The Staunch Calvinist

"Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God." - Jonathan Edwards


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A Review of Perspectives on the Doctrine of God

...ub-categorized as two Calvinist positions and two free will theism positions.

The classical Calvinist position

This book is a little...bittersweet. I am a Reformed Baptist and thus I agree with the classical position as articulated by Paul Helm, but I must agree with the criticism given by the other contributors that Helm’s chapter was more about predestination than about theology proper and God’s relation to the world. Helm’s claim that his position is the historical (whether true or false) was met with a lot of snarkiness and set an unprofessional tone to the book and responses, which was disappointing. Even as a Calvinist, I acknowledge that divine Determinism or unconditional election is not the mainstream or default teaching of Christianity. I believe it is absolutely biblical, but it is something else to say that it is simply the default view. But were Dr. Helm’s chapter on classical theism and God’s relation to the world, then his statement would have fully been justified. The responses made even moderate statements by Dr. Helm to be absolute and extreme. This was unhelpful. Dr. Helm even spends a lot of pages preemptively responding to various views which he thought would be represented in this book. He even discusses middle knowledge and the views of William Lane Craig on that in his section on Arminianism (Arminians usually reject middle knowledge). This space could have been used to focus more on the subject of the book.

Dr. Helm focused on the A-Team—Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas, and provided citations from them on their views on predestination, especially as related to Romans 9 and Ephesians 1. His claims could be perhaps substantiated by his A-team, but it was disappointing for me to think that the book would have been more upon the classical attributes such as simplicity, impassibility, immutability, divine eternity, but to find out that the bulk of his chapter was about predestination. Certainly predestination says something about God, but it seems to me to have been better to not make predestination a major point in his chapter.

The modified Calvinist position

Dr. Bruce A. Ware presents the modified Calvinist view. Dr. Ware presents a good case for his modified model, which modifies the Reformed understanding of doctrines such as divine eternity and immutability, as well as employing middle knowledge (p. 77). His modified understanding is also related to how God relates to the world. In the classic understanding, God’s relation in a sense is one-sided. It is the world that changes its relation to God, but God does not change neither acquires new relation toward the world (to protect His aseity and pure actuality). God relation to the world is a relation of reason (not a relationship, a word which classical theists are not fond of). These three doctrines are not irrelated: “Both God’s relationship to time (divine eternity) and God’s relation to  change (divine immutability) need some reconsideration and reformulation to demonstrate that the God who made us chooses to live in relationship with what he has made” (pp. 85-86).

Concerning divine eternity, the classical tradition has taught that God exists outside of time and “possesses the whole of His being in one indivisible present” (Louis Berkhof). Dr. Ware suggests we understand eternity in the same way we understand omnipresence, namely, that God exists outside of space-limitation as well as everywhere in space. He says, ‘we can understand God’s...

1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 9: Of Free Will - Commentary


Chapter 9: Of Free Will

I would like to take a look at the freedom of will endued to us by God. Is it a libertarian free will, which most of the non-Reformed find essential for love? Is it another kind of freedom? Does our freedom mean that God is not sovereign? Does God ordain our free actions? These are some questions that we’ll have to wrestle with. For this study and my position on it, I am greatly indebted to the following authors:

  • Jonathan Edwards – The Freedom of the Will
  • R.C. Sproul – Willing to Believe (see review)
  • Thaddeus J. Williams – Love, Freedom, and Evil: Does Authentic Love Require Free Will?
  • Scott Christensen - What about Free Will?: Reconciling Our Choices with God’s Sovereignty

Calvinists have always been leveled the charge that our understanding of God’s absolute micro-managing sovereignty makes men as puppets and robots. One wonders what the reason was for the Westminster, Savoy and 1689 to offer a chapter on free will if they thought that people were merely puppets and robots as many critics like to mock Calvinism.

In section 1, we will have our longest discussion of the will. There, I hope, with Edwards’ Freedom of the Will, to lay the understanding of the human will as believed by many Calvinists, which I believe happens to be biblical and logical. I have chosen to do this for two purposes: 1) I want to understand Edwards’ position better first hand from him. Edwards is difficult to read and understand and sometimes you have to read sentences and paragraphs over and over or look somewhere for an explanation to understand what he’s getting at. 2) And I would like you to understand Edwards’ position on the will which is the commonly held view by many Calvinists. Edwards is obviously not without critique, especially on his speculations about the Fall. But some Reformed people also disagree with him on free will, claiming that his view is too mechanistic and deterministic. His discussion clarifies many things for me and from the people I benefited from, who are mentioned above, I’ve not read their criticism on Edwards beside his speculations on the Fall. I mention this so that you know that not every Calvinist agrees with Edwards, though a majority does. Some resources on this subject are found at Reformed Books Online.

In the following sections, we will try to lay some things concerning man’s will in the four states, from innocence until glory.

§1 God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice

  1. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice, that it is neither forcednor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil. 1
    1. Matt. 17:12; James 1:14; Deut. 30:19[1]

The will of man, by definition and nature, is endued...with that natural liberty and power of acting upon choice. This is also one of those things which set us apart from the lower creation. Paragraph 1 does not speak about Adam’s will before the Fall; paragraph 2 will do that. Rather, in paragraph 1, the will of man is spoken of generally without reference to it being enslaved to righteousness or sin. It is by nature free. What does this freedom consist of? That is is neither forced, nor by any necessity of nature determined to do good or evil. Man is not a robot as many non-Calvinists like to caricature Calvinism. No one has done something because they were forced by God in their wills to do so. Rather, they ac...