Friday, October 9, 2009

Calvinism and Church History

I know April, though she holds Arminian convictions of her own, is going to kill me for posting another post about Calvinism. She's just sick of hearing about it, and I can hardly blame her... but I did manage to go five posts without mentioning it! So here we go again.

Makenna sent me a message earlier. In it she mentioned how she had a DVD I should watch - Amazing Grace, on the history and theology of Calvinism. I've been writing an article on the subject of Calvinism's lack of historicity, so I sent her back a few points.

...I don't really think Calvinism is supported by church history, and I'll just give you a few quick reasons why. I'm currently writing an article about this but these are the major points:
  • Augustine of Hippo actually formulated the doctrines of Calvinism, not Calvin. John Calvin merely popularized Augustine's theological system, which is why it is now named after Calvin.
  • Augustine was born in 354 A.D. He formulated and taught "Calvinism" (exhaustive determinism, unconditional election) several hundred years after Jesus and the apostles walked the earth. For comparison, Paul wrote Romans in about 56 A.D., almost 300 years before Augustine was even born.
  • Augustine was a former Gnostic Manichæan. Just to give you a taste of what they taught, Gnosticism held to two gods, a good god and a bad god. In the Gnostic view the bad god created the entire universe.
  • Gnostic Manichæanism held to exhaustive determinism, like Calvinism does today.
  • When he first converted to Christianity, Augustine adopted the mainstream Christian view of libertarian free will and synergism (the generic title of Arminianism, Arminius was not around until the late 1500s), writing a book titled On Free Choice of the Will, in which he opposed the deterministic ideology he once supported.
  • During his later years, Augustine fiercely debated Pelagius, a heretic who claimed that man can achieve moral perfection of his own free will. As Augustine fought Pelagius, he slipped further and further back into his old exhaustively deterministic worldview, yet kept much of his new Christianity. As a result he mixed the doctrines of Manichæan determinism and Christianity, to get Augustinianism, what we now call Calvinism.
  • Augustine could not even read Hebrew or Greek, so his exegesis was limited to his Latin manuscripts, and often flawed.
I recommend reading the following articles:

From the first article, a good quote:

"It may occasion some surprise to discover that the doctrine of Predestination was not made a matter of special study until near the end of the fourth century. The earlier church fathers placed chief emphasis on good works such as faith, repentance, almsgiving, prayers, submission to baptism, etc. They of course taught that salvation was through Christ; yet they assumed that man had full power to accept or reject the gospel...They taught a kind of synergism in which there was
co-operation between grace and free will...[Calvinistic Predestination] was first clearly seen by Augustine,..he went far beyond the earlier theologians [and] taught and unconditional election. (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 365, emphasis added)"

"Although the Calvinist author above intended to say that Augustine discovered a lost teaching of the apostles, his words serve to confirm that (1) unconditional election first emerged in the church about 400 years later than the apostles (2) that unconditional election can be traced to a single influential individual (Augustine), and that (3) unconditional election went “far beyond” the teachings of all those who went before. His
words should also prompt one to ask, “How did free will become the universal teaching of the church for the first 400 years, in the first place?” Indeed, what would it take for “free will” to overcome the alleged lost teaching of unconditional election so that free will became the universal teaching of the church for 400 years? And where is the evidence that something like that even happened?"

I must apologize for the length of this email! It's just odd that you mentioned church history and Calvinism because I had been writing an article (and consequently doing a lot of research) on the subject. Hopefully you will understand my position.

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