Reformed But Not Calvinist

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

October 31, 2017

I consider myself to be “Reformed!”

I am NOT a Calvinist!

I am a Molinist!

Quite often Calvinists are quick to contend that Molinism is antithetical to the Reformed movement. I adamantly disagree and so does the evidence. In fact, there is much confusion as to exactly what the word “reformed” means. As I noted in Happy Reformation Day!, in the 16th Century to be reformed simply meant that one affirmed that the Roman Catholic Church was corrupt, and that something needed to be done about it. This led to many Reformers leaving the Church of Rome to get back to proper New Testament teachings and to some deciding to stay and reform the church from within.

These days, many have forgotten the original meaning of the word or have hijacked it to mean something entirely different. Tim Challies, a well-known pastor and blogger (whom I respect), incorrectly states the following:

Protestantism can be fairly readily divided into two camps: Arminian and Reformed. The vast majority of Protestants hold to Arminian doctrine.

I think it would have been better for Challies to state it in the following manner:

“The Protestant Reformation can be fairly readily divided into two camps: Arminianism and Calvinism. The vast majority of Protestants hold to Arminian doctrine.”

However, many protestants would exclaim, “Don’t forget about Molinism!” I contend that Molinism is the fastest growing view of God’s sovereignty among Christian thinkers today.  William Lane Craig notes the surge of popularity of Molinism:

Dean Zimmerman, a fine Christian philosopher from Rutgers University — not himself a Molinist — has said that Molinism is probably the most popular view of the relationship between divine sovereignty and human choices.

Defining the word “Reformed”

Challies notes that it is hard to “find a worthwhile definition of Reformed.” He begins by offering eight statements that one must affirm before they can begin the journey to become an official “Reformer.” Consider each of these confessions originally offered by Professor Byron Curtis, a professor at Geneva College, and compare them to my Molinistic views:

1- Classic theism: One omnipotent, benevolent God, distinct from creation.

My Molinist response: Amen, amen, and AMEN! Not only does the Molinist agree, but we strengthen the claim by noting that God is omnibenevolent and we also include God’s omniscience for good measure! God is a maximally great being!

2- Nicene and Chalcedonian Trinitarianism: one God in three eternally existent persons, equal in power and glory.
3- Christ, the God-Man, the one mediator between God & the human race, incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, & coming again.
4- Humanity created in the image of God, yet tragically fallen & profoundly in need of restoration to God through Christ.
5- The Visible Church: the community of the redeemed, indwelt by the Holy Spirit; the mystical body of Christ on earth.
6- The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
7- The Sacraments: visible signs and seals of the grace of God, ministering Christ’s love to us in our deep need.
8- The Christian life: characterized by the prime theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.

Molinists can affirm each one of these points. Thus, if affirming these points is the beginning to one becoming  officially “Reformed,” then Molinists are well on their way to that destination. Professor Curtis goes on to say that an official Reformer must also affirm the “Four Solas”:

– The authority of Scripture: sola scriptura (Scripture alone)
– The basis of salvation: Sola Gratia (Grace alone)
– The means of salvation: Sola Fide (Faith alone)
– The merit of salvation: Solus Christus (Christ alone)

The Molinist can affirm each “Sola.” (See Jonathan Thompson’s Does Molinism Undermine Sola Scriptura?)

Curtis continues and notes that an official Reformer must affirm that God does all the work in regards to salvation. That is to say, a person who is “Reformed”  — according to Curtis — must affirm monergism as opposed to synergism. Monergism simply means that God is the author of salvation from beginning to end.

This is no problem for the Molinist as Luis de Molina affirmed monergism (See A Molinistic Model of Monergism)!

Challies continues with an incorrect claim:

Such monergism implies T.U.L.I.P., the Five Points of Calvinism from the Synod of Dordt: T = Total Depravity U = Unconditional Election L = Limited Atonement, or, better, Particular Redemption I = Irresistible Grace P = Perseverence and Preservation of the Saints!

Challies is simply wrong. Monergism does not logically entail TULIP. That is to say, a monergist could affirm TULIP, however, a monergist does not necessarilly have to affirm TULIP. After all, I am a monergist, yet I reject TULIP Calvinism.

Contradictory Confessions of Calvinism

One of several reasons why I am not a TULIP kind of Calvinist is because I do affirm the first confession previously offered by Professor Curtis. I believe that God is not only all knowing, but as it states, God is also perfectly benevolent and powerful! This is what theologians refer to when stating that God is a maximally great being. However, if one must affirm this first confession in order to be “Reformed,” then the Reformer must also reject the Calvinistic doctrine of TULIP offered at the Synod of Dort in 1619. Consider the Omni Argument Against TULIP:

1. If irresistible grace (the “I” of TULIP) is true, then for any person x, if God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell, then x will go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.

2. If God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient, then for any person x, God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.

3. There is at least one person who will not go to Heaven and suffers eternally in Hell.

4. Therefore, one cannot affirm both (i) that irresistible grace is true and (ii) that God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient (a maximally great being).

5. God is a maximally great being.

6. Therefore, irresistible grace (the “I” of TULIP) is false.

7. Therefore, divine determinism is false (God does not causally determine all things).

8. God is completely sovereign and does predestine all things (Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:5,11).

9. Therefore, predestination and determinism are not to be conflated.

10. The best explanation of the data is Molinism.

Challies states,

These five distinct points [TULIP] of doctrine are also known as the five points of Calvinism as they were first articulated by John Calvin after the Reformation was in full-swing. They are based entirely on the Bible.

I contend that these five points of TULIP might be entirely based on the Bible, but they are not based on the entirety of the Bible! That is to say, much of what the Bible teaches opposes what logically follows from TULIP. Sure, one can cherry pick a few verses to support TULIP, however, Calvinistic doctrine does not conform to ALL Biblical data from cover to cover (See Molinism is Biblical). Thus, in that sense, TULIP is unbiblical. If Calvinism is necessarily wedded to TULIP, then it logically follows that Calvinism is unbiblical as well.

More Agreement from Molinists 

Challies goes on to offer a few more thoughts on what it means to be reformed. He says,

Finally: in everything, Soli Deo Gloria – to God alone be the glory in all things. This is, once more, something all Christians would claim, either explicitly or implicitly. In all areas of life we are to give glory to God alone.

My Molinist response: I could not agree more! In fact, I just gave an entire sermon on this topic (click here)!

Challies summarizes what he thinks it means to be Reformed:

So what does this all mean? To be Reformed is to adhere to the purist teachings of the Bible – to affirm the doctrine taught by Jesus, Paul and the apostles. Scripture is considered the ultimate authority in matters of life and faith and all Reformed doctrine is founded on the Bible. I am convinced that Reformed doctrine is nothing more than the teachings of Jesus, the Apostles and the totality of the Scriptures. Were it not for human sin we would have to make no distinction between biblical Christianity and the Reformed faith.

Challies is exactly right on this matter! I agree with each and every word of the preceding quote. If Challies is right in regard to what it means to be Reformed, then I am Reformed and a Molinist. In fact, this is exactly why I am Reformed, but NOT a TULIP kind of Calvinist!

Stay Reformed and stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim was recently accepted at North West University to pursue his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics.

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