John Calvin's Refutation of Seven Arguments
You will often hear theology students debating whether John Calvin himself was a "5 Point Calvinist" (that is, whether Calvin held to each of the doctrines of "TULIP"- Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints). The debate over Calvin's "Calvinism" is well-known in historical theological circles. Much less well-known is the fact that John Calvin certainly considered himself to be a two-point Lutheran.
In 1543, John Calvin wrote Bondage and Liberation of the Will to answer attacks by Roman Catholic apologist Albert Pighius against the theology of the Protestant Reformers (who were, at that time, all referred to as "Lutherans" by the Roman Catholics). John Calvin wrote that he and all the Reformers agreed with Martin Luther's writings concerning two essential points that were denied by the Roman Catholic theologians: 1) all things occur according to absolute necessity (that is, God is sovereign over everything that happens), and 2) 'free-will' after the fall of humankind into sin (as recorded in Genesis 3) is an empty term, existing in name only.
In Book II of Bondage and Liberation of the Will John Calvin answered seven objections to the two-point Lutheranism mentioned above. The reader is encouraged to research Calvin's arguments for his- or herself and to compare these arguments to Scripture, but I offer an outline of Calvin's defense below:
Objection 1: If God is in [absolute] control, why bother [with doing anything]?
A: God's providence works through us. Proverbs 16:9- "The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps" [all Bible quotes in this outline are from the NASB].
Objection 2: Why punish crimes if they are committed of necessity?
A: Necessity does not exclude evil will [on the part of the criminal]. "Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger, and the staff in whose hands is my indignation" (Isaiah 10:5). [In Isaiah 10, Assyria arrogantly intends to subjugate other nations, and so Assyria is worthy of God's condemnation, even though God is ultimately in control of the fact that the other wicked nations will be defeated by Assyria.]
Objection 3: Necessity undermines law and order. [Laws and government are seen as unnecessary if God is in absolute control.]
A: God works through secondary causes in ruling His creation. ["Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God, and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves" (Romans 13:1-2).]
Objection 4: Necessity undermines religion. [If God is in absolute control of all things, why would one attend to one's religious duties?]
A: The doctrine of God's providence "trains a person only to be humble, to fear God, to place his trust in God, and to ascribe glory to God, which are the chief components of true religion."
Objection 5: The doctrine of providence [God's absolute control over all things] makes God the author of evil deeds.
A: God uses human sinful actions without being the author of sin. "He is a wonderfully expert craftsman who can use even bad tools well. We shall be compelled to admire His justice, which not only finds a way through iniquity but also employs that very iniquity to a good end."
Objection 6: Original sin implies that nature itself is evil.
A: "Nature" is biblically defined "in two ways: first as it was established by God, which we declare to have been pure and perfect, and second as, corrupted through Man's fall, it lost its perfection." Calvin quotes from Augustine: "Human beings are the work of God insofar as they are human, but they are under control of the devil insofar as they are sinners, unless they are rescued from there through Christ" [Against Two Letters of the Pelagians].
Objection 7: The doctrine of radical depravity [that sin affects all human faculties, including the heart and thus the will] exposes God to ridicule. [Presumably, because God gives commands which no one obeys.]
A: Command does not indicate ability, for the role of the law is not to teach us what things we can do to bring ourselves into a right relationship with God. Rather, the Law exposes the guilt and the moral inability of the sinner, by which he is brought into a state of humiliation and driven to cry out for the mercy of Christ.
Labels: Reformation Theology