Ideas have consequences. And, a consistent set of ideas will have consistent, logical outcomes. Allow a silly example. If I began eating too much junk food (or, too much food, period), not exercising, and doing only mentally difficult exercises, I will gain weight. The logical outcome follows the ideas. All that happened, by the way, while I was a grad student living in New England. I left New England with a lot more than a good education, if you catch my drift.
Logical conclusions matter. They matter precisely because they enable you to see where you will end up, should you follow the path laid before you. If I don’t want to gain that much weight again, then I cannot eat what I’m eating, and sit as long as I’m sitting. It seems our culture isn’t too fond of thinking of logical conclusions for at least two reasons: 1) thinking through what you believe and how your life will follow takes hard work. Sure, some ideas might be popular now, but thinking about where a certain train of thought takes you might help you avoid poor decisions, 2) we live for the moment, and thinking of what will logically follow is not now, but later. We don’t care about later. If its’ not in the moment, its’ not meaningful. How skewed this thinking really is!
In the church world, we don’t think about logical conclusions often because church culture is seeming anti-intellectual. But, if we don’t think clearly about what we believe, we might jump on board with an idea or belief system only to be drastically disappointed years down the road. I think that’s where I am.
By the time I finished college in 2008, I was well on the road to Calvinism. I ended up graduating from a confessionally Reformed seminary in the southern US. While in grad school, I spent 77 hours in a master program fortifying my theological castle (while at the same time creating a heart as cold and hard as the stones I was working with). What a jerk I was. Yet, life began teaching me lessons. Somehow, I was unable to see the logical outcomes of my Calvinist tradition because of its’ external and internal consistency. In other words, Calvinism is rather beautiful as a system of thought. In my education, however, the beauty was so overwhelming I could not see past the present moment down the road where my ideas would logically take me. Once I arrived, I was not pleased.
When I got to the end and I really began to understand the picture of God painted in Calvinist circles, I was confused. For years, it had been drilled into my head through lecture, biblical exegesis and books of the immense grace and mercy of God. It seems as if the Calvinist tradition proclaimed these truths while the internal theology guiding Calvinism lead to a drastically different outcome. For example, Calvinism finds itself firmly within the Augustinian tradition of total depravity. This means that man is born evil and cannot desire good without God. Humanity found itself in this position because Adam and Eve preferred evil over good, which is ultimately exactly what God wanted. Now, apart from God rescuing people from the inevitable judgment following rebellion, all humanity is without hope. After all, the purpose of man is to simply “glorify God,” and this can be done equally by people in heaven (enjoying God) or in hell (suffering his righteous, perfect judgment). In other words, it makes no difference to God where one goes because 1) you go exactly where God wants you to go, and 2) both places equally magnify God, albeit through different means. There is a plethora of scriptural text that is normally argued here to show man’s utter depravity, inability to choose good, God’s divine grace on some and eternal judgment on the rest. Yet, when you logically follow these ideas out, you must wonder if all this is true, that no purpose of God can be thwarted at all, that man will go just as God has determined him, then to say we are free is illogical. And, if we are not free, than we are slaves. But, to say we are slaves to God would be more akin to Islam where Adam was created as the “slave or servant” (abd) of Allah.
A popular Reformed pastor recently tweeted that there are many people who seem converted, but who are actually not genuine believers. This statement struck me as odd. Logically, according to Calvinism, the pastor as well could have been one of those people who “seemed converted. Matthew 7:21ff are verses in which people who genuinely seemed to be demonstrating gospel fruit (casting out demons in Jesus’ name, preaching/prophesying in Jesus’ name) were, in the end, thrown into judgment. It seems possible to exhibit fruit, but the fruit actually be an outworking of some type of sinful pride. The pastor who published this idea, is it not possible you’ll be part of the Matthew 7 contingent? We “saved” often say there are those out there who only appear to be Christians, but do we honestly believe only those out there, those not me, are Christian in name only? We question others genuineness of faith, but not our own?
During a section on Islam I teach for my world religions course, we discuss the part of Islamic thought which believes all things, both good and evil, all actions, words and thoughts, are ultimately predetermined by Allah. This idea is called divine determinism. Over the years I have labored to show how divine determinism is definitely distinct from the Reformed conception of God. Yet, as the years have gone on, I’m not so sure I can see the difference anymore.
GK Chesteron has made a number of statements about Calvinism, “Calvinism held that God had indeed made the world, but in a special sense, made the evil and the good: an evil will as well as an evil world .On the Calvinist view, if a man chooses to damn his soul alive, he is not thwarting God’s will but rather fulfilling it. Both Manicheans & Calvinists had the idea that the creator of earth was primarily the creator of evil, whether we call him a devil or a god.”
If one believes in Calvinism, logically, it seems, 2 Peter 3:9 no longer applies (that God desires all to be saved). Logically, if God, who is infinitely sovereign wanted to save everyone, he would. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard in the Reformed world the statement that God’s will is never thwarted. That means God wills for people to go to hell. That’s the logical conclusion. Does Jesus (the perfect revelation of the character of God) desire anyone to go to hell? Our gospels don’t seem to indicate he does. Rather, he came for the explicit purpose of seeking the lost and reconciling all things to himself.
Christians are called to be the bearers of the good news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, securing victory over death, hell and the grave. The gospel is good news, infinitely good news. The gospel is about the unrelenting love and grace of God as he pursues his lost creation. Paul said the highest good is love. John said, “God is love” in 1 John 4:8. It was because of God’s love that Christ came. Love is foundational to Christianity, not just love for doctrine or love for theology, but love for God and others. It’s important to think about our beliefs and see where they logically lead because our actions will invariable flow from our beliefs. If we believe wrongly about God, we’ll act wrongly. If we believe that God actually, completely loves his created world and has moved heaven and earth to pursue it and its’ people, seeing both leper and lord as equally worthy of his love, then we too will begin emulating his love for both leper and lord. After all, both the leper and lord are far, far more similar than they are different, most similarly in that they are both created to reflect the resplendent love and glory of God almighty.
May we think carefully about where our beliefs will lead us both intellectually and then ethically. We live in ignorance if we choose not to see the end of our ideological tracks.