Monday, August 27, 2012

Providence, Part V: Evaluation

This is part 5 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
Disclaimer: All of the views expressed in this post are absolutely my own and not those of my church, my small group, or any other religious entity I am or have been involved with.

The last three posts in this series have been difficult. I've learned that I have trouble simply doing non-evaluative studies of subjects with a minimal amount of my own opinion; as a J on the MBTI scale it's hard for me to spend so much time figuring out what others think or what has happened while shutting out most of what I think. Well, that is about to change. Here is what I think about Calvinism and Arminianism. I'm not going to get into what I personally think about providence until post 7, but as will become quite clear soon, my position falls much closer to Arminianism than Calvinism.

First, I'd like to point out and decry the tendency debates among Calvinists and Arminians have to focus entirely on comparing and contrasting the respective five points of each. The parallels that exist between these points seem to invite these comparisons and so they are often weighed against each other to decide the matter. This is unhelpful and, I think, ineffective at actually resolving these debates. These points all descend from a particular, internally consistent system of interpreting the Bible.

As I showed in the previous two posts, Calvinists and Arminians don't simply stake their claim on the parts of the Bible that support their position and try to nullify the parts that damage it; they can each look at the same passage and interpret it completely differently, each in a way that supports their system. Calvinists can argue from Romans 9 to prove unconditional election all they like, but an Arminian need not be convinced as he is already set in his own way of reading this chapter.

In this way debates over the individual points usually don't get far because each side is arguing from the perspective of its own system for interpreting the Bible, and these arguments don't carry the same weight in the other side's system because they interpret the evidence differently. It's the same reason internet debates between Christians and atheists are exercises in futility; both argue for their worldview using evidence that has been interpreted through the lens of that worldview, while the other side sees it differently. A evaluative decision between Calvinism and Arminianism has to look deeper, at the views of God, human nature, and the Bible that give rise to these two different ways of reading it--the guiding views of God I talked about at the end of each post. And so, before I get into any discussion of the individual points, it is these underlying perspectives and motivations that I will be evaluating.

Strengths of the Calvinistic Perspective

I would say the great strength of the Calvinistic view (above and behind the five points) is its majestic view of God as discussed in post 3. It puts the utmost emphasis on God's sovereignty as Lord and Creator over all things, even the depths of the hearts of people. God does not simply leave His creation to fend for itself but has a perfect plan for it according to His good pleasure to work all things, even the evil actions of people who rebel against Him, for His glory. The salvation of men is not left to any contingency but is firmly in His capable hands. This view of a righteous God who can never in any wise be defeated or thwarted in what He sets out to do and does not let evil happen but actively works good by it is rightly a source of great peace and comfort to Calvinists.

In keeping with its complete trust in God to elect and save, Calvinism also has a very high view of the efficacy of the Atonement. Its insistence that Jesus' death did not merely make salvation possible but actually secured it for individuals along with everything that comes with it comes from a sincere love for Jesus and for the gospel. The Atonement is seen as the crowning glory of God's perfect, immutable plan for all of eternity, the way for God to perfectly accomplish His purpose of election.

Shortcomings of the Calvinistic Perspective

My criticisms of the Calvinistic view can be broken down into five main points. (Which I will not attempt to organize into an acronym)

1. It loses sight of God's essential goodness and justice

This is the classic "Calvinism makes God the author of evil" objection; as I will explain, I do not find any of the defenses against this accusation very convincing. In its quest to make God as sovereign and autonomous as possible, exercising "meticulous control" over a fallen creation, it raises some serious questions about His moral nature. I do not think Calvinism provides satisfactory answers to the questions it raises.

One of my strongest convictions, which I think I share with Arminians, is that God does not cause anyone to sin. If He does, then His goodness and justice both become meaningless and He is no longer worthy of our love or praise. For what does God's holiness mean if He is the creator of the sin and evil He detests, and what does His justice mean if He punishes us for doing what He caused us to do? What difference is there between good and evil if God causes both and works both for His glory? How is evil not another equally just way for God to work all things to His glory? This conviction puts limits on just how much sovereignty we can ascribe to God, at least in the realm of human activities.

It also clashes dramatically with Calvinism's understanding of God as the "primary cause" of all things. (Calvin, Institutes, 16.8) As I mentioned in post 3, Calvinism operates on a "cause and effect" rather than an "influence and response" model of human behavior; the doctrine of Irresistible Grace is built on this understanding. I often seen Calvinists, when confronted with this question, revert to speaking about God's working through evil in permissive, rather than active, terms--perhaps God causes the good acts of men, but does not cause and only permits the evil they do. But this concept of the "permissive will" of God is more of an Arminian concept than a Calvinistic one, and indeed is denied by Calvinism. Calvin, in chapter 18.1 of his Institutes, writes:
It seems absurd that man should be blinded by the will and command of God, and yet be forthwith punished for his blindness. Hence, recourse is had to the evasion that this is done only by the permission, and not also by the will of God. He himself, however, openly declaring that he does this, repudiates the evasion. That men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on any thing but what he has previously decreed with himself and brings to pass by his secret direction, is proved by numberless clear passages of scripture.
So Calvin, in the chapter in which he defends his theology from accusations that God is the author of sin, only intensifies them. To this doctrine, Arminius responds:
Because, according to this doctrine, he moves to sin by an act that is unavoidable, and according to his own purpose and primary intention, without having received any previous inducement to such an act from any preceding sin or demerit in man.
And elsewhere:
This Predestination is inconsistent with the nature and properties of Sin, because Sin is called "disobedience" and "rebellion ", neither of which terms can possibly apply to any person who by a preceding divine decree is placed under an unavoidable necessity of sinning.
Arminius cleverly catches the implication of God's "meticulous control" over all things, even human wills, which no one can avoid or resist, that this necessarily makes Him the cause of not only our righteousness but also our sin.

Also, as I mentioned before, Calvinism's answer to the question "Why is everyone not saved?" is, ultimately, "Because God does not wish or try to save everyone." When did it become acceptable to believe this about God, even take pleasure in it? Indeed Calvinism, by making God the sole planner and effecter of salvation, begs the question of why God doesn't simply save everyone, which would not do any damage to His justice as it was perfectly satisfied by the Atonement. Calvinists have to explain away verses about the universality of God's compassion and mercy on sinners like 1 Timothy 2:4 and many other verses brought up by Arminians in support of universal atonement, dampening their meaning by calling the meaning of words like "all" and "world" into question, which is an awkward solution at best.

In all its fervor about emphasizing God's sovereignty, Calvinism comes perilously close to losing sight of God's essential goodness and mercy or to viewing them as simply the flip side of His wrath as part of His grand, mysterious plan. The goodness and love of God are not hidden attributes, nor should you have to exercise faith to believe that they are really true of God. The gospel is the ultimate revelation of God's love and mercy, and I think that if it ever seems to call them into question, you are thinking about it wrongly.

2. It justifies its view of God by abusing the concept of His "good pleasure"

The most common response I hear from Calvinists to this objection that God is not loving for not saving everyone is something along the lines of, "God does not owe anything to sinful man; we owe everything to Him. He has mercy on whom He will have mercy (Romans 9:16), predestining people for good or evil as part of His perfect plan, according to His good pleasure (Ephesians 1:9). Who are you, O man (Romans 9:20) to judge God's designs by human standards of justice and fairness? For His ways and thoughts are above ours as the heavens are above the earth (Isaiah 55:9), and He is not obligated to save anyone because we justly deserve destruction for our sinfulness."

A few things I will pick out of this response:
  • God's will or "good pleasure" is assumed to be atomic, impenetrable, incomprehensible to humans by being far beyond and above us. Calvinism answers the difficult questions it raises about God's nature by retreating to this "good pleasure" as the justification for it all. Any attempts to question it are necessarily assumed to be based on human (that is, fallen; unreliable) standards and reason, even if those arguments are based on other parts of God's revelation of Himself in the Bible.
  • In its desire to free God from all constraints on His will, it asserts that He is not obligated in any way to sinful man, ignoring the fact that God graciously obligates Himself to us by His promises (such as John 3:16) and His perfect faithfulness to keep these promises. He was not obligated to make these promises, but now we can trust and rely on His holding to them.
  • And, perhaps most seriously, it makes some seriously misguided assumptions about God's "good pleasure". In making that the unifying justification for everything Calvinism ascribes to Him, Calvinism creates a picture of a God who, while unconditionally denying individuals the chance to be saved and experience all of His perfect goodness, smiles serenely and says "All is going according to plan, according to My good pleasure." This is a picture not of a good and glorious God, but of a psychopath.
The fact is that God's "good pleasure" is not atomic or incomprehensible, and we can gain some facts about how it works. When God says things like "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy", F. Leroy Forlines writes, we should not simply leave it there and conclude unconditional election but should respond by asking, "On whom does God will to have mercy?" Or, in this case, "What does God actually take pleasure in? What does God actually desire?" Now is not the time for a thorough study of this matter, but here are a few illustrative examples:
  • His son, Jesus Christ (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22)
  • Sanctifying us through "grace-driven effort" (Philippians 2:13)
  • Giving good gifts to His children (Luke 12:32)
  • Those who love and fear Him (Psalm 147:11)
  • Uprightness (1 Chronicles 29:17)
  • The wicked coming to repentance (Ezekiel 33:11)
  • The salvation of everyone (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9)
  • Predestinating the elect (Ephesians 1:5)
And what does God take no pleasure in?
  • The death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11) or of anyone (18:32)
  • False/empty religion (Malachi 1:10, Hebrews 10:6,8)
  • Faithlessness (Hebrews 10:38)
God's "good pleasure" is in fact much more comprehensible and transparent than Calvinism makes it out to be. These verses clearly show that taking pleasure in ordaining acts of evil or predestining people for destruction is antithetical to God's nature. Rather than deciding God's nature based on His actions in the Calvinistic system (a school of thought known as voluntarism), it makes much more sense to learn about God's nature and reason that He wills and acts according to this nature (known as essentialism).

Of course, it's easy to see how Ephesians 1:5 can be taken in support of Calvinism, so I will briefly offer an alternate interpretation: God takes pleasure in predestining individuals for salvation, but not in predestining those He knows will not be saved. The idea of God taking no pleasure in something He does (not getting His way!?) will no doubt horrify Calvinists, but if He is as sovereign as they say, the alternative is the psychopathic picture of God we saw above. I will get much more into this in post 7, but for now let me suggest that God's ultimate purpose in all that He does is the glory of His name, not His "pleasure" as we may think of it, and that the two are not equivalent. By justifying its difficult points with God's "good pleasure", Calvinism misses the sincerely-caring, condescending (in the sense of Jesus becoming man and humbling Himself to identify with us) view of God in favor of that of an imperious, all-powerful judge and sovereign.

3. It misunderstands human nature and how God works with it

As I mentioned in post 3, Calvinism has a compatiblist view of free will (or incompatiblist view in the case of hyper-Calvinism, which denies free will altogether). But, as it turns out, you can believe free will is compatible with different things. I agree with Calvinism in that free will is compatible with divine determinism (more on that later), but Calvinism goes on to say free will is compatible with divine causation. The doctrine of irresistible grace is the best example of this. It portrays regeneration as the Holy Spirit doing a powerful work in our heart that causes us to freely believe in God. (Perhaps by realigning our hearts to desire Him, so that in doing what we desire most we believe) I think this is a contradiction in terms.

Again, see the above quote in which Calvin names God as the "primary cause" of all things and goes on to expound on the completeness of His control over our affairs. Lorraine Boettner in his landmark book The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination echoes this though, naming God as the "primary cause" of human affairs and humans as the "secondary cause" (p. 222)

A common objection against Calvinism is that it removes any responsibility from us to make any effort to believe or be sanctified. I don't think this is the case, but only because the application side of Calvinism is not consistent with its thinking on free will. If God truly causes us to believe, all the times salvation is conditioned on "our" faith become meaningless. God powerfully influencing us to believe in a way that we never could without Him does not have this difficulty. If God truly caused the Fall in the sense of withdrawing some measure of grace from Adam and Eve so that they inevitably sinned, then good and evil become meaningless. A truly cause-and-effect view of human nature is incompatible with "free will" and moral responsibility.

Another point relates to how salvation works. A lot of Calvinistic writings I've read are so focused on God's plan of election and predestination that it becomes the "true" reason we are saved, not the real condition we are given, namely faith (John 3:16). Again, the reason given in Romans 9, the chapter used most often to prove unconditional election, that not all Jews are saved, is nothing like "God unconditionally chose some and not others", but "not all believed." (Romans 9:32) Predestination has nothing to do with Jesus' proclamation, "Your faith has saved you" in Luke 7:50. This is not necessarily a factual error, but a case of misplaced emphasis.

One other thing to point out here is Calvinism's interesting placement of regeneration before faith or justification in the "golden chain" of salvation. This divorces regeneration from the rest of sanctification for the sake of supporting the points of total depravity and irresistible grace. In other words, you are "born again" before you are saved. Regeneration, rather than being the birth of our eternal life in Christ, happens before it with no context, then we are saved. I don't see it necessary to point out the sheer bizarreness of this from a doctrinal standpoint any further. Just because you can read the Biblical testimony on regeneration this way does not mean you should.

4. It defends itself with an "argument from mystery"

While it probably isn't in reality, from reading Calvin's writings on providence and predestination I get the feeling that his favorite verse of scripture is Romans 9:20: "But you are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, 'Why have you made me like this?'" I refer to the use of this verse, especially the first part, to defend the Calvinistic perspective on predestination as the "argument from mystery"--it is foolish or prideful to ask why God unconditionally predetermines things the way He does, and if you do so you are judging God. In this way Calvinism lays out many apparently contradictions and defeats any attempts to resolve them except its own.

The arrogance of assuming the complete truth of Calvinism and interpreting any challenges to it as talking back to God is astounding, but unsurprising if you see it as the only way to read the Bible. Not all challenges to unconditional election are made by human standards of justice and fairness; it is possible to judge interpretations of the character and actions of God based on what He has told us about Himself, as I have been attempting to do. The nature of God, not His bare "good pleasure" or will, gets the final say.

Lastly, this is not an argument against Calvinism, but to date in my research I have not read even one Calvinist who appears to actually understand Arminianism or view it as anything other than a logically flimsy strawman system to either dismiss or constantly rip on (Boettner is almost unreadable because of his constant jabs at his conception of Arminianism). Grudem is the closest I have read to this understanding (or Geisler, if you consider him a Calvinist), as well as my friend Mitch, who I can't claim to have "read". Calvinists: just like in anything else, before entering into a debate, make a point of actually understanding the opposing side from its own perspective.

5. It incorporates numerous other confusions of concepts and false dichotomies

I will go through these quickly:

Confusion of faith and "merit"/works. Calvinists seem to think that if salvation is really conditioned on our own faith, then this is tantamount to man saving himself by some work that he does. Never mind that the Bible treats faith and works as completely separate things; Romans 9:32 directly contrasts the two; see also Ephesians 2:8-9 (note: according to the Greek grammar, salvation, not faith, is said to be the gift of God here) and Galatians 2:16.

God being in "meticulous control" over all things and utter chaos/humans and demons having the power to thwart His plan. If God isn't in total control of all things, the reasoning goes, if humans have any power to determine their own actions, then this means they can oppose God's plan for all things, and we can't have that! Calvin cites Augustine as saying, "If anything is left to fortune [not God], the world moves at random." It is either the Calvinistic view of God's providence or a blind, uncaring universe ruled by chance and contingency. Really?

Man having no spiritual agency and salvation by works. Calvinists like the image of man pre-salvation as "spiritually dead", like Lazarus in his tomb. From this they conclude that, prior to regeneration, man has absolutely no power to seek God, respond to God, love God, or comprehend anything of the spirit; he is dead, and dead people can't do anything! The only alternative they see is, at best, semi-Pelagian; man saving himself either by simply doing good works or by believing in God all by himself! (Nevermind that taking advantage of God's promise to offer salvation to anyone to believes is in no way saving oneself) Once again, this narrow perception of only two extremes leads Calvinism to choose the more Biblical, but still misguided one.

Man possessing absolutely free will and the constrained Calvinistic view of free will. I will only touch on this one briefly because the main source I've heard it from is my pastor. "Free will" does not necessarily mean "being able to do absolutely whatever you want", so that our inability to sprout wings and fly becomes a rebuke to free will. Only God has this kind of freedom, but I don't think this is what anyone means when discussing free will.

The pleasure and glory of God. See point 2 above.

And one last thing that occurred to me: I really don't see how to reconcile the Calvinistic view of God's total sovereignty over evil with the kind of pitched, militaristic language Evangelicals use to talk about free will. If Satan and his fallen angels are really only serving God (if unwillingly), why get so worked up about them? Why not just trust God to shepherd them wisely and with our best interest in mind?

6. The Individual Five Points

With my position on the assumptions and conceptions on the perspective of Calvinism in place, I can move on to briefly discuss the five individual points. It will suffice for me to show which of the above misconceptions each is based on and to offer my own interpretation of the Biblical data (in post 7).

Total Depravity

As I mentioned in post 3, Calvinism's perspective on total depravity departs from the Arminian view mainly in its understanding of free will and human nature (cause-and-effect vs. influence-and-response).   To a Calvinist we are so far gone that God has to cause us to believe by regeneration; to the Arminian we are still unable to desire or seek God on our own, but the influence of His spirit calling us allows us to respond to Him with faith. People having, by prevenient grace, the ability to freely respond to God's acting on our hearts is no threat at all to the doctrine of total depravity.

Unconditional Election

I believe unconditional election is a case of eisegesis: the reading of the Calvinistic perspective into passages like Romans 9 to support something the Bible never clearly says. Given no clear Biblical proof of why God elects some and not others, and plenty of verses on why we are not elected or saved, Calvinism concludes that God is absolutely free to have mercy on whom He wills, not intrinsically constrained by anything outside the pleasure of His will.

Here is the shocker: I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. What I disagree with is how Calvinism extends it to say that God does not take anything outside Himself into account at all in predestination, which is where the conception of God arbitrarily going "duck, duck, damn" comes from. (Point 2 above) Just because we cannot force God to elect us by anything we do or are does not mean He does not still consider our natures or lives in His decision. Ironically, Calvinism, ruling out any consideration of individual people from God's decision in the desire to make His sovereign will truly free, ends up constraining it in a different way. As Forlines points out, since salvation is conditional, there is no reason why election can't be (in some different, confusing, eternal sense).

Limited (Definite) Atonement

This doctrine is how Calvinism most directly answers the question of why everyone is not saved: God does not wish or try to save everyone. Again, I have dealt with the dangers of this belief in points 1 and 2; God does wish (or desire, or please) that everyone be saved. This doctrine stands on its own perhaps less than any of the others; it relies on systematically denying the common-sense reading of a great deal of passages on the universality of God's compassion and the atonement, which in my opinion should cast a lot of doubts on your argument.

Irresistible (Effective) Grace

I have dealt with this doctrine, its placing of regeneration before salvation, and its interpretation of the Bible's reliance on Calvinism's cause-and-effect view of free will above. (Point 3)

Perseverance of the Saints

Again, this doctrine is basically saying that, once He has regenerated them, God causes the elect to persevere in faith until the end (point 3). In response to the criticism of Boettner and others that Arminianism provides no real assurance of salvation by conditioning it on continued faith, I would respond that Calvinism really isn't much more helpful; the question is not Will I continue to believe? but Is my faith real? Am I elect? Neither question is answered with certainty until we meet God.

Strengths of the Arminian Perspective

Okay. I am pretty much done talking about Calvinism now. I feel able to say less about Arminianism because a) my disagreements with it are not nearly as sharp and b) much of my thinking in subsequent posts will incorporate it. On to what makes Arminianism great!

First, Arminianism obviously takes a very high view of God's perfect love, benevolence, goodness, moral perfection, and grace. Where Calvinism seems more concerned with God making and perfectly seeing to completion a plan that involves people, Arminianism is much more after God's direct affection for His children. It avoids all of the difficult questions raised by God being meticulously involved with sin or unconditionally predestining people. The picture of God as a father who identifies with His children, shares in their joys and sufferings, and truly wishes all of them to find their greatest good in Him that I mentioned Calvinism misses out on, Arminianism has in spades.

And Arminianism's response to the burning question "Why is everyone not saved" is, I think, much more reasonable and consistent with who we know God to be. Not everyone is saved because not everyone believes, because God has graciously offered everyone salvation on the condition that they let Him help them to believe in Him and love Him. In this way it puts the gospel and God's love and benevolence front and center, with His harshness and wrath a necessary consequence of the damnable sin of rejecting Him.

Shortcomings of the Arminian Perspective

A (perhaps necessary) consequence of this focus is that Arminianism does see God's sovereignty much less actively and powerfully than Calvinism does, though while still affirming it. Whereas Calvinism has to twist the meaning of verses that deal with the universality of the atonement and God's love, Arminianism, with its embrace of God's "permissive will", has to at least get a bit awkward in how it interprets verses that Calvinists gleefully cite on the directness of God's governance of the world.

Arminianism, because of its incompatibilistic perspective, also tends to see no middle ground between its conception of libertarian free will, and no free will at all. This is just the dichotomy on free will seen by Calvinists, viewed from the other side. Yet it does hold that free will is compatible with divine foreknowledge, just not divine determination. I tend to agree with Calvinists when they point out that there is less difference between these things than you may think. Anyway, the difficulty in reconciling God's sovereignty or foreknowledge with libertarian, undetermined free will has long been a major difficulty for Arminians and has led to dangerous schools of thought that have given Calvinists plenty of ammunition against it, like Molinism and open theism.

While it's true that Arminianism is not intrinsically opposed to predestination, it is also softer on this point than Calvinism, which has become nearly synonymous with the term. I think the interpretation of predestination being "God predestining Jesus as savior" really misses the point of passages like Romans 9 that directly speak of us, not Jesus, being the ones who are predestined--as does theology supporting corporate election.

Arminians also tend towards a very "hands-off" view towards God's dealing with sin, seeing it as the only alternative to God being the author of sin. Whereas Calvinism begs the question of why sin exists in the first place, Arminianism begs the question of how sin doesn't deal a serious blow to God's sovereignty, and it has trouble with passages where God does seem to be more directly involved with acts of sin. (More on that in post 10)

And finally, while I don't think true Arminianism is overly concerned with human free will over the nature of God, it is very, very easy to think otherwise.

Common Shortcomings

Obviously Calvinism and Arminianism have most of Protestantism and reformed doctrine in common as their strengths, so in favor of not writing my own systematic theology yet, I'll skip that. Instead I'll move on to some ways in which I think both perspectives fall short.

First, I think they both miss out on a really eternal perspective of God. There is a tendency to anthropomorphize God's workings and decrees, or view Him as an omnipotent, omniscient being who otherwise exists in time and moves through it like we do while enacting His perfect plan. One way I see this is theologians hinting at God making different parts of His plan at different times. If God has perfect knowledge of all things and is unchanging to boot, then we can't think of Him in any way as making and executing His plans (or "decrees") concurrently like we do. Also in Calvinism's conclusion that since God's election was decided "before the foundation of the world", it can't be based on anything about us because we weren't born yet. More on the applications of this in post 7.

Another big way I see this misconception play out in more serious debates is in the whole infra/supra/sublapsarianism debate. I didn't understand what it was about for the longest time, and I still can barely believe I do. Debating which parts of God's eternal, perfect, unchanging plan were made first? Why not debate which member of the Trinity came first? Somewhat related are the attempts made by both unconditional and conditional elections to offer simple rules explaining why God elects and predestines the way He does. Do we try to explain any other part of God's plan (like why He permits wars, or uses disease in peoples' lives) in this way?

Both sides also tend to conflate election (which is eternal and part of God's plan) and faith and salvation (which happens in time), saying that one directly leads to the other. In Calvinism this looks like trying to apply the unconditionality of election to salvation, minimizing the crucial role faith plays in the process and making it more of an effect of election than a condition of salvation; Arminianism goes the other way in tying election completely in with faith; God simply elects those who will have faith. I think that simply trying to make one of the two an aftereffect of the other is an oversimplification that diminishes their crucial role in the "scheme of things".

I see both sides, in their (I would say excessive) discussions of free will, assuming a simplified picture of human nature as very little besides the will; man is simply a will in an otherwise inert body that is acted on and chooses things (especially faith in God) and the question is how he chooses those things in relation to his external influences. Except for token sections that take on a more holistic perspective, writings of both sides tend to neglect the roles of personality, desires, affections, intellect, etc. in how we come to believe and take faith. They also tend to talk about faith as if it is a single, crucial decision you make, so all the weight falls on how that one decision is made, rather than viewing faith as a lifelong commitment to God.

And, finally, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is an almost irresistible tendency in any conversation about Calvinism and Arminianism to make it about the individual, corresponding five points and playing them against either other without looking beneath the surface at why the sides' interpretations of scripture are so different.

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