Tag Archives: Augustine

Why I’m Not (Quite) a Calvinist

Earlier today a friend of mine posted Piper’s praise of the Calvinist TUILP theory on facebook. I booed it. To which my friend responded: “Why boo? I know you don’t like Piper, but you are an Augustinian, no?”

Here is my response.

I am broadly Augustinian, yes. Basically—though I don’t use these categories my self—you could say I’m a four-point Calvinist with a number of qualifications.

I’m good with T as long as we clarify that it doesn’t mean we’re totally bad all the way down, just that no part of us is unstained by sin. (Calvin himself understood this, but I think it’s worth pointing out again).

I believe in U. But the way Calvin (and Augustine, for that matter) conceives of U, it is terribly bad news for the non-elect and, I think, makes God into something of a moral monster. If you’re going to have a robust Augustinian doctrine of U—as I do—it really needs to be of the Barthian (and, I think, biblical) sort, wherein election is always good news for the non-elect.

Just as an example, the nation of Israel is elect but it’s not about her own salvation. The life of Israel as the people of God is miserable. But that’s because Israel is elect not for her own blessing, but “for the blessing of the nations” (Gen 12). So it’s good news for us that the Jews are elect and not us. Likewise, the Gentiles are grafted into the vine, not for their own sake, but for the salvation of the Jews (Rom 11). And, of course, the prime example is that the choosing of The Elect One, Christ, results not in his own glorification, but in brutal crucifixion. But again it’s wonderfully good news for us—the heart of the gospel, you might say—that it’s Jesus Christ, and not us, who is The Elect One. What Augustine missed, and most of the Western theological tradition with him, was the biblical pattern that our salvation is wrapped up in the election of the other.

I find L, no matter how you spin it, both unbiblical and deeply disturbing.

I can dig I.

I believe in P, but again with a caveat. It’s at this point, I think, that Calvin fundamentally distinguishes himself from Augustine, and I tend to go with Augustine. Augustine’s doctrine of perseverance was precisely about why you cannot know whether you are among the elect, because you cannot know that you will persevere to the end. We are saved, says Augustine, in hope but yet not in reality. Or to use the Pauline phrase, we are among “those who are being saved” (I Cor 1:18). For we can never know that we are truly among the elect until we have seen the gift of grace play out in out perseverance to the end.

Calvin’s doctrine of P is exactly the opposite. He says that we can know that we will persevere to the end, and thus that we are truly among the elect, by discerning that we have true saving faith. That kind of knowledge, it seems to me, is just not possible.

What’s more, having to discern that I have true saving faith is the cause of all kind of psychological and spiritual problems what I just don’t want to deal with. (1) I have to look into my own heart and know not only that I have faith but that it’s the good kind? Ugh! How could I ever find true saving faith in my own heart? It’s so dark and dirty in there it’s really hard to see, and so full of lies and mixed motives (Jer 17:9). After all, we do believe in T, don’t we? Much better just to pray “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24). (2) And even if I could see clearly in my own heart, what would I be looking for? How would I know that I have true saving faith? Would I see that I’m growing in sanctification? So I have to convince myself that I’m getting more righteous (even more humble!) That’s a psychological game I’m just not willing to play. (3) Besides, in our own hearts is just not where faith looks. Faith looks away from itself to Christ. Faith couldn’t care less about faith, how good or genuine it is. Faith only cares about the One to whom it clings. So I’m just not willing to do all the things you’d have to do to make Calvin’s understanding of P tenable.

And that’s why I’m not (quite) a Calvinist.



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Benjamin Myers on Augustine’s De Trinitate

Lately I’ve been reading up on the doctrine of the Trinity as I prepare to deliver the Trinity Sunday homily at St. Luke Lutheran Church. So I was pleased to find that Benjamin Myers of Faith & Theology posted the audio from his excellent summary lecture on St. Augustine’s De Trinitate. He enumerates “lessons from Augustine on the Trinity.” You can listen to the entire lecture on his site, but here I have paraphrased, cut, combined and rearranged the list to give you a little taste.

  1. The Triune God is an unfathomable, bottomless mystery.
  2. Because of this, a lot Christians tend to think that the doctrine of the Trinity is really complicated; many avoid it all together.  But it is a doctrine, which means it’s meant to be taught.  Actually, the doctrine of the Trinity is quite simple for Christians because we have already been baptized into a community who calls God by his proper name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  3. In the Trinity it is revealed to us that the entire life of God is grace, love and unity (2 Cor 13:14).  It is infinite relatedness, sharing, giving, sending out and returning. Some others of the Church fathers describe the life of God as an eternal dance.
  4. Therefore we encounter the life of the Trinity as redemption and healing. As the earth is drawn into the suns orbit and thereby reflects the suns light to a dark world, so as we are drawn into the divine life we begin to reflect God’s love to the world.
  5. It is only then, as we experience healing and redemption, that we come to recognize our own sin and brokenness.
  6. A side note about evangelism: We often take the strategy when we introduce people to the Christian life of talking to them about their sinfulness, but this is the exact of the Trinitarian approach. Instead we should invite people into the love of God expressed in the life of the Trinity. Recognition of sinfulness will then come as a natural discovery. This leads us to the next point.
  7. There’s a point right at end of Augustine’s De Trinitate—this massive and deeply philosophical tome on what may seem like an obscure point of Christian theology—when Augustine says that it was written for non-believers. So De Trinitate is an appeal to conversion—it’s an attempt to show how attractive Christian faith is! Trinitarian theology, says Meyers, is essentially evangelical. Only when it devolves into intra-Christian nitpicking does the doctrine of the Trinity become stuffy and boring.
  8. Finally, the doctrine of the Trinity is eschatological. Only when we have been fully drawn into the Trinitarian life will we perfectly reflect God’s love to the world. Until then all of life is a journey deeper into the divine life. Think of life as “cleaning off a dirty mirror.”

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Christian Anxieties

Frequent readers will know that I am apt to post anything I can get my hands on by my teacher at Eastern University, Phillip Cary.  So, I was delighted to stumble across this interview on Homebrewed Christianity, in which Cary discusses how subtle shifts in theology drastically affect the everyday experiences of Christians, especially their anxieties. Par for the course, Cary uses this topic as a springboard into a primer on the entire history of Western theology from Augustine all the way to modern evangelicalism that will shock and delight you, and most of all inspire you to ask deep questions about your own theological commitments. I really do hope you will take the time to listen to this interview, you won’t regret it!

One suggestions: the interviewers record a few minutes of silliness before getting to the interview, so you may want to skip ahead to minute 7:50.


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