A Question to Calvinists

A Question to Calvinists September 18, 2014

A Question to Calvinists

One of my most faithful blog visitors and participants signed off recently, telling me in a message not to be posted that he would no longer read my blog. He is a self-identified Calvinist and accused me of misrepresenting Calvinism here. The offending statement was in my recent post about Christian Caregiving. There I gave an example of what a Calvinist chaplain (or other Calvinist Christian caregiver) should say to a suffering person who asks “Where is God in my suffering?” (I also offered what I believe an Arminian should say.)

Here is the offending sentence that I put in the mouth of a hypothetical Calvinist caregiver: “God designed, ordained and is governing your suffering for his glory, so it is not meaningless or merely accidental. It serves a wonderful purpose and therefore has meaning. God intends to use it to bring him glory and good for you if you offer it up to him in trust.”

My Calvinist blog visitor and interlocutor accused me of saying that Calvinists believe God causes every incident of suffering for his glory. Of course, as anyone can see above, I did not say that according Calvinism God “causes” suffering and have never said that. It may be that I and other non-Calvinists have trouble seeing the difference between “designing, ordaining and governing” and “causing,” but I do my best to use words I have heard and read from well-known and respectable Calvinist theologians.

The man who left my blog upset claimed that during his life in a Calvinist church he has never heard any Calvinist say what I wrote above and that he does not believe most Calvinists believe that.

I honestly thought I was putting into the hypothetical Calvinist caregiver’s mouth words that any Calvinist knowledgeable about Calvinism would either say or at least agree with.

I am confident that I can find equivalent statements in numerous Calvinists going back to Calvin himself who argued in The Institutes of the Christian Religion that God never merely “permits” anything. The exact words “designed, ordained, and governed” come from John Piper, but I think they fairly express what classical Calvinism believes about all events. I offered many quotes from Calvinist theologians in Against Calvinism to support my belief that Calvinism includes divine determinism (whatever they may call it)—that God designs, ordains and governs (and renders certain even if only indirectly) every event without exception.

My angry interlocutor stated in his not-to-be-published post (which I honored him by deleting) that he has read Piper, Keller and many other contemporary Calvinists and does not believe they would say those words to any suffering person because those words do not represent what they believe. Really? That would very much surprise me. I have read a lot of Piper. I have not read much Keller, so I can’t comment on him. I have read many books by R. C. Sproul. I have read Lorraine Boettner. I have read Paul Helm. I have read numerous other Calvinist theologians. I studied under James Montgomery Boice and have read many of his books.

My question to those of you who consider yourselves faithful, consistent, classical Calvinists (not revisionist Reformed) is this: What is wrong with the words I put in the hypothetical Calvinist caregiver’s mouth (above)? I’m not asking whether you would say them to a suffering person or whether you think any Calvinist would say them to a suffering person. (You believe that a Christian caregiver’s duty in such a situation is only to be a comforting presence.) I’m only asking whether they fairly express what classical Calvinism teaches with regard to God’s sovereign providence in relation to suffering. And if not, why not? And if not, what would a forthright, faithful, classical Calvinist say when asked “Where is God in my suffering?” different from what an Arminian would say? (Remember that in my post I was arguing that Christian caregivers should do more than merely be a “comforting presence” if asked for theological answers.)

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