Friday, August 10, 2012

Providence, Part I: Apology

This is part 1 of my series on providence. Table of contents:
  1. Introduction and apology
  2. A brief history of the soteriological debate
  3. Overview of Calvinism
  4. Overview of Arminianism
  5. Comparing, contrasting, and evaluation of Calvinism and Arminianism
  6. The Biblical data
     6.5. Interlude: The God Who Seeks Us
  1. My position on providence
  2. Applications of this position to the soteriological debate
  3. Practical applications and conclusion
This is it. As my reading and thinking about Calvinism, Arminianism, predestination, free will, God's sovereignty, and providence are at least beginning to form a coherent whole and this blog is preparing to bear the fruit of more than a month of near-obsessive study, I begin writing a series of posts on these subjects will vastly surpass everything on this blog save my chronicle of Milwaukee Summer Project.

I'm using "apology" in the sense of a formal defense, justification, or explanation, the same way it is used to form the word "apologetics" with which the target audience of these essays should be quite familiar. I've already done two posts on the Calvinism-Arminianism debate, one just over a year ago and one two months ago. Why do (by current estimations) ten more? Two main reasons.

First is dissatisfaction with the treatment I gave this matter with my previous attempts. My first post was a simple summary of Calvinism and Arminianism and then some kind of attempt to decide between them point-by-point. I already gave some of my problems with the first post in the second, namely the simplistic treatment of limited atonement. More fundamentally, I took an incredibly simplistic and shallow look at the debate, straight past the majority of both sides' positions to versions I could settle in a few days. I can't help but cringe when I look back at this overconfidence.

The second post took some of this into account and tried to go deeper, but nonetheless failed. One thing I especially regret was my assertion that the outcome of the Calvinism-Arminianism doesn't matter. Let me assure you, though I won't show it for quite a few posts, that God has divested me of this illusion.

In common, they both took a very reductionistic approach. The first post simply read down the matched list of points and chose between each pair as if they were options on a restaurant menu; the second similarly broke down to four questions related to the points. I have since seen the foolishness of trying to break apart the Calvinistic and Arminian views in this way. I also did quite a bit of manipulation of the precise meaning of words in the Bible, with which I finally expressed exasperation in an addendum to the second post. In summary, in both of these posts I looked at the points that Calvinists and Arminians clash over with barely any consideration as to where they were coming from.

The second reason is that in the past month I've had a passion for studying this issue that I can only attribute to God's hand. I've been devouring books and thinking throughout the day, and the resulting journey has been one of both hardship and joy. God has not given me any rest from answering questions like:
  • How do God's sovereignty and foreknowledge fit together with human responsibility? How can something be divinely decreed and freely chosen?
  • How can God decree all things that come to pass when not everyone is saved?
  • How do we explain passages in the Bible where God seems to be actively involved in acts of evil? (1 Kings 22, 2 Samuel 16:11)
  • What is the relation between God's role and our role in salvation?
I have grouped my study to answer all of these questions under the head of "providence". I think this is the "where [Calvinism and Arminianism are] coming from" that I missed before. Both sets of five points are merely the soteriological applications of two different views on God's sovereignty and perfect foreknowledge, human responsibility, and the determination of events, which is why it's foolish to pick and choose between them. These issues have many other applications outside of theological debates including, in brief, prayer, evangelism, and the problem of evil/suffering. Though which set of points you believe doesn't make much of a difference to Christian living on its own, it is evocative of your outlook on providence, which has far-reaching consequences. It is this issue that I will tackle in the ensuing posts before getting into where I've landed in regard to predestination.

Here is a "table of contents" of sorts outlining the direction I currently plan on taking this series, of course subject to change.

  1. Introduction and apology (this post)
  2. A brief history of the soteriological debate
  3. Overview of Calvinism
  4. Overview of Arminianism
  5. Comparing, contrasting, and evaluation of Calvinism and Arminianism
  6. The Biblical data
  7. My position on providence
  8. Applications of this position to soteriology
  9. My interpretation of Romans 9
  10. Difficulties and questions with my position
  11. Practical applications and conclusion

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