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Calvinism -- Ten Little Caveats*

by Bob Moore

Copyright 1998



Calvinism's View Of God Is Not Completely Right

I have not joined the Calvinists because they have taken something for granted that they should not have. They presuppose some things about God that they have no authority for doing. They are not completely right about God.

It's true that we all have been wrong about him and even as believers we continue to get things in our thinking cleared up about God. Even my Christian brother, the Calvinist, may be able to show me aspects of my thinking that are even now wrong about God. If he does and if I find my whole system of belief hangs on these beliefs, then I will have to change and believe the truth.

Until that happens, I intend to show why Calvinists should reform their essential view of salvation because so much of it hangs on wrong presuppositions about God.


Everything that we believe and take action on is based on something that we take for granted as true; on something that we don't necessarily have to prove; on something that we presuppose. For example, I believe God has created an orderly world, therefore, I can make plans. if I presupposed a chaotic world I would have no reason to make plans.

For the Christian, the things that we presuppose are first, that there is a God and second that the Bible is true; that it is God's decisive way of revealing the truth about himself. There is no necessity for you to have to prove the first things you presuppose. You just operate on the assumption that is made until (if ever!) you find that it is inconsistent to continue basing your beliefs and actions on that assumption. And the fact is that everyone begins by believing in God (and consequently His authority over us), but everyone immediately and wrongfully suppresses this truth ( Rom. 1:18,19).

I and the Calvinist have the same first presuppositions. First, that there is a God, and second, that the Bible is true. We both believe that what the Bible says about God is true. But, we both interpret what the Bible says about God and come up with two exclusive meanings. If the interpretations exclude one another, then at least one of them is wrong. [1]

The presuppositions that guide our interpretation of the Bible should themselves be taken from the Bible. If you don't do this then you're making your interpretation independently of the Bible and what you believe is then built upon something other than the Bible. I think my interpretations about God as revealed in the Bible are more nearly based on Bible-derived presuppositions. And, I think there are presuppositions that have guided the Calvinist that are not Biblical presuppositions. The presuppositions one has about God will serve as a pattern or paradigm for basing the interpretation of all other scripture. That is why I will deal with specific "problem" texts last; after we have sifted through our presuppositions. One extreme example (not a Calvinist example) of how a wrong, non-Biblical presupposition affects the interpretation of other scripture is seen in Mormonism. They take it as a given (giving priority to Joseph Smith's revised visions which are a rejection of Bible teaching) that God, the Father, has a body like humans. Because they presuppose this non-Biblical notion they interpret scripture which says "God is a spirit ... " to mean that the Father's spirit is clothed in a "personage", with the Holy Ghost being the shared mind of the Father and Son. [2]


Certain ideas invite acceptance because they seem to have great explanatory powers. When we hear our perplexities explained in a manner that relates cause and effect handily, we may be prone to believe such ideas. In the first chapter I showed how that Augustine was perplexed over the problems that seemed to arise over the traditional view of election based on foreknowledge. In response Augustine decided that election was based on the mystery of God's unsearchable will rather than on His foreseen choices of men. [3] Augustine, it appears, saw that certain non- Biblical ideas of the Greek philosophies would enable him to explain things.


The case with respect to Augustinianism and Calvinism is not merely one of guilt by association with "isms", but like the adulterous preacher who constantly preaches against immorality, the Augustinian and Calvinist writers continually warn against the dangers of accepting any teaching as our authority, outside of the Bible, while at the same time letting classical Greeks like Plato, the Stoics, or Aristotle help shape God's revelation of himself. The Calvinist is supposedly committed to "sola scriptural" (only scripture) and "sola gratia" (only grace), but so subtle has been the Greek influence in Calvinist thought, that most do not recognize it as such. Some who do understand the sway the Greeks had, fail to see that it has reshaped their interpretation of the Bible. Benjamin Writ Farley, for example, says that,

the rudiments of a reformed doctrine of the providence of God lie deeply embedded in the western philosophical tradition. There is little point in debating this. Wisdom and truth consist in acknowledging the fact and in showing how Christian and later Reformed doctrines differ significantly from the older, inherited, philosophical views.

Farley reflects further,

Has Reformed theology wed itself too closely to the classical world's concepts of God's perfection, omnipotence, omniscience, and immutability in its attempts to witness to the God of Scripture? To be certain, such concepts have their place in guiding the church's reflection on the biblical God of providential activity. They enable the church to avoid the pitfalls of defining God in ways that make him subservient to other factors in the universe; they call the church's attention to glaring inconsistencies in its assertions about deity. But they need not 'control' our understanding of God's interaction with his world. [5] The unadmitted fact is that "classical" definitions of God when accepted, of necessity do control our understanding of God's interaction with His world.


In the following brief examples of Greek philosophy we will see the likely source of some present day Calvinist teachings: From Plato comes the concept of "the forms" or perfect ideals. This gave students of philosophy (one being Augustine) the notion that God does not change in any way because he is perfect. What is perfect, it is argued, does not change because by definition "perfect" means the level beyond which nothing can exceed. Nothing is more perfect than flawless, A+, or 100%. For a Platonist, things which change are inferior to things which do not change.

The Bible presents God as changeless, but the Christian tradition being shaped by Augustine and others, had to interpret what that meant. They had to decide if it meant that God did not change in character or if it meant that he did not change in some stronger sense. I shall argue in due course for the former sense alone.

Calvinists, however, chose to interpret God's changelessness as Aquinas, Augustine and the Greeks had defined it. Aquinas argued that God is totally unchangeable because "anything in change acquires something through its change, attaining something not previously attained. Now God...embracing within himself the whole fullness of perfection of all existence cannot acquire anything. [6] "Being perfect already he can lack nothing," seems to be his argument. I will show later how perfection may not consist of being in a static condition, but for a perfect being, His perfection does have a place for a _certain_ process of change. I don't mean to imply just any process of change; certainly not an "evolutionary-type" process of becoming! Part of what makes God flawless, all good and complete is His ability to change other than in His character. I will expound more on this in chapter four.


Plato inspired Aristotle's thinking about the superiority of things that do not change. We see it expressed in Aristotle's idea of the "Unmoved Mover." God is thus "the eternal self-mover; pure actuality, for any potentiality and change would suggest imperfection; hence this god must also be incorporeal and without perishable qualities. Thus the Prime Mover is without sensation or desire." [7]

From ideas such as this Augustine and others took the Biblical concept of God's immutability (unchangeableness) and gave it new non-Biblical meanings. From the Bible comes the revelation that God cannot change in character. From the Greeks came the idea that God cannot change at all.


Besides the nature of God's changelessness, other things about the way God had ordered things seemed to have been given non-Biblical senses because of Greek influence. The Stoic philosophy among other influences may have given rise to the notion that no action in man can arise uncaused. The Stoics were predeterministic in their thinking. They reasoned that every event had its set of causes. To them there were no uncaused events; every event was predetermined by preceding events. They taught that chance was only a name for undiscovered causes, and that God was the only uncaused thing. [8]

In opposition to this philosophy the Bible seems to imply that man was created with the ability to act in response to God in some uncaused or self-caused ways. A Jewish student of the Greek philosophies, Philo of Alexandria, promoted the idea that though God causes all things that happen; things that do happen have a primary and a secondary cause. Since God is good, he reasoned, and causes no evil, God is not at fault for some things that result from a secondary cause. From something like this seems to have come the Calvinist rhetoric concerning "proximate" (near) and "remote" (further removed) causes with remote causes being less blameworthy than proximate causes. This may not be the way the Calvinist says it, but the meaning cannot be far from what I have written. In the need to resolve the problem of removing God's responsibility for appointing the origin of sin, Calvinists have looked to the Greeks for help.

It's plain to see that even if a man freely does something by a choice that is caused by factors over which he does not have final control, he cannot be held responsible for doing the action; the controller is responsible. That man could not, as a matter of necessity, have made other than the choice he made. The case is like one hitting billiard ball A which then hits B, and then B hits C. We cannot say that B is really blameworthy for hitting C. [9]


The Bible does not teach that God appointed that Adam should sin, but because of certain presuppositions about God the Calvinist must cast about for a suitable explanation for holding that everything that actually happens is caused by God. Non-Biblical concepts seem to have been chosen to find ways of minimizing the emphasis on God's responsibility for moral evil and of maximizing the emphasis on man's responsibility for having faith.

In the following chapters I will try to show where non- Biblical presuppositions about God have worked to undermine the correct view of other doctrines. To begin with I will show how their faulty assumptions cannot help but give them a wrong view of me.


It might occur to you that they are both right as in light being modeled by waves and by particles, or by reason of the "antinomy" argument of which, in due course, I will urge discounting.

_Doctrine and Covenants_, 1835 edition, pp53,54

In later chapters I will urge that the truth of "election" is based on slightly different circumstances than either of these.

Benjamin Writ Farley, _The Providence of God_ (Baker, Grand Rapids) p.47,226

_Summa Theologiae_ , vol. II, 1a.9.1

Op. Cit., Farley

To the extent that their concept of "the word" was an impersonal force, to that extent was their view fatalistic.

John Frame, _Apologetics to the Glory of God_ (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, p.166)

* Caveat:  a warning or explanation to prevent misinterpretation.