Saturday, March 29, 2014

Answering caricatures of Calvinism (from Calvin)

Today, on a whim (or was it?) I picked up Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion today after about one and a half years. I picked up right where I left off, at his discourse on original sin and the enslavement of the will. Though (surprise surprise) I didn't agree with everything he had to say, I found myself resonating quite strongly with what he had to say on the will, and maybe even...learning from it. This passages in 2.2.7 convinced me that those who say Calvinism's view of free will makes people look like robots haven't read enough Calvin:
In thisu way, then, man is said to have free will, not because he has a free choice of good and evil, but because he acts voluntarily, and not by compulsion. This is perfectly true; but why should so small a matter have been dignified with so proud a title? An admirable freedom! that man is not forced to be the servant of sin, while he is, however, εθελοδουλος (ethelodoulos, a voluntary slave); his will being bound by the fetters of sin.
I think I've been misunderstanding Calvin. He does not deny the definition of "free will" that I feel so strongly that we must have (the freedom from all external causation of one's actions), if only to prevent God from being the author of human evil. Instead, he affirms it almost offhandedly, and then says, in effect, "Now, can we get back to talking about what's important?"* This is both tremendously enlightening and challenging. The term "voluntary slavery" brilliantly sums up the bondage that (I think) Calvin is getting at: not that we are subjugated to sin against our will by having our power to choose removed, but that we use that power to submit ourselves to it in slavery. (See Romans 6)

Granted, a traditional Arminian would probably find something to disagree with in Calvin's discussion of free will, but I will be reading him with more interest from now on.

* Though he later seems to, somewhat inconsistently.

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