their response is?

      It’s that we are talking about GOD’S WORD, here. I just need to read it, and I’ll get a warm fuzzy feeling that tells me it’s true. (Or not, if I’m pre-destined not to I suppose – but we didn’t get into that). This is, apparently, called “faith”.

      So, facing the cold hard facts that there really aren’t any good reasons to believe what they do, their fall-back is consistently their existential experience. Of course, I cannot deny them their experience; I have no reason to believe that they are lying about their warm fuzzies. I have every reason to believe that warm fuzzies are no basis for believing anything. But by removing evidence from the equation, they hang themselves by their own petard. I cannot disprove their claims via evidence (or so they think)… but neither can they offer anything to convince.

      This is the problem you are having. Every significant claim you offer is unsupported. You would claim this is OK, because we are simply supposed to accept God’s Word. But when faced with the nagging question: “Did God really say that?”, you can offer nothing but warm…

    • JB Chappell

      @Tiribulus (Greg)

      … fuzzies.

      Again, I ask you: how is your approach different than a schizophrenic who follows the voices in his head? How is your approach different than the Mormons?

    • JB Chappell

      @Tiribulus (Greg)

      -“And every atheistic skeptic I’ve debated in the last 20 years believes EXACTLY as you do . Now what?”-

      It’s a fair point. My approach does have much in common with many, if not most, atheists. Obviously, they don’t believe *exactly* as I do, however. The difference, of course, is that there is a demonstrable track record with evidentialism (or whatever you want to call it), which both theists and atheists recognize, whereas the track record of your approach is… ?

      -“BTW, Mormon’s aren’t supposed to drink alcohol and they most assuredly will NEVER do so publicly while on their mission.”-

      Geez, dude, “drink” can just mean some water or soda. Lighten up.

      -“… I know all about their testimony of the “burning in the bosom”. It has nothing whatsoever to do with anything I’m talking about.”-

      Then you need to explain the difference. I have asked you to do so several times now, and it seems rather UNcoincidental that you have avoided doing so.

      -“I’m reporting God’s truth.”-

      Mormons say the same thing, based on the same reasoning. How am I supposed to know who’s right? Is the warmier, fuzzier feeling more correct?

      -“…a mentally deranged person is entertaining delusions that exist only in their own defective mind. “-

      And how do you know some of your subjective experiences aren’t delusions? Because your subjective experiences tell you so?

      -“To deny the certainty of the creator God when the apostle flatly declares that “His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen…”-

      Again, please feel free to let me know how one “clearly sees” God’s eternal power. Or divine nature. We’ve been over this already: it’s “clearly” a figure of speech – another point, by the way, that you neglected to address. Paul’s point isn’t that we are, or need to be, certain of anything, but that God has revealed enough of Himself so that people are without excuse.

    • JB Chappell

      @Tiribulus (Greg)

      -“That prayer would naturally flow from the humanistic doctrine you have been vainly attempting to knit with the Word of Almighty God.”-

      Yes, that crazy “humanist” doctrine that is nowhere to be found in the Bible… oh, except when it refers to people as “blameless” and “righteous”, etc. Regardless, that prayer would only be uttered by someone who misunderstands pretty much everything I’ve said. Let’s take it from the top:

      -“Oh Lord I’m not actually sure you’re really there and have no more certainty concerning your word than an LDS heretic or mental defective….”-

      Unfortunately, you’ve mistaken your own position with mine. See, you are just as certain of “God’s Word” as a Mormon, Muslim, etc., and just as certain of your own subjective experiences as someone with hallucinations might be. The problem is, that for someone who would be on the outside looking in, would have no way to distinguish who may be more right or wrong based on anything you’ve said.

      -“… I thank you for my glorious free will whereby I have clearly chosen better than my wretched neighbor who not being as wise and righteous as I remains in his sin”-

      Why would I thank God for my choices? I would thank God for circumstances/opportunities that might influence choices. In any case, if it’s not possible to make choices more wise than other choices, why is wisdom so emphasized in scripture I wonder…?

      • John

        Greg: let’s say for the sake of argument that general revelation tells us there is a god, and he makes 2+2=4. That doesn’t actually get you far does it? To find out what God says you will have to make choices about what if anything is his word. At that point you have to retreat to either evidentialism or warm fuzzies. Wouldn’t you agree?

    • John I.

      I propose: “Tiribulus is delusional and so we have no reason to believe what he says.”

      Tiribulus cannot provide any acceptable reasons for us (i.e., those who disagree with him) to believe that what he asserts is true, because he does not have any common ground with us and has not been able to use our beliefs to show us that we are wrong.

      He may as well be speaking Lakota, because what he states is not “intelligible” given a different set of beliefs. To have an intelligible discussion the parties have to agree on some presumptions–even if it is only hypothetically in order to investigate whether the presumptions and the beliefs that build on them are coherent.

      For example, when Tribulus states that he is ”I’m reporting God’s truth” how are we to know that? I don’t believe him and see no reason why I should.

    • John I.

      Tiribulus, why should I believe your assertion that “The image of God . . . is THE common ground all of us share”?

      I think that you have deluded yourself that it is so, but I see no reason to trust or believe your delusion. You are making many bare assertions, but I see no reason to accede to any of them. Your assertions are merely evidence that molecules acting according to the four fundamental forces of nature can result in patterns of pixels. There is no such thing as a “2”, nor a “4” and you can’t point to one.

      Why should I believe that your representation of what you believe to be reality is anything close to what is actually out there? Your perspective is one based solely on a “me, myself and I” view of reality that circles about you because it is defined by you, by the presuppositions the you make up.

      You are at a loss for how to proceed, because your paradigm of “reality” is wrapped around you and so has no connection to others. It’s meaningful to you, because you believe it, but not to me because I don’t.

      You’re convinced of your paradigm, but I have no reason to be unconvinced of mine.

    • JB Chappell

      @Tiribulus (Greg)

      -“The image of God and it’s inescapable interaction with it’s environment…”-

      I’d agree that “the image of God” is something we all share. It is common ground. It is not clear that this “image” has any “interaction”, however, nor is it clear that it serves as the basis for any epistemology. This is another unsupported assertion that you have failed to address more than once.

      -“The Word of God is not an accept[ed?], but a commanded reason…”-

      So, when you say the “Word of God”, you mean anything that anyone claims is the “Word of God”…? The Koran? Book of Mormon?

      -“… and if you people don’t see biblical assertions as commands to believe then I actually AM at a loss for how to proceed.”-

      Assertions are not commands. Why do you insist on obfuscating language? Assertions are not commands. Commands are not questions. Questions are not declarations. Etc. So, yes, when the Bible “asserts” that there are four corners to the earth, I do not consider that a command of “wholesale surrender to a specific paradigm” of flat earth.

      As for how to proceed, perhaps you could start by reviewing some of the previous posts and actually address the questions you’ve conveniently neglected to answer.

    • John I.

      Tiribulus’ presuppositionalism and fideism is a humanistic doctrine that he without success attempts to tie to scripture, but is found nowhere in scripture.

      When I read the Bible, it teaches its readers to believe because of history and because of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. It doesn’t teach presuppositionalism, a philosophical error that arose during the humanist renaissance and repeated the errors of the anti-realist Greeks.

    • JB Chappell

      @John I.

      -“You are at a loss for how to proceed, because your paradigm of “reality” is wrapped around you and so has no connection to others.”-

      Well said!

    • This “Tread” is getting very weighted mates! Seeking to do some kind of philosophical debate on the blogs, actually can’t be done, at least properly. My opinion away. Scripture presupposed and exegetical is better, and here we can add some scholastic thoughts for help. That’s the Reformational and Reformed approach anyway.

      Btw, I think Greg is seeking to express something the Presuppositional Theology of Cornelius Van Til? If any wish to really get to this, they should read something from one of his students here, i.e. John Frame’s book: Cornelius Van Til, An Analysis of His Thought.

      Keep on truck’in mates! 🙂

    • John I.

      Tiri. states, “The elimination of presuppositions would result in absolute autonomous, objective, self contained, internal certainty.”

      No, it is the use of presuppositions that result in absolute autonomous, objective, self contained, internal certainty. Presuppositions are a humanist, man-created way of reasoning and dealing with the world.

      No where in scripture does God every call his people to operate by presuppositions, or to be presuppositionalist. God calls his people to live a certain way on the basis of his prior acts on their behalf.

      Now, it does appear self evident that it is not possible to think or communicate without using presuppositions, and presuppositions are a form of knowledge, but when God calls his people to test matters (e.g., spirits, the Bereans testing teachings) it is a direction to be iterative and recursive in the acquisition of truth and a relationship with God. That is, there is a continual testing and retesting of thoughts and beliefs in light of God’s revelation both natural (physical world, logic) and supernatural (scripture).

      Presuppositional”ism”, per se, is unbiblical.

    • John I.

      Fr. Robert, may I respectfully request that you use actual, full, English sentences? instead of fragments? I find your posts so difficult to make sense of that I have long ago stopped reading them and just skip over them. If you don’t want to, it’s up to you of course and I’m not suggesting that you stop posting, only that you communicate more clearly and in a manner that is easier to grasp.

    • JB Chappell

      @Tiribulus (Greg)

      -“I suggest we all stick to the nature, being and providence of the creator and sustainer of all that is, instead of ourselves.”-

      This sounds great, but unless there’s some sort of mechanism specified, it’s meaningless. How does one “stick to the nature… of the Creator”? What does that even mean? Unfortunately, you haven’t demonstrated how this works, other than “take the Bible extremely literally, and stop poking holes in my arguments”.

      You claim that having “faith” will result in God providing someone with His own certainty. Besides the fact this is incredibly vague, it is also unscriptural. Just as problematic, however, is the fact that this claim is grounded in your experience. It is a subjective experience – one that is not shared by a number of other Christians, apparently.

      So, Greg, you have to take a step back and examine whether your experience is unique. You have to consider that just because you experienced something, that doesn’t mean everyone else is required to experience the same thing. You have to consider that, given that you are obviously intentionally avoiding certain questions/issues, that perhaps your point of view is more flawed than you’d like to admit. You have to consider that, if your “arguments” rely on convoluting the English language, perhaps that’s why no one else seems to understand what you’re saying.

      Once again, I will ask:

      – Where does scripture *command* that we have to know things via faith?
      – How does your argument boil down to anything more than your own subjective experience?
      – How is one supposed to know what the “Word of God” is?
      – What is the scriptural basis for using the “image of God” as grounding epistemology?
      – How is is simply accepting whatever is claimed to be “God’s Word” consistent with 1 Thessalonians 5:21?

    • John I.

      Tiri writes, “The image of God and it’s inescapable interaction . . . , is THE common ground all of us share.”

      So, how does one cash out that statement? operationalize it? How does that function in the area of communication between persons?

      Greg fails to cash out his assertion and so it is left hanging. It is therefore communicatively and rationally irrelevant to those of us who cash out God’s existence differently.

      To me, I envisage a picture of Greg as a lone guru on a hilltop shouting out unintelligible glossalalia with a sign on his neck that states in many languages “What I say is truth”. Terrific for him, if he’s right, but irrelevant to the rest of us who go about our business in the valleys and plains around him. Greg’s way of “reasoning” is an iconoclastic way that bears no relation to mine.

    • @John I, That’s funny mate, I am sure YOU got my wee point, or you would not be firing back in such harsh manner! The problem is, that YOU just don’t fair so well yourself in your blog answers & manners, YOUR “presuppositions” are showing! 😉

    • John I.

      A Psalm by someone who was not a presuppositionalist:

      Psalm 88 (NIV)

      1 Lord, you are the God who saves me;
      day and night I cry out to you.
      2 May my prayer come before you;
      turn your ear to my cry.
      3 I am overwhelmed with troubles
      and my life draws near to death.
      4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
      I am like one without strength.
      5 I am set apart with the dead,
      like the slain who lie in the grave,
      whom you remember no more,
      who are cut off from your care.
      6 You have put me in the lowest pit,
      in the darkest depths.
      7 Your wrath lies heavily on me;
      you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.[d]
      8 You have taken from me my closest friends
      and have made me repulsive to them.
      I am confined and cannot escape;
      9 my eyes are dim with grief.
      I call to you, Lord, every day;
      I spread out my hands to you.
      10 Do you show your wonders to the dead?
      Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
      11 Is your love declared in the grave,
      your faithfulness in Destruction[e]?
      12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
      or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
      13 But I cry to you for help, Lord;
      in the morning my prayer comes before you.
      14 Why, Lord, do you reject me
      and hide your face from me?
      15 From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
      I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
      16 Your wrath has swept over me;
      your terrors have destroyed me.
      17 All day long they surround me like a flood;
      they have completely engulfed me.
      18 You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
      darkness is my closest friend.

    • John I.

      Fr. R.

      I wasn’t intending to be harsh, but a blog comment lacks nuance. Also, I did not get your point (again), which is why I asked for clarification (and a real sentence). And my comment to you was not about your philosophical presuppositions, or mine. However, I do thank you for the sentences in your reply.

    • @John I: Indeed the nature of the blogs can be one-sided! And seeking real dialogue is very rare here!

      Btw, views on “biblical and theological presuppositions”, are somewhat different from the general idea of human “presuppositions”, this is the point of a Van Til and John Frame! Sadly, our presuppositions often are just “suppositions”, rather than the authority, and certainly the shape of the “Sola Scriptura” of God’s Word! Yes, the Reformational and Reformed Theology stand much more on God’s Presuppositional Authority & Word, rather than mere evidence, of itself. Indeed God’s “evidence” is based on His own revelation… ‘I am’!I would maintain this is surely “Pauline” as “Johannine”, etc.

    • John I.

      Re Tiri’s defense_VanTil.html he directs us to in his comment above.

      First, he wrongly portrays Arminians and Arminian beliefs in his use of them as his foil to demonstrate the superiority of Van Til’s epistemology and defence of christianity.

      But even overlooking his biased and character assassinating approach to Arminianism, I do not find his presentation of Van Tillian arguments convincing. I don’t buy into their (Tiri, van Til) rhetoric and world view, and the article gives me no reasons to give up my rhetoric.

      In his article Tiri claims, “Mr. White [the prototypical Calvinist presuppositionalist] would define man, and therefore his freedom, in terms of Scripture alone.” But this claim is not, in fact, true. Mr. White’s definitions arise from the social concerns of the pre-industrial and industrial revolution, of an over-belief and over-confidence in a mechanistic perception and reconstruction of the natural world, and of a need to define an “us” over against a dehumanized and descralized “them” and to put that difference into violent terms and forms of power.

      Arminius endeavoured to be scriptural and to subject all writings to analysis and criticism in light of scripture, both his own and that of others. He himself wrote, “First. That it may openly appear to all the world that we render to the word of God alone such due and suitable honour, as to determine it to be beyond (or rather above) all disputes, too great to be the subject of any exception, and worthy of all acceptation.
      Secondly. Because these pamphlets are writings that proceed from men, and may, on that account, contain within them some portion of error, it is, therefore, proper to institute a lawful inquiry, that is, in a National Synod, whether or not there be any thing in those productions which requires amendment.”

      All catechisms and confessions were to him an obvious work of men, pious though they may be.

    • John I.

      Fr. R. states, in a post that is in the spirit of Tiri’s, “Yes, the Reformational and Reformed Theology stand much more on God’s Presuppositional Authority & Word, rather than mere evidence, of itself. Indeed God’s “evidence” is based on His own revelation… ‘I am’!I would maintain this is surely “Pauline” as “Johannine”, etc.”

      But in fact this approach is directly contrary to what God indicates in his scripture we are to do, and contrary to those examples that He does provide. For example,

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