Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Calvin: Possible for Adam not to Sin?

By coincidence or Providence, the reading in Calvin's Institutes below came up yesterday as I am editing a chapter on the problem of evil. In the section I am editing, I am pointing out the difference between the hyper-Calvinism of, say, John Piper, and that of John Calvin himself, as represented below. P.S., the Nietzsche quote I had in mind was from the preface of A Genealogy of Morals.
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God provided man's soul with a mind, by which to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong; and, with the light of reason as guide, to distinguish what should be followed from what should be avoided. For this reason, the philosophers called this directing part. To this he joined the will, under whose control is choice. Man in his first condition excelled in these pre-eminent endowments, so that his reason, understanding, prudence, and judgment not only sufficed for the direction of his earthly life, but by them men mounted up even to God and eternal bliss. Then was choice added, to direct the appetites and control all the organic motions, and thus make the will completely amenable to the guidance of the reason.

In this integrity man by free will had the power, if he so willed, to attain eternal life. Here it would be out of place to raise the question of God's secret predestination because our present subject is not what can happen or not, but what man's nature was like. Therefore Adam could have stood if he wished, seeing that he fell solely by his own will. But it was because his will was capable of being bent to one side or the other, and was not given the constancy to persevere, that he fell so easily. Yet his choice of good and evil was free, and not that alone, but the highest rectitude was in his mind and will, and all the organic parts were rightly composed to obedience, until in destroying himself he corrupted his own blessings.
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By the way, I don't have it here at home to quote, but our IWU reading group started The Dumb Ox today by G. K. Chesterton, a brief sketch of Thomas Aquinas. Both of their catholicism I find so much more "Wesleyan" than Calvin, just more optimistic and hopeful.

6 comments:

Jared said...

I read the Dumb Ox a few years ago. It was a lot of fun. Chesterton's style is legendary, of course. I also enjoyed reading his "appreciation" of St. Francis.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Amazon's review sounded 'refreshing"!

Douglas Mangum said...

Good quote, Ken. Yes, hyper-Calvinism falls far from what Calvin actually wrote. However, I disagree with using John Piper as your passing example of a hyper-Calvinist. Yes, he stresses divine sovereignty a lot, but he also promotes evangelism, missionary work, and other things usually not associated with "hyper-Calvinism." But perhaps your definition of "hyper-Calvinism" is more narrow than mine. Piper's published many things more in line with historic Calvinism than hyper-Calvinism.

James said...

Really... John Piper is a hyper-Calvinist? Maybe I don't have a proper understanding of hyper-Calvinism, so please ellaborate.

Ken Schenck said...

Douglas and James, thanks for your thoughts on Piper. I think maybe my Calvinist signals are getting crossed because of this post and one on Scot McKnight.

In another post, I referred to Scot McKnight's stuff on what he's calling the Neo-Reformed. I have posted some comments about some comments Piper made that pretty much do say that Arminians shouldn't be on the evangelical green. But that's not the sort of "hyper-Calvinism" I'm referring to here.

What I mean by a hyper-Calvinist here is a "seven" point Calvinist who believes that God predestined Satan and Adam to sin. In other words, someone who would hold to the non posse non peccare position, a position that Calvin didn't hold.

From all I can tell, Piper is a gentleman and a very Christ-like man, but my understanding is that he out-Calvins Calvin on predestination (e.g., Calvin was only a single predestinarian).

Isn't this your understanding too?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Augustinianism is based on individualistic understandings, from what I can remember, which Calvin was rooted in. The whole theological system means that individuals need salvation because of original sin. (I think I have suggested how I personally feel about that issue).

The other way of "salvation" is the social one, where the social structures need reformation, not just individuals. If social systems allow others to behave unethically, then people will do so, as that is the predonimnate culture. Leadership and government becomes of major importance in this understanding.

Hyper-Calvinists differ as to how God "decides" his predermining will in the secret counsels of the Trinity...

As far as Calvinists go, the PCA church we were a part of beleived that God's means was necessary for the "elect' to respond for individual salvation.

I don't think that individual salvation is pertinent to understanding how man develops, because it dismisses the social structures that "help" develop him...