Calvinism And Problematic Readings Of New Testament Texts -- By: Glen Shellrude
JBTM 8:1 (Spring 2011) p. 69
Calvinism And Problematic Readings Of New Testament Texts
Dr. Shellrude is Professor of New Testament at the Manhattan campus of Alliance Theological Seminary of Nyack College.
Theological determinism affirms that everything that happens does so because God has ordained it to happen that way.1 Augustine introduced this concept into Christian theology, though theological determinism is more commonly identified with John Calvin and the tradition of Reformed theology that he initiated.2 For many, Calvinism is associated primarily with the doctrines of election and perseverance. However, it also affirms a theology of specific sovereignty (i.e., everything that happens does so because God has choreographed it to happen that way). As Robert Peterson and Michael Williams put it, God ordains everything down to “the trajectory of
JBTM 8:1 (Spring 2011) p. 70
the smallest raindrop.”3 Calvinism must deny that people have any free will (libertarian freedom), for that would mean choices could be made that run counter to what God has ordained for them at every moment. Instead, Calvinists work with the concept of compatibilistic freedom, meaning that people willingly always make the choices that God ordains they will make.
Many lay Calvinists prefer to say that God permits evil rather than ordains it. They prefer to say that while God intentionally wills what is good, He reluctantly permits many evils.4 However, mainstream Calvinist theologians do not hold this view, and Calvin himself was critical of those who used this language: “How foolish and frail is the support of divine justice afforded by the suggestion that evils come to be, not by His will but by His permission. . . . It is a quite frivolous refuge to say that God indirectly permits them, when Scripture shows Him not only willing, but the author of them. . . . It is quite clear from the evidence of Scripture that God works in the hearts of men to incline their wills just as He will, whether to good . . . or to evil.”5
Calvinist theologians and New Testament scholars commonly develop their theology in relation to those texts that speak to the issues of salvation and perseverance. They rarely discuss the implication of a deterministic theological framework for the interpretation of a wide range of other kinds of New Testament texts. This paper will explore the implications of theological determinism for readin...
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