A Parable of Calvinism -- By: Brenda B. Colijn

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 36:0 (NA 2004)
Article: A Parable of Calvinism
Author: Brenda B. Colijn

A Parable of Calvinism

Brenda B. Colijn

One of the issues raised by the current debate over the openness of God is what kind of God is required by the different theologies involved in the debate. For example, Reformed theologian Bruce Ware has described the God of open theism as a “limited, passive, hand-wringing God.”1 Open theist Clark Pinnock cites Walter Kasper’s description of the God of classical theism as “a solitary narcissistic being, who suffers from his own completeness.”2 If nothing else, open theism has forced evangelicals to reexamine their understanding of the nature and character of God.

I approach the doctrine of God from an Anabaptist perspective, which technically is not Arminian (since Anabaptism predated the Arminian controversy within the Reformed tradition) but is decidedly non-Calvinist. From an Anabaptist perspective, the God of Reformed theology suffers from significant limitations, although those limitations apply to his character rather than to his knowledge. Even if one agrees with Calvinists (as most Anabaptists and Arminians would) that God has exhaustive definite foreknowledge, the Calvinist understanding of salvation has significant implications for the character of God that are not often brought out. Let me illustrate this with a parable.

The kingdom of God is like a cruise ship that goes on a long voyage. The captain of the ship overhears his passengers planning to go swimming off the side of the ship. He makes an announcement to all the passengers, warning them against such an action. If they jump off the ship, they will be unable to climb back in, because the hull is too steep and there are no ladders to give access. The ship is hundreds of miles from land, so they won’t be able to swim to shore. The surrounding waters are infested with sharks. Nevertheless, despite the captain’s warnings, all of the passengers jump overboard to go swimming. They are soon in deep trouble.

Seeing their distress, the captain broadcasts a message to all of them. He says that he can rescue them all; to be rescued, all they need to do is to grab the life preservers that he will throw to them. Then he takes out a few life preservers and instructs his crew to throw them to certain individual passengers he has picked out. For the other passengers, he does nothing. He continues to broadcast his message that they need only to grab the life preservers in order to be rescued. Some of the people with life preservers beg him to help the passengers who are drowning. The captain ignores them. With his message of rescue still sounding across the water, he watches the rest of the passengers die.

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