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An imaginary conversation between a Calvinist and a non-Calvinist

An imaginary conversation between a Calvinist and a non-Calvinist January 2, 2011

Calvinist: You non-Calvinists limit God’s power and sovereignty and thereby denigrate his glory.

Non-Calvinist: No; we don’t.  Why do you say that?

Calvinist: You limit God’s power by claiming that created agents such as we can thwart his will and you denigrate his glory by elevating human agency and will to a level almost equal with God’s.  You rob God of his sovereignty.

Non-Calvinist: Oh, but I affirm that God is omnipotent, sovereign and glorious.

Calvinist: But you undermine your affirmation by limiting God’s power, sovereignty and glory.  You apparently do not believe God is truly all powerful, all sovereign or perfect in glory.

Non-Calvinist: You just don’t understand; God’s power is different from our power and God’s sovereignty is different from our sovereignty and God’s glory is different from our glory.

Calvinist: Huh?

Non-Calvinist: When you speak of God’s power, sovereignty and glory you are basing them on an analogy to human power, sovereignty and glory.  You simply inflate the greatest creaturely power, sovereignty and glory imaginable and attribute it to God.

Calvinist: Yes, otherwise there would be no meaning in the terms.  We would have no idea what we are talking about.

Non-Calvinist: But the Bible says God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, so how can you compare God’s power, sovereignty and glory to creatures’?

Calvinist: Surely if these words mean anything they must have some connection with our own experience; they cannot be entirely equivocal and inform us of anything about God.

Non-Calvinist: I am just going by the Bible.

Calvinist: Huh?

Non-Calvinist: Scripture says that God’s power is made manifest in weakness and there is glory in the inglorious cross of Christ.  Those claims cut right across all our notions of power and glory based on human experience.  We believe the same is true of “sovereignty.”

Calvinist: Yes, yes, but those are not descriptions of the actual attributes of God; they are expressions of God’s kenosis in the incarnation.

Non-Calvinist: So they don’t tell us anything true about God in himself?

Calvinist: I’m not sure…but, come to think of it, no; they don’t, except that God is capable of expressing his power and glory in what to us are unusual ways.

Non-Calvinist: Well, when I say God is all powerful I don’t mean what you apparently mean by “power” and when I say God is all sovereign I don’t mean what you apparently mean by soveriegnty and when I say God is absolutely and perfectly glorious I don’t mean what you apparently mean by glory.

Calvinist: What do you mean?

Non-Calvinist (tongue firmly planted in cheek): Whatever my theology requires me to mean.  Oh, I mean whatever Scripture defines these as meaning.

Calvinist: So you don’t feel any compulsion to explain them in terms understandable to humans?

Non-Calvinist: No.

Calvinist: Then I really have no idea what you mean when you affirm that God is all powerful, all sovereign and all glorious.

Non-Calvinist: It appears you are just relying on human reason, then.  I am simply going by what is revealed.

Calvinist: Can we even communicate, then?

Non-Calvinist: Actually, I’ve just been trying to show you how frustrating it is when you talk about God being love and then describe God’s love in ways totally foreign to anything we call “love” in our human experience–even based on how Scripture tells us to love our neighbors and enemies.  Then, when we point out the problem, that in your language game “love” is used equivocally, you claim we are going by human experience and reason while you are going by revelation.  We non-Calvinists COULD do the same with “power,” “sovereignty,” and “glory” and thereby end all possibility of meaningful communication–and you would object that we are emptying these attributes of all meaning.  Of course, we don’t really do that.  We think there are analogies to what Scripture tells us about these attributes of God.  We do not use the words equivocally or univocally.  We simply insist that if they, like love, are to have any meaning they must have some analogies to the best of what we can know and understand of them.  For example, in human experience and language, power and sovereignty and even glory can be self-limited or voluntarily restricted.  That’s the whole point of the TV show “CEO.”  And we’ve all heard of monarchs who put on disguises as commoners and move among them to experience life as they do.  But there is no analogy in human experience or language to love limiting itself and still being love.  Even tough love is still love because its intention is redemption.  Love is benevolence toward being–as your own Jonathan Edwards defined it.  Love that is limited, restricted, cannot be perfect love.  There is no analogy in human experience or language to your use of “love” with regard to God who could save everyone but chooses not to with the result that some significant portion of humanity, whom he supposedly loves, will spend eternity in torment in hell.  When you speak of God’s “love” you are using the word equivocally and therefore neither you nor I understand what it means.  It’s just a sound, not a signifier.

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