Tom Pittman's WebLog


2019 September 7 -- Bible 1, Calvinism 0

The acronym "TULIP" (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistable grace, and Perseverence of the saints) enumerated the essential doctrines of Calvinism as it differs from Arminianism, but the acronym is less than 100 years old, and the five doctrines were first identified (in a different order) in Holland the century after Calvin died in Switzerland. But the acronym makes it easy to remember -- especially when I'm reading through the whole Bible and finding Scriptures that contradict each particular -- and other Scriptures that support it. It's not like Scripture contradicts itself, but more like we want a human-understandable theology, but if we understood God and the Bible perfectly we would be God, and we are not. It's probably too complicated for our (or even Calvin's) puny minds to fully grasp. Maybe some other time I might go through all the problems I see with the simplifications that became Calvinism and its opposition -- in other words, why I'm not a 5-point Calvinist, nor a 2.5-pointer, but maybe somewhere around a 3/4-pointer.

Today I'm thinking about the Scriptures called in to support T=Total Depravity. I never met anybody who really believes in total depravity, or they'd never ride an airplane or elevator or train designed and built by non-elect (non-Christian) engineers and manufacturers, nor eat anything they bought in a market. So already we have a fudge, just to survive in today's technical world.

I'm readingthe Psalms, rather more slowly than I used to when I did it in English, so I have time to think about what the guy is saying (and sometimes time to forget the whole theme). We tend to think of the Psalms as everyman prayers -- except of course the imprecatory Psalms (IPs), because calling down God's Wrath on sinners seems so "Old Testament" and not "loving" like we suppose the God of the New Testament to be. Me, I find no such difference, God is God, and there are times when the IPs make a lot of sense as prayers of anguish. Not so often for me here in the USA, but not never (see "Persecution" last month).

The Psalms are a mixed bag. The Calvinists love Psalms 32 and 51, along with Romans 7 they vindicate their notion of Total Depravity, which I usually hear expressed as "Ineradicable depravity" as if even God's grace cannot remove it except by lying through His teeth. Nobody ever says it that way, but they live like it, and as my mother often told me, "Actions speak louder than words."

The problem I see is that for every Psalm where the Psalmist says "I am wicked" (let's call them "baddies") there's another where the Psalmist says "I am good" (let's call them "goodies"). In fact there are more of the goodies than there are of the baddies, any way you want to count them. I can imagine some righteous Calvinist insisting that the goodies are about God's imputed grace, while the baddies are about our intrinsic nature, but you cannot get there by a consistent text-driven hermeneutic. If you want to claim that Scripture is the authority, then you must let Scripture tell us what it means, not the other way around. If we interpret literally the verses we like, and figuratively the verses we do not like, then we have set ourselves up in judgment over Scripture. I can't do that and still say with a straight face "Jesus is LORD." It can't be done.

"Goodies" "Baddies"
7:5,6,9 25:11
17:3 31:12
18:23-25 32:5
26:1,3,4,6,8 38:5
44:18,19 39:9
57:8 41:5
59:4,5 51:3-5
66:18,19 90:8
86:2 103:3-12
104:33-35 106:6
109:24 118:2

So I am forced to conclude that Jesus really does mean what he said all through the Gospels, that you get to Heaven by obeying God's commands. Yes, we failed and still fail (occasionally) and God's mercy is great, but forgiveness only wipes away the karma of past failures; you still need to do the good things Jesus said you need to do, specifically the First Great Commandment (God is God and He gets to tell me what to do, and I must do it), and the Second (which we all understand as the Golden Rule). If you don't want to do those things now, what makes you think you will enjoy it in Heaven? There you must do it, or it wouldn't be Heaven for the rest of us.