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With all due respect, I don’t think the way you have characterized Calvinism is fair.
I agree – I don’t think many Calvinists would disagree with anything you’ve said here (except for your portrayal of what they believe). Calvinists don’t believe that the love of God can cast out all fear, or cleanse us from all sin? This is very unrepresentative, Ben.
Matt and Andrew,
I am going to disagree with you all on this one. I think this is a fair assesment of the Calvinist position. He essentially made 2 (maybe 3) assertions. Firstly, “salvation is by grace through faith alone.” I find it very difficult to believe you would find any Calvinist that would disagree with this. Secondly (and thirdly, if you want to separate the statements), “Calvinist don’t believe that God casts out all fear in this life; that God cleanses us of all sin in this life?” Calvinist do not affirm these two premises. They would affirm them if they were slightly modified, replacing “in this life” with “at death” or “in the end” or some other such phrase. The Calvinist view of sanctification is that it does not happen fully in life whereas, what I believe Ben to be getting at is the contrast between that view and the Wesleyan idea of currently possible perfection.
Grace and Peace,
I don’t know whether I’m a Calvinist but I can say for sure I don’t know a believing Christian who claims the Calvinist heritage who fits the straw man you present here. To say that Calvinists have no theological framework for incorporating Grace and Works belies the works of Calvin’s followers through the centuries. I do know that I disagree with Wesley that a man can achieve perfection. I observe that he strove as hard for such as any person–much harder than I have!–but I’m certain on his death bed he realized even he had not achieved it. Please invest your time building the body, not tearing it down over these types of distinctions which may only be relevant in your own mind.
I just stopped by here as I was cruising the evangelical channel and this caught my eye. Let me stick up for Dr. Witherington as one who has read quite a bit on Calvinism and Armenian/Wesleyan theology. I think the argument is fairly made from a Wesleyan perspective (vis-a-vis monergism/synergism, individual freedom and responsibility). I would also agree that although the characterization here of Calvinism may not be what most Calvinists -believe- it is in fact consistent with what Calvinism teaches (re: Dordt, Calvin, modern day proponents such as Sproul, Piper). One of my big problems with Calvinism is that most Calvinists do not consistently hold beliefs in line with what that systematic theology teaches.
Having my roots in the Wesleyan tradition, and having spent the last three years in an intensive study of spiritual theology/spiritual formation, I find it fascinating that the lion’s share of material I’ve encountered is rooted in Calvinism. Can you explain what seems to be a bit of a dichotomy? I have, to date, concluded that this is a “both/and discussion” with the emphasis slightly heavier on one side in one camp and vice versa, but in reality little salient variance. You seem convinced otherwise. Additional thoughts?
So far as I can see, Calvinists do not believe in what Wesley said 1 John meant. The cleansing from all inward sin and the filling of the person with all love in that same event. No, they tend to believe that there is still vestigial sin in the inner life of the believer even when they have an experience like I have just described. Indeed, they make fun of the idea of entire inward sanctification. So much for God’s sovereign grace. BW3
I think I’m in between you and the hyper Calvinist view. Does your view see believers as experientially w/o sin?
My view sees us as still sinful, but, if we’re on the proper spiritual path, progressively becoming more and more sanctified/closer to Christ/representing His virtues,etc.
Perfected in virtue love, not literal perfection is how I see this right now.
This Wesleyan Calvinist divide is old stuff. This is all 17th and 18th century theology.
Are the above critics going to say that Calvinists believe that God’s grace can cleanse us of all sin? If you know Calvinists that affirm Christian perfection, then they aren’t Calvinists.
Good stuff, Dr. Witherington. Entire Sanctification as the grand depositum of Wesleyanism. I would have maybe liked a nod at the method of Methodism (class structure), but I appreciate the witness.
I am not conversant with Calvinism or Wesleyanism, that’s why I asked.
I would answer your question though.
I don’t know what Calvinists believe, I know what the NT text teaches and yes, Christ cleanses us from all the Divine legal punishment for sin and upon the general resurrection we will be free from sin literally.
As it stands, we’re all a work in progress on the literal sin thing based on how much affinity we have for Christ.
That’s fabulous, Dr. W.
I think the points you made in regards to Wesleyan evangelicalism stand not only in opposition to Calvinism, but speaks in many of the same ways to liberal theology of various kinds. This is one big thing I noticed: liberal Christianity is quick to love, quick to compassion, quick to empathize and to say that we are all broken…but slow to offer hope that God can (or even wants to) change people. Hm. I like being Wesleyan Arminian.
Faith without works may be dead, but faith is still not works. Luther made the distinction between Law and Gospel as being paramount, you can’t mix the two, as they control different spheres. The Gospel is the forgiveness of sins. It is the work of God to save us. What we do is not the gospel, it is what he has done for us and continues to do for us in Christ that is the gospel. Loving and serving others is not the Gospel but the consequence of our believing the Gospel. Gwatkin said Morality takes care of itself when men are filled with thankfulness for the gift of life in Christ.
What you are saying about Calvinism is simply not true. Of course they believe the gospel can transform lives!
The transformation is different. The Wesleyan concept of the Gospel would include the faith+works aftermath and not a consequence. The idea is complete salvation, not just a legal declaration of forgiveness. Being saved from sin includes forgiveness as well as regeneration and so what happens after the justification event is working out our salvation and still part of the core Gospel. In this, the Gospel is more than just forgiveness, although that is certainly a very important component.
Hello, Dr. W,
I have found your news and opinion pieces very useful and timely.
For your information, I have written a book that addresses many of the topics that you have covered in the past few years. I think it achieves a harmonization between Calvinism and Arminianism that is not found elsewhere. No, it is not Molinism, but I do give Molinism a thumbs-up. It is on Amazon.com
“CrossCurrents: Making Sense of the Christian Life” by Harry James Fox
Dr. Witherington is a man for whom I have much respect so in his giving reasons for being a Wesleyan I am most saddened by his characterization of Calvinism. I would have expected a much better understanding and discussion of those with whom he has disagreement.
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