“God made me do it” — On the motivation of the Fluffy Bunny Nice Nice Club

May 9, 2009    By: Geoff J @ 6:13 pm   Category: Calvinism

Ok I spent about on hour on the phone with everyone’s favorite anti-Mormon, Aaron S, today. It was a follow up to my last post about his motivations for being such a zealous anti-Mormon (aka, card carrying member of the Fluffy Bunny Nice Nice Club) which have long baffled me. My goal was to try to figure out how he reconciled his anti-Mormon zeal with his Calvinism. (If you are in the mood to be bored for an hour you can listen to the discussion here.)

The obvious disconnect between Calvinism and missionary work of any kind is this: Calvinists teach that God predestines all souls to heaven or hell before He even creates them. Therefore the story of our souls is over before it starts. Therefore missionary work won’t save anyone since the outcome is determined regardless of the hard work of anyone. Therefore, why bother?

My paraphrase of the answer from Aaron: God made me do it.

Interestingly, in a Calvinist universe this is the same answer that Judas Iscariot can give as his reason for betraying Jesus.

Of course the regular compatibilist qualifiers came out on how people do what they want, but admittedly God creates them (or causes them) to want whatever it is they want. But the net effect is the same.

The weird thing is that most evangelical missionaries are Calvinists according to Aaron. I guess the Calvinists are the most conservative and hardcore of that crowd in general. Still it seems counter-intuitive to me. Again, I suspect that on the ground level most professed Calvinists probably ignore their own theology or at least behave like “cafeteria Calvinists” like Todd Wood has admitted to in the past.

Frankly, it seems to me that a Calvinist doing all that anti-Mormonism work could be seen as a lack of faith in one’s salvation. If you know you are saved why put all that energy into harassing Mormons? In a Calvinist universe God will save them or damn them without regard to your puny ark-steadying works. Why not display true faith in your saved state and just live it up while here on earth? Now that would be an impressive display of faith in the unconditional election of God.

But in the end, I am realizing how futile it is to reason with someone who insists they don’t have free will about their objectionable behavior. Reasoning about behavior assumes they have free will to choose their behavior after all. They will simply assume that you are predestined to try to dissuade them. And as for why one would choose to reject the intuitive idea that we have real free will on religious grounds, I have talked about the “Zoramite high” that must attend such a belief in the past. There is something appealing about believing you are part of the chosen few whilst all around you not so “blessed”.

Aaron was nice enough to remind me of his strong opinion that God is the ultimate narcissist as well. I am always shocked when he calls that flaw in his theology a feature. In the end I still think that Calvinism is an abhorrent distortion of the actual gospel of Jesus Christ. Calvinism paints God as a the ultimate narcissist and as the ultimate sadistic despot (blessing and torturing his human puppets at his whim). But of course the Calvinists reading this will simply assume I am a vessel of wrath predestined to notice that obvious fact. Very convenient.

Nevertheless, just because Calvinism is abominable does not mean that our brothers and sisters who freely choose Calvinism (you know, with their real free will) are abhorrent. God didn’t tell us to love horrendously bad theology like Calvinism but he did tell us to love one another. In this case, even though I think Aaron’s theology stinks, I find Aaron the person amiable. So please refrain from attacking him personally in the comments.

PS — Any of you Bible nerds want to write a post about Romans 9 to dispute the Calvinist reading for us? Aaron was interested in debating that and promised we could do that in the written portion of the discussion.

118 Comments »

  1. RE Romans 9, see here for a very long rebuttal from some evangelical christians.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 9, 2009 @ 6:31 pm

  2. The “vessels of wrath” thing really does puzzle me. Sometimes it makes me feel upset, sometimes angry. Sometimes I chuckle a little about it. When I try to honestly think it through I just feel horribly sad.

    Comment by BHodges — May 9, 2009 @ 6:35 pm

  3. Therefore missionary work won’t save anyone since the outcome is determined regardless of the hard work of anyone

    I repeatedly took pains to explain why I disagree with this idea, so it feels frustrating to have it attributed to me again. Missionary work has an important instrumental role in the salvation of people. People aren’t saved “regardless” of hard missionary work, but rather through the missionary work that God has ordained. If a person is predestined to be saved, the means through which person comes to know the truth are also ordained. I don’t dichotomize between the sovereign election of who is saved and the actual means which were predetermined by God to be instrumental in their salvation. So the “regardless” language still reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the Calvinistic worldview I am promoting.

    The short answer from Aaron: God made me do it.

    I never said that in response to the basic question of “Why bother”, and I made it a point to explain why the “God made me do it” reason for anything we do is insufficient to account for moral justification or motivation, and that it can even be misleading. That God ordains a thing doesn’t mean it is necessarily right. After all, according to Acts 4 he predestined the sinful murder of Christ. So when evaluating whether we should do a thing or not (with respect to moral justification or motivation) a simple “God ordains it” isn’t sufficient.

    Perhaps it would help to provide a distinction that Calvinists make concerning the wills of God. We speak of God’s decretive will and God’s prescriptive will. For example, with few exceptions I don’t know God’s decretive will for what I will do tonight or tomorrow, but I do know his basic prescriptive will, with both explicit commands and general themes of God’s revelation that I can appeal to. So when deciding whether to call my mother tomorrow, the motivation and moral justification is not simply “God ordains it”, it is that he wants me to honor and love my parents and be filled with joy and gratitude. A day later I can say, “It was God’s decretive will that I call my mother yesterday at 2pm.”

    Now, back to the sinful murder of Christ. It was never God’s prescriptive will that anyone be sinfully murdered. So sometimes what God decrees (his decretive will) isn’t in line with what God has prescriptively told us to do. In other words, God, in wisdom and with good reason, can and has ordained what he hates. He hates the sin of the murder of his Son, but he ordained it in love for a greater purpose.

    The weird thing is that most evangelical missionaries are Calvinists according to Aaron

    To be specific, most famous and historically key missionaries in the Protestant missions movement have been Calvinists, and most of my missionary friends are Calvinists. I simply don’t know the overall statistics.

    Take care,

    Aaron

    Comment by Aaron — May 9, 2009 @ 7:07 pm

  4. In this case, even though I think Aaron’s theology stinks, I find Aaron the person amiable. So please refrain from attacking him personally in the comments.

    By the way, Geoff, I appreciate that. I also enjoyed our conversation.

    I’m off to Home Depot to buy some dirt.

    Grace and peace in Christ, who justifies the ungodly like me by faith apart from works (Romans 4:4-8),

    Aaron

    Comment by Aaron — May 9, 2009 @ 7:12 pm

  5. Aaron,

    Thanks for the responses. Nothing like getting things in writing after the discussion. Here are some responses:

    I repeatedly took pains to explain why I disagree with this idea, so it feels frustrating to have it attributed to me again.

    To clarify, I am not attributing that conclusion to you. That is me following the logic I see. I obviously should have been more clear about that.

    Missionary work has an important instrumental role in the salvation of people. People aren’t saved “regardless” of hard missionary work, but rather through the missionary work that God has ordained.

    This must be you rejecting important parts of Calvinism then. Good idea. I mean the word “unconditional” in TULIP is pretty clear and if people are saved unconditionally then they certainly don’t need to convert to evangelical-flavored Christianity right? (Converting to a religion is a “work” after all.) So if you reject the unconditional election of grace I commend you as making strides toward truth. Or perhaps you don’t think irresistible grace is really irresistible and therefore God needs a helping hand on that front. Either way I commend your rejecting important pillars of Calvinism.

    If a person is predestined to be saved, the means through which person comes to know the truth are also ordained.

    Again, you are apply the condition of “knowing truth” to salvation and assuming God needs your assistance with his not-so-irresistible grace. So are you a TLIP Calvinist? Maybe TLP? It certainly seems like that is the “the Calvinistic worldview [you are] promoting”.

    I made it a point to explain why the “God made me do it” reason for anything we do is insufficient to account for moral justification or motivation

    I actually never mentioned moral justification for actions. In fact in a no-free-will Calvinist world there is no such thing as human morality at all in my view.

    that God ordains a thing doesn’t mean it is necessarily right

    True dat. In fact Calvinism preaches that God ordains all kinds of horrible evils.

    So when evaluating whether we should do a thing or not

    Why would you even bother to evaluate whether to do something or not? The is libertarian free will talk again. God either unconditionally elected you or he didn’t. Whether you behave morally or not has zero impact on that. Besides, whatever you do “choose” in a Calvinist universe was predestined by God anyway.

    We speak of God’s decretive will and God’s prescriptive will.

    Oh I know Calvinists speak of God’s alleged two wills… It is utter nonsense and spin in my opinion. But I can see why it was invented. I mean seriously, this stuff about God decreeing that Judas betray Jesus but not prescribing it (even though God caused it to happen) is astonishing double-talk and nonsense.

    In other words, God, in wisdom and with good reason, can and has ordained what he hates.

    What definitions of the words wisdom and good reason are you using in this sentence? Your definitions certainly don’t jibe with the English words I know.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 9, 2009 @ 8:10 pm

  6. BTW — Let be clear that Aaron never said “God made me do it”. I used it in quotes in the title as a play on the old classic line “The devil made me do it”.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 9, 2009 @ 8:25 pm

  7. Predestination is easy to refute, in its universal application – even if we lay aside the sadism inherent in damning millions through no fault of their own. I didn’t have children in order to provide a feast for some and roast the others on an eternal spit, but I’m not created in the image of the God [Calvinism] describes. That’s a different issue, however, so I won’t pursue it.

    1) The word (predestinated) is found only in the writings of Paul and only in two chapters, and the context is nowhere close to clear when using it to justify universal predestination. In the actual context of Romans 9 (and Ephesians 1), it is just as easy to read the relevant passages as describing our doctrine of fore-ordination as it is to read it as meaning universal predestination. This is a classic case of [Calvinists] and I not believing what we see but rather seeing what we believe.

    2) The words attributed to Jesus Himself in the Gospels (and, most obviously, James’ words in his epistle) contradict universal predestination – unequivocally. I always am amused when people use the words of Paul’s epistles to explain the words of the Gospels, instead of using the words of the Gospels as the primary text and interpreting the epistles based on the Gospels. How can any Christian prioritize apostolic writings over words attributed directly to Jesus?

    I also am amused when Christians base their core theology on two short references from one apostle, without realizing they are CHOOSING that interpretation. Of course, to [Calvinists] that action is prompted by God – which absolves them of any need to admit that they really are choosing the interpretation that they want to accept and the attendant responsibility for that choice. Since God make them do it, God also is responsible for their actions. It’s the ultimate cop-out.

    There, that was easy.

    Comment by Ray — May 9, 2009 @ 8:31 pm

  8. Easy there Ray. You can make comments about Calvinism but not take shots at Aaron in this thread. (I edited your comment accordingly)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 9, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

  9. Sorry, Geoff. I didn’t mean it as a personal shot at Aaron, and your editing is appreciated if that’s how it came across.

    Comment by Ray — May 9, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

  10. Just finished listening, great job. I knew nothing about the implications of Calvinist theology until the recent posts on this blog, and it has been eye-opening to say the least.

    I had a look at the godneversinned.com that came up in the conversation. Geoff J was being very gracious about conceding the theological diversity within Mormonism at that point in the conversation that I think you overlooked a startling incongruity. Here’s a guy who believes in a narcissistic, sadistic monster of a God that is the ultimate cause of all the evil we see around us and condemns swathes of humanity to everlasting burnings just for sh*ts and giggles, and he’s questioning Mormons about belief in a God who may have once been a mortal sinner but is now a perfected, exalted Being? I wonder if we could get a bunch of Calvinists on tape to explain their “mystery” of a God.

    Looks like the domain godisnotadouchebag.com is open. Stay tuned!

    Comment by Mephibosheth — May 9, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

  11. This is why I always preferred Hobbes to Calvin.

    Comment by Alpha Echo — May 9, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

  12. Geoff’s points about the U of TULIP in comment 5 are a gamechanger, I think. He basically just obsoleted a post I was writing 5 seconds after I wrote it (shoulda read the comments first!)

    So, I’d want to see Aaron’s response: if unconditional election is true, why should it matter what church one is a member of or beliefs one holds? It seems like unconditional election is actually “election conditional on right beliefs that, if you have been elect, you will happen to have or get sooner or later.” That’s the only thing that really patches up the issue, but it doesn’t sound like it fits the idea of “unconditional” election.

    Comment by Andrew S. — May 9, 2009 @ 11:11 pm

  13. Thing I’ve noticed about Calvinists…

    They never sell their theology based on its own merits. They always sell it by appeal to the Bible text.

    You ask them why God would be like that, and they appeal to scriptures X, Y, and Z. Even the most intelligent Calvinists I’ve encountered rarely let Calvinism stand on its own merits. It’s always propped-up by appeal to authority.

    Then when you point out that this picture of God is sick, they usually pull some static about how God is “a mystery” and how we’re too depraved to get it anyway.

    Yeah… it’s a mystery all right.

    Good thing the Bible allows more than one interpretation, or I probably have about the same regard for it that I do for the Koran at this point – nice book, good ideas, probably even inspired, but not something you can take too seriously.

    Thank goodness for Joseph Smith, so I can actually respect the Bible, and take it seriously as the divine revelation it was meant to be.

    Without Joseph’s reading, the Bible has some serious problems.

    Comment by Seth R. — May 10, 2009 @ 7:11 am

  14. I also don’t get why Mormons get razzed about “adding to the Bible” with Joseph Smith.

    In terms of prestige, influence, and authority in interpreting the word of God, Calvin holds about the same prestige in certain Evangelical circles that Joseph Smith does in Mormon circles.

    Sure, they don’t give him the label “prophet.” But the way they treat and revere his ideas, he might as well be an Evangelical prophet. In fact, Calvin’s theological mandates in scriptural interpretation are sometimes given even greater authority in Evangelical churches than Joseph Smith’s are in the Mormon church.

    Comment by Seth R. — May 10, 2009 @ 7:18 am

  15. Seth,

    Yes, well there is good reason to downplay the merits of Calvinism since there are so very few of them. The problem with appealing to the Bible is that it takes a very narrow and strained reading to extract anything like Calvinism from the Bible.

    I agree with the “mystery” line getting pulled out. In the conversation I made the clear point that there is a massive difference between a mystery and obvious nonsense. Calvinism preaches some obvious self-contradictory nonsense and calling that “mystery” does a disservice to actual mysteries.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 10, 2009 @ 8:37 am

  16. I think it is virtually undeniable that Paul was a proto-Calvinist is some extremely significant ways. Similar ideas show up occasionally in the Old Testament.

    That fact is rather unconvenient and takes some considerable effort to explain away if you are a biblical inerrantist or someone who considers Paul the foremost biblical theologian.

    Otherwise you just say that Paul and some of the Old Testament authors had some strange and often contradictory theological notions in addition to the more straightforward things they had to say.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 10, 2009 @ 9:46 am

  17. you just say that Paul and some of the Old Testament authors had some strange and often contradictory theological notions

    Mark D, Calvinists (and Protestants in general) CAN’T say that (although it is one of the clearest things in the Bible), since that would mean they could no longer blast Mormon Prophets and apostles for not agreeing with each other on everything. How can you ask them to give up one of their favorite whipping posts – just because it is so quintessentially Biblical?

    Comment by Ray — May 10, 2009 @ 10:33 am

  18. Obviously, that was a rhetorical question; I’m sure Mark understands it. Sorry, I should have made that clear in the actual comment.

    Comment by Ray — May 10, 2009 @ 10:35 am

  19. In terms of prestige, influence, and authority in interpreting the word of God, Calvin holds about the same prestige in certain Evangelical circles that Joseph Smith does in Mormon circles.

    In my Calvinistic circles, I rarely hear Calvin appealed to for support of Calvinism. Historically, he mainly was a good popularizer of Reformed theology since he was willing to write in the vernacular. And the popular TULIP acronym wasn’t even formulated by him. 21st century tomes and popular books promoting Calvinism in evangelical culture rarely appeal to him much directly to promote the theology. Today, the popularizers are more so John Piper, R.C. Sproul, James White, Mark Driscoll, and J.I. Packer, and the focus is on exegesis and the theme that God gives purpose and meaning to even our suffering (which he ordained). A lot of Calvinistic churches do expository preaching (which sequentially steps through the text). The subject inevitably comes up when traversing through a book of the Bible.

    It is not uncommon for young ardent Arminian evangelicals to make the same kind of accusation: that Calvinism definitively comes from Calvin himself and that the larger conservative evangelical movement is somehow over-valuing Calvin over the Bible. But I no longer take this kind of thing seriously. It is historically naive and culturally out of touch.

    If unconditional election is true, why should it matter what church one is a member of or beliefs one holds? It seems like unconditional election is actually “election conditional on right beliefs that, if you have been elect, you will happen to have or get sooner or later.” That’s the only thing that really patches up the issue, but it doesn’t sound like it fits the idea of “unconditional” election.

    You’re not alone in holding this common misunderstanding of unconditional election. The unconditionality does not refer to an idea that the life of an elect person has no relationship with his identity in Christ. Rather, it refers to the idea that the person was elected without any reference to any foreknowledge of what that person would believe or do, and was elected to be regenerated, born again, granted saving faith, united with Christ, justified, spiritually adopted, progressively sanctified until death, and then seen at final judgment as a vessel of mercy that the Spirit has been radically transforming. Peter teaches that we should make our calling and election sure by adding knowledge and love and self-control and steadfastness and godliness to our faith. Part of the very way we self-examine to see if we are elect is seeing the work of God in our lives. But that work done in our lives is the result of God’s unconditional, particular love on his Bride. We believe and obey because we are elect, not “We are elect as a consequence of believing and obeying.”

    Another common misunderstanding is that the doctrine of unconditional election is a way of justifying pride. But because being unconditionally elected is not ultimately and decisively something that can be attributed to our willpower or merit, it’s not something we can boast about.

    “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls” (Romans 9:11)

    Grace and peace in Christ,

    Aaron

    Comment by Aaron — May 10, 2009 @ 10:39 am

  20. Very nice everyone. I think real Calvinism is not defensible at all. It seems to be blindly believing extreme interpretations of the Bible only. The fact that it makes no sense is somehow seen as a feature.

    It is at times like this that I am so glad I am a Mormon. Thanks for the testimony boost.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — May 10, 2009 @ 10:44 am

  21. Aaron: You’re not alone in holding this common misunderstanding of unconditional election.

    Well your version of Unconditional Election certainly makes more sense. The problem is that it has all kinds of conditions. The bigger problem is that those conditions are entirely self-serving for Calvinists. Basically Calvinists are saying “God unconditionally chooses you to change your mind and start agreeing with us and join up with us as well and then you are saved”. Very convenient if you are a Calvinist.

    Contrast that with a definition found over at the Unconditional Election wiki:

    In Calvinism, this election is called “unconditional” because his choice to save someone does not hinge on anything inherent in the person or on any act that the person performs or belief that the person exercises.

    There does not appear to be any “start agreeing with the Evangelicals first” clause in that definition. It does not eviscerate the word “unconditional” like your version does.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 10, 2009 @ 2:07 pm

  22. Aaron: Part of the very way we self-examine to see if we are elect is seeing the work of God in our lives. But that work done in our lives is the result of God’s unconditional, particular love on his Bride. We believe and obey because we are elect, not “We are elect as a consequence of believing and obeying.”

    BINGO!

    That is the answer to my question about the zeal of the FBNNC. It is apparently the whole chicken and egg thing I talked about in the last post.

    So here is one possible take on the situation: First, the Calvinist explanation of its own idea of Unconditional Election actually makes election entirely conditional and dependent on works (converting to Calvinist-approved brands of Christianity at some point before mortal death). Next Calvinists are apparently scared crapless all of the time that God may not have actually elected them (battered wife syndrome?) so they are constantly self-monitoring to see if their works line up with what they assume the works of a saved person would be. As long as they press on zealously in the work, that gnawing fear is kept under control. Despite being reported unconditionally and permanently saved, the motivation to not “eat, drink, and be merry” could in some cases be a lack of faith in the Perseverance of the Saints (aka “Once saved, always saved). As I mentioned in the post it seems to me that truly impressive faith in Calvinism would be for someone who was convinced she was saved to dive head first into eating, drinking, and being merry as a massive leap of faith… but I can see why most Calvinists prefer not to trust their theology that much.

    In other words, a Calvinist wakes up in the morning and wonders “Am I really saved?” Then she considers her works and asks “Are those the kind of works I would assume a saved person would do?” If not that person ratchets up the zeal and tries harder in her Fluffy Bunny Nice Nice Club (or whatever it is she is into) works.

    From a motivational standpoint that all makes sense to me. I think I have the answer I was seeking.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 10, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

  23. Aaron,

    It doesn’t matter if Calvin is being spoken by-name in certain Evangelical quarters. Nor does it matter that he wasn’t the only cook in the kitchen. Joseph Smith wasn’t either.

    The fact is that the assumptions he started and the paradigm he birthed are given such authority in certain Evangelical circles that even the words of Jesus Christ himself in the four Gospels seem to take a back seat.

    I see little practical difference between the influence of Calvin on fundamentalist Evangelicalism and Joseph Smith’s influence on Mormonism.

    Not that I blame these Evangelicals. The Bible just isn’t that clear on certain theological matters.

    It calls out for additional clarification from somewhere. Evangelicals got Calvin and Arminius. Mormons got Joseph Smith.

    So why the charade that Mormons are the only ones taking supplements?

    Comment by Seth R. — May 10, 2009 @ 2:28 pm

  24. By the way Aaron.

    I stumbled across a website full of articles from John Piper. I keep hearing about the guy, so I’m going to give him a read.

    So far, he’s doing little more than convincing me that there are multiple ways to read the Bible.

    Don’t get me wrong, that is actually a concession of sorts. Calvinism has a lot of support from the Bible. But there are also a lot of passages in conflict with it or contradicting it in the Bible as well.

    Piper does actually make a good case that Paul was a Calvinist (as someone on this thread earlier mentioned – a proto-Calvinist). The problem for me becomes – who do you believe? Paul or Jesus?

    Because the two don’t exactly match-up.

    For me, this isn’t really a problem since I never believed Paul was a perfect conduit of doctrine in the first place. He always struck me as the first century equivalent of Bruce R. McConkie to be honest. Nor do I really believe we got a perfect transmission of his sermons anyway.

    But for a biblical inerrantist, I imagine the possibility that Jesus and Paul may not match up is disturbing in the extreme. Which would necessitate a lot of finessing of scripture to effect a reconciliation.

    Comment by Seth R. — May 10, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

  25. Aaron: I love it when someone who claims to be an expert doesn’t understand what he is spouting. For Calvin and Calvinists, election is about total depravity and original sin — i.e., we lack the ability or free will to choose to accept God when he offers grace because we are all hell-bent. Thus, God must cause us to have faith which God then regards as the basis for salvation. He alone chooses who has this saving faith. If we were left to our own choices, we would reject the grace of God because we are hell-bent. Thus, whether a person is saved or damned is solely up to God’s election.

    The obvious problem is that God could save everyone but he chooses for his own secret purposes not to do so. The problem with that is that the God it describes is not loving by any sound view of love and it makes us impotent to do anything other that what God specifically ordains for us in his secret will.

    You refer to the two wills of God — his revealed and his secret wills — as if that solved the problem. It doesn’t. For example, Calvin argues:

    Why, then, they ask, should the thief be punished for robbing him whom the Lord chose to chastise with poverty? Why should the murderer be punished for slaying him whose life the Lord had terminated? If all such persons serve the will of God, why should they be punished? I deny that they serve the will of God. For we cannot say that he who is carried away by a wicked mind performs service on the order of God, when he is only following his own malignant desires. He obeys God, who, being instructed in his will, hastens in the direction in which God calls him. But how are we so instructed unless by his word? The will declared by his word is, therefore, that which we must keep in view in acting, God requires of us nothing but what he enjoins. If we design anything contrary to his precept, it is not obedience, but contumacy and transgression. But if he did not will it, we could not do it. I admit this. But do we act wickedly for the purpose of yielding obedience to him? This, assuredly, he does not command. Nay, rather we rush on, not thinking of what he wishes, but so inflamed by our own passionate lust, that, with destined purpose, we strive against him. And in this way, while acting wickedly, we serve his righteous ordination, since in his boundless wisdom he well knows how to use bad instruments for good purposes.

    Calvin, Institutes 1.17.5

    So God has two wills according to Calvin — a revealed will and a secret will. The revealed will by which he commands us to obey his commands and his secret will by which he ordains us to sin to serve his purposes. It doesn’t solve the problem because God’s revealed will is not what God really wants — it is just a facade. What he really wants he ordains to serve his purposes by causing virtually everything that occurs.

    So the doctrine of two wills really makes the problem much worse. It makes what God actually says in scripture into a lie and entails that God really chooses to damn some whom he could save. In other words, this ain’t a loving God on any sound assessment.

    You are free to accept such a distortion of divine love if you choose to (pun intended), but don’t assert that we have just missed the doctrine of election in Calvinistic or EV thought. We haven’t. We’re on to you — and that is why the real gospel restored thru Joseph Smith is such a breath of fresh air about divine love and human freedom.

    Comment by Blake — May 10, 2009 @ 2:47 pm

  26. Blake, I’m not sure where you’re specifically thinking that I don’t understand Calvinism. Your first point has something to do with the internal Calvinistic variations of infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism. I don’t really take a view either way, but in either view, unconditional election means that the elect are not chosen on the basis of any good choice or right belief foreseen in them. Both Calvinistic views affirm total depravity and irresistible grace. Unconditional election and irresistible grace are distinct but inseparable.

    I simply disagree that having multiple wills necessarily infers a facade or a lie. God can sincerely want one thing and yet sincerely want another mutually exclusive thing more. I’m glad God hates murder and I’m glad that God ordained the murder of Christ.

    Seth, I don’t share your low view of Paul, but I’m glad you explicated it.

    Geoff, I believe that God’s unconditional election of me has rendered certain that I will fulfill all the conditions he has prescribed for final salvation. In other words, he has unconditionally chosen to grant within me saving faith, repentance, sanctification, and endurance to the end. God has essentially told the world to believe in his Son, that eternal life is received on the condition of faith. But he has unconditionally chosen to grant that the condition of faith to the elect.

    Grace and peace in Christ,

    Aaron

    Comment by Aaron — May 10, 2009 @ 4:22 pm

  27. Keep in mind Aaron, I don’t have a “low view” of Bruce R. McConkie either.

    Unless, you consider any view of Elder McConkie short of “Jesus Christ with bad hair days” a “low view”….

    If that’s the case, then yes – I have a “low view” of McConkie, and Paul. But yeah, I don’t completely trust Paul.

    As a practical matter, I take everything he said very seriously, and I do all I can to reconcile it with other stuff in the scriptures. I don’t feel like I’ve been given any particular insight or revelation into which parts of Paul are correct and which aren’t. So I feel the only safe option is to operate from the assumption that everything written in the New Testament and attributed to him is correct.

    Likewise with McConkie. I find sources like Mormon Doctrine to be invaluable and I use them as references all the time. But I don’t feel that I have to view them as inerrant.

    So finding that Paul was completely off-base in a few instances wouldn’t bug me much. Right now, his extremist view of grace seems to clash with what Christ himself taught during his ministry (Christ was generally a big fan of works and earning rewards in heaven). So I view it with suspicion. But for now, as a default position, I proceed on the assumption that everything in the New Testament is correct, and we need to reconcile it.

    And by the way, I haven’t encountered a single verse from Paul yet that hasn’t been reconcilable with Mormon theology. For whatever that’s worth.

    Comment by Seth R. — May 10, 2009 @ 5:23 pm

  28. OK, here’s my bottom line:

    Calvinism is the most arrogant, un-Christlike, anti-Beatitudes, ant-Gospels, anti-words-attributed-directly-to-Jesus, reveling-in-abuse-and-disdain, mainstream Christian theology I have ever studied. I read Jesus’ words and a Calvinist’s words, and there is NO commonality – literally none. Therefore, I reject it.

    I then read explanations of why it isn’t what I just described – and they NEVER address directly ANY of the reasons I see it as so abominable – or, at least, their justifications require a Divinity School level study of Theology (which I have, Aaron, just so you know) to understand and still make no sense.

    When a vitriolic, obsessive focus on one particular group (in this case, Mormonism) is added to the list, the Sermon on the Mount lies in a heap of ashes – obliterated by a theology, words and actions that are diametrically opposed to what is considered Jesus’ penultimate sermon. Explicitly ant-Mormon Calvinism, therefore, is not just abominable in my view, it is doubly abominable. It literally denies the words of God, the Son, in favor of two very short passages from one apostle – using other much more ambiguous verses to bolster those two isolated passages while totally ignoring a host of contradictory verses and extended passages that weaken the overall claim tremendously.

    Bottom line:

    I don’t want to view the world as they do, and I want MUCH less to act as they act. I believe life really is about becoming Christlike, since that’s what Jesus appears to have believed, as well – and I simply don’t see the Messiah of the Gospels in the theology of Calvinism or the actions of anti-Mormon Calvinists. Again, I see sincere, dedicated people; I simply don’t see the God who turned the other cheek and taught that we need to do good to those who despitefully use and persecute us.

    I’m not sure my comments here fulfill that injunction – that they “do good” to Aaron or anyone else who believes as he does. That’s my main concern, that in responding at all I am proving my lack of internalization of the concepts I value so highly. A Calvinist might see that as evidence of my damned state; I see it as proof that I am striving to repent (change) and have not succumbed to the type of arrogance and disdain that would allow me to become a Calvinist and act as Calvinism describes God as acting.

    That is the ultimate irony:

    Calvinists who truly are sincere become “God-like” according to their theology. They also become arrogant, un-Christlike, anti-Beatitudes, ant-Gospels, anti-words-attributed-directly-to-Jesus, revelers-in-abuse-and-disdain. They become what they worship – and I simply don’t want to become what they worship.

    Comment by Ray — May 10, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

  29. As I understand it:
    Total Depravity is the notion that we are all hell-bent, because Adam and Eve ate the fruit, disobeying God and creating a fallen world filled with fallen people

    Unconditional Election means that God chooses to save who he chooses, not because they have earned it, but because it is what the divine will decrees.

    Irresistible Grace means that those whom God has chosen as his elect will demonstrate the acts of the elect because God will have made them elect through his Grace. God will change them, not because a standard is necessary, but because he loves them and wants them to be right.

    Predestination means that the means for our salvation or damnation have been predestined along with our salvation or damnation. So, Aaron preaches because his preaching may be the preordained event that prompts a person to experience the resultant grace and election.

    The unfortunate aspect of all this is that it turns God into a fickle and arbitrary supreme being and it robs us of any notion of self-control. Worse, it makes God’s justice empty and cruel, because if we rebel, it is because God didn’t choose to make his grace manifest in us. Whether or not grace is manifest in us isn’t our fault (as it is irresistible), so are being punished for no reason at all. God just chooses a side and supports one and destroys the other. That’s lame. If it were true, God would be a jerk. This is the problem with Calvinist theology as I understand it.

    Comment by John C. — May 10, 2009 @ 6:43 pm

  30. But John, we’re all filthy wretches who deserve nothing more than an eternity of damnation and always have been ever since birth.

    So we just get what we deserve in damnation.

    It’s just that God is nice enough to save a few of us wretches he created.

    We ought to be thankful.

    Comment by Seth R. — May 10, 2009 @ 6:57 pm

  31. Although I think that the core of scholastic Calvinism hangs together internally as well as any other theological system on the planet, as a system of understanding the gospel I think it causes more problems than it solves.

    However, I don’t think it is fair to characterize Calvinists as having fundamental character deficiencies (especially *net* deficiencies) due to their theology. Personality quirks perhaps. Similar quirks exist in every denomination and religion.

    In this case we are talking about one of the most dominant theological systems ever, one whose fundamentals are common not only to Calvinism, but Islam and forms of Judaism as well. Augustine if anything was as proto-Calvinist as well.

    Whatever unusual theological contortions reconciling theological determinism with the gospel of good works may entail, this system ranks among the most effective motivators of genuinely good works and acts of Christian service and sacrifice ever. I don’t think the merits of Calvinism *in actual practice* should be so lightly discarded, let alone demonized. John Calvin deserves to be regarded as a true saint, and one of the greatest.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 10, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

  32. I don’t find the arrogance of online Calvinists to be qualitatively much different than the arrogance of online Mormons.

    Some might point to the comments of myself and others on this thread as an example.

    Comment by Seth R. — May 10, 2009 @ 7:31 pm

  33. John Calvin deserves to be regarded as a true saint, and one of the greatest.

    Meh. I think that really overstating things Mark. You assume that Christianity would not have been as effective at motivating “genuinely good works and acts of Christian service and sacrifice” had Calvin never come along. I see no reason to believe that assumption. The Bible and God can get lots of credit for it of course, but I see no reason to credit Calvin just because his particular theology got popular along the way. I am more inclined to be grateful for all of the charitable acts that have taken place in spite of the popularity of Calvinism.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 10, 2009 @ 7:32 pm

  34. Just to be crystal clear, since I was slightly sloppy in the last paragraph of my previous comment, the description I wrote is of Calvinism that is used as a justification to attack one particular group of people. Calvinism itself is abominable enough to me, but the description I wrote at the end was meant to be an extension of my paragraph about anti-whatever Calvinists. I should have written “anti-something Calvinists”, not just “Calvinists”.

    I also don’t see Calvin himself as one of the greatest of the saints. We teach that the heart of Lucifer’s plan was the removal of agency and the return of all God’s children to God – losing nobody in the process. Calvin, otoh, taught the removal of agency and the return of SOME of God’s children to God.

    As I said, I see that as the plan of Lucifer’s more evil twin – since it does the exact same thing as Lucifer’s proposal to everyone but only rewards some with a return to God. It’s Lucifer’s general plan administered by a sadist.

    I just can’t classify someone who taught such theology as one of the greatest of the saints. It’s just way to sadistic and mind-blowingly cruel for me to praise its primary proponent in that way.

    Comment by Ray — May 10, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

  35. Aaron, I have a couple of very sincere question:

    How do you know you are predestined for grace?

    What if it is His will to use you to reach those predestined to grace even though it is His will to damn you? According to your own words, that would be possible; in fact, it would be probable that he would act that way with someone who could reach those elected to grace and peace. Broiling you eternally for advancing his will would be no different than your example of Judas being used to fulfill Jesus’ predestined fate.

    How do you know you aren’t accomplishing his will only to end up in Hell forever? If you say by examining your works, how can you deny us that same evaluative method?

    Comment by Ray — May 10, 2009 @ 8:29 pm

  36. Aaron: The doctrine of total depravity — that we lack the the ability to freely choose to accept or reject God’s gracious offer of a loving relationship — is a pernicious doctrine that is not merely false but damaging to any true Christian. It denies both the love of God and any human responsiveness to God’s love.

    It entails that God damns some whom he could save. You miss that point — or simply ignore it. That entails that the god you worship send some to hell when he could send them to heaven. As I said, you are free to choose to believe such denials of divine love, but don’t dare suggest that Mormons are the non-Christians for rejecting such loathsome and non-scriptural doctrines.

    I’m with Ray. The supreme irony is that you have the gall to to argue that those of us who reject such contrascriptural nonsense are non-Christians. The being you worship has more in common with Lucifer than with Christ.

    Comment by Blake — May 10, 2009 @ 8:41 pm

  37. Geoff, I think you should further study the state of Christian theology immediately preceding Calvin before you judge him too harshly. The short version is that classical theology which reached its peak in Aquinas was suffering an intellectual crisis due to issues related to divine power. This crisis was sufficiently severe that scholastically speaking Christian theology (and the character of God in particular) was being reduced to mockery.

    Martin Luther and John Calvin both arose out of a theological tradition that aimed to restore order to this chaos by a return to a hard core Augustinianism, one in particular that restored the classical doctrine of the atemporality of God (the whole underpinning classical theology) through the concept of theological determinism.

    So while I think the theology of Arminius (and in due time John Wesley) is superior theologically to that of Calvin, the theology of Luther and Calvin is indisputablely superior (in terms of being able to sustain and inspire religious adherence) to much of the scholastic theology of the 14th and 15th centuries, which was having precisely the opposite effect.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 10, 2009 @ 8:49 pm

  38. Calvinism has nothing to do with the removal of agency. It would be more accurate to say that in Calvinism God created a world where no one has libertarian free will.

    If you combine creatio ex nihilo and causal determinism, Calvinism results as naturally as water flowing down hill. No Arminian can consistently be a causal determinist without denying creatio ex nihilo or vice versa.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 10, 2009 @ 8:58 pm

  39. Mark, as the resident parser, “removal” was not the right word – but it doesn’t change the argument in the slightest. “Denial” works fine – and thanks for proving my point about how the entire concept of a Plan of Salvation is nullified within Calvinism.

    Comment by Ray — May 10, 2009 @ 10:13 pm

  40. Yes, Ray. I tend to think the same thing about determinism in general. Doesn’t stop lots of others though…

    Comment by Mark D. — May 10, 2009 @ 10:51 pm

  41. Just discovered this thread . . .

    A “Cafeteria Calvinist” . . . hmmm . . . now I could accept that label of me. I feel more comfortable with that term than being called a cafeteria Arminian.

    (But please, Lord, help me not to be a cafeteria teacher/preacher of the Bible.)

    Comment by Todd Wood — May 10, 2009 @ 11:26 pm

  42. Just as a reminder, there was a discussion of Romans 9 last time you two did a podcast 2 years ago, starting with this comment from Blake. Also on the topic of Romans 9, you might enjoy this post from lxxluthor over at FPR. I thought Aaron’s redirect with Romans 9 was the slickest rhetorical move of the exchange. Well done. In the end, I never heard an explanation for why the objector in Romans 9 is not correct (on Aaron’s view) other than that Paul anticipated his objection, so he must be wrong.

    Here are my favorite quotes from Aaron in the podcast:

    When I made that video I went into a kind of spiritual depression over the fact that these people really do believe that God could have been a sinner

    God has not only ordained my good works, but he has also ordained my sins.

    Aaron is apparently devastated by the idea that some Mormons think God sinned before he was God as part of his coming to be God, and yet, his own view of God is that God has ordained every single sin that has ever been committed. One of these views seems worse than the other, and it is the one where God ordains sins as God.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 10, 2009 @ 11:33 pm

  43. Well Jacob, I have been doing a late night reading here in the book of Jeremiah.

    I will be in Jeremiah 25 this Wednesday night with the church family, but I couldn’t help but notice the words of YHWH through Jeremiah in who God calls His servant (Jeremiah 27).

    Nebuchanezzar . . . and this guy was no sweet, righteous angel (chuckling). This king left a trail of violent, bloody, sinful actions wherever he walked.

    I need to go to bed. But what do you think of this sovereign God in Jeremiah 27 as recorded by the prophet?

    Comment by Todd Wood — May 10, 2009 @ 11:50 pm

  44. (And I can’t even get the wicked king’s name spelled right. – it’s bed time.)

    Comment by Todd Wood — May 10, 2009 @ 11:53 pm

  45. (head spinning)

    Aaron:

    God has essentially told the world to believe in his Son, that eternal life is received on the condition of faith. But he has unconditionally chosen to grant that the condition of faith to the elect.

    Is there a typo in that last sentence? Either “that” or “the” should be deleted? I’m not sure what you’re saying.

    I see two ways to read you:
    1) Everyone is told to have faith, and if they meet that condition of faith then they can be saved; some people, however, are “elect,” which means they are guaranteed to have that faith.
    2) Everyone is told to have faith, but only some people will ever be allowed to have enough faith to be saved.

    I see 1) as something like “calling and election made sure” in Mormonism, whereas 2) is straight-up false advertising (or, Lucy-holding-the-football). And if 2) is right, what difference does it make whether I have the “grace and peace in Christ” that you always close with?

    Comment by BrianJ — May 11, 2009 @ 12:31 am

  46. Todd,

    This is one of your boiler plate comments: (1) Mention which book of scripture you are currently reading. (2) Say something about how amazed or befuddled or amused or enlightened you are by the passage. (3) Ask a over-broad question about how people understand that passage without giving any particulars about why you think it is relevant to the discussion and without taking a position on the passage which can be challenged or even engaged.

    Let me provide a couple of examples from the many times we have had this exchange. One of our first exchanges ever was when we were talking about penal-substitution and you chimed it to ask (without context):

    But what would be your interpretation of John 1:13? (here)

    I responded by saying:

    Sorry, I don’t have anything particularly interesting to say about John 1:13. What is your take on it? (here)

    You responded by saying you’d post about it on your own (nascent) blog, which you subsequently did on this post.

    By reading your post, I was finally able to get enough information to guess as to what in the world you had in mind. It turns out that John 1:29 calls Christ the “lamb of God” and this symbolically ties Christ to the sacrificial lamb, which is related to penal-substitution via Hebrews 11:22 in that this sacrifice was necessary to remove our sin and as you said in the post, you couldn’t “get away from the O.T. symbolism of the lamb as the substitute slain in penalty for man’s sin.”

    Clearly, it was impossible for me to figure out how you thought John 1:29 was related simply from a question about my interpretation. But, with this explanation in hand, I pointed out that there are many symbols in the scriptures surrounding atonement and pointing to one of those symbols is not enough to lock us down to a metaphysical explanation of the mechanism by which Christ redeems us. You never responded to that point as far as I’m award. Then, I asked if you ever planned to address the central point of my original penal-substitution post. You decided to do that on yet a different post but then you forgot to address the question in that post. So I pointed that out and after a lot of words I was able to find your answer which was “Who are we to ultimately stand in judgment of God over what is just and unjust?” (here). So, in the end it took all of that to figure out that you have no other argument than that you believe the Bible teaches penal-substitution (which was the central point in dispute) and your opinion that we are in no position to question whether or not your interpretation can be squared with the concept of justice as we know it.

    Several months later and after some other similar exchanges, you came by and said you’d been reading John 3 with your church family and offered the “latter part” of that chapter as a rebuttal to Blake’s post (here). I pointed out that this was far too vague a reference (latter part of John 3??!) for anyone to know what you were talking about or to respond substantively (here). You bristled. So, I provided this explanation which I include here in its entirety:

    The problem with your comment #4 is that it doesn’t bring up anything specific enough to allow me or anyone else to responsibly reply. You bring up the latter part of John 3. What in the latter part of John 3 do you think disagrees with the post? I cannot read your mind. If you bring up something specific, it can be engaged. If you point to the latter part of John 3, we have to guess at what you are thinking when you read John 3, which is not productive. (here)

    You juxtaposed my inhospitality with your own by responding that “surely, you [Jacob] are welcome to comment freely on HI4LDS. I won’t jump all over you concerning any of what I perceive to be a lack of mental discipline or logic etiquette.”

    Here we are again and this time you are offering all of Jeremiah 27 for consideration. You made no substantive points about the chapter, but you ask what I think of it. What can I say. I can tell you think it is rude of me to jump all over you for making comments that I find to be counter-productive to a meaningful exchange of ideas. In some sense, I am sorry for that. In another sense, I want to drive home the fact that I still feel the same way I did two years ago when we had that exchange. It is true that we are not as inviting at NCT as you are at HI4LDS. Nevertheless, I hope this ridiculous waste of a comment explains why I won’t be responding to your question about what I think of the sovereign God in Jeremiah 27. If you think it is relevant, make a point using Jeremiah 27 about why it is okay for a sovereign God to ordain sins and I will happily respond. I even want to respond as that is what we do here, but you have to give me more to go on than a request to know how I feel about Jeremiah 27.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 11, 2009 @ 1:33 am

  47. Todd, actually, ignore that last comment. Pretend it never appeared. Instead: I was reading Leviticus 18-20 today and it was cracking me up. What are your thoughts on the sovereign God of Leviticus 18-20?

    Comment by Jacob J — May 11, 2009 @ 1:44 am

  48. 43,

    Actually, I hate Jeremiah 27. Worst chapter in the whole book, if you ask me––waste of ink. I usually just skip to the good stuff in 28.

    Comment by Latter-day Guy — May 11, 2009 @ 1:57 am

  49. TULIP is a creed, which binds its believers to a set of ideas, regardless of how they then try to package it to make it look palatable.

    The God of Calvin was/is an angry and extremely jealous God, yet without passions. He created all things and predestined all, yet then sees himself as the kind and benevolent God that offers salvation to everyone, with the caveat that they have to be predestined for salvation.

    Why even create a world and put us in it, if there is no choice nor free will? Isn’t it a cruel and sadistic God that plays with his creations, then willy-nilly casts out those that do not meet his predestined criteria?

    Personally, I’d rather burn in hell than worship such a god.

    I believe in the God that “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoso believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” With this God, I at least have a chance, if I believe in him. He seems much more simpatico, charitable, and good. He seems easier to know (John 17:3) and to call Abba, Father.

    When Joshua told the Israelites, “Choose ye this day” was he making it all up? How can one choose, if they do not have free will? Irresistible grace does not give anyone choice, but imposes it upon us, just as a puppet master can make the block of wood move about. There is no real life. There is no real relationship.

    It reminds me of an episode of Star Trek, Next Generation, where this girl ends up with the power of the Q. For a moment, she causes Riker to not only like her, but to love her. Then she realizes it isn’t real, and returns him to his normal state. Do Calvinists actually believe we have a God that is trapped in a delusion that things he forces to worship or reject him are in fact, worshiping or rejecting him?

    It makes Reason stare….in disbelief.

    Comment by rameumptom — May 11, 2009 @ 6:40 am

  50. Hehe. I think you have it right in #47 Jacob. That is the appropriate response to Todd’s consistently inane comments.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 11, 2009 @ 7:22 am

  51. A discussion like this really ought to have a few quotes from the Westminster Confession of Faith:

    God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

    II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed any thing because he foresaw it as future, as that which would come to pass, upon such conditions.

    and:

    As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.

    VII. The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.

    If anyone wants a good idea of the core doctrines of scholastic Calvinism, there is no better source.

    Please note that the WCF does not deny “will”, but it does deny that “will” is made effective in actions except to the degree that God has ordained as such. This is an interesting attempt to deny divine culpability for the sins of mortals – namely that God only ordains sinful actions that correspond to sinful desires. You can see this in the Bible from time to time.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 11, 2009 @ 8:04 am

  52. Mark,

    That is a useful resource. I’m not sure what your point is though. It is pretty obvious that Calvinists want to make God the cause of all things (the only free agent in the universe) but don’t want to make God morally responsible for all things. This is of course nonsense. So having the core documents helps but it doesn’t change any of the main criticisms we have.

    Also, I don’t have any troubles with you defending Calvin the person (#37). I have no doubt his intentions were good. (But you know what they say about good intentions.) In any case, I have a problem with Calvinism, not necessarily with Calvin himself.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 11, 2009 @ 8:18 am

  53. 10. Just finished listening, great job. I knew nothing about the implications of Calvinist theology until the recent posts on this blog, and it has been eye-opening to say the least.

    I have a problem with Shaf’s approach in that it is geared so much at attacking Mormonism rather than affirming Calvinism. As noted in other comments, and in the podcast, it takes Shaf a while to get around to the actual implications of his beliefs. I listened to the podcast with my wife on the drive home from moms house last night and my wife was severely shocked when aaron began explaining that God loves himself greater than anything, and so he made creatures in order to show them how great his glory is, etc. Arron said something about that being the crux of the issue for him, and the most important distinction between Mormonism and Calvinism. That makes me wonder, then, why Aaron doesn’t simply affirm his truths rather than spend so much time “researching” Mormonism (read: finding proof-texts)and protesting at LDS events. I think Ray’s title of “anti-something Calvinists” is useful in this regard, then, and Aaron could be classified as an “anti-something Calvinist” since he tends to follow the “anti-something Calvinist” method which is something like the following:

    1. Find out little-known or embarrassing things about Mormonism

    2. Catch Mormons unaware, frighten or disgust them about their religion thus leaving them desititue of faith

    3. Tell them they must accept Christ

    4. If they do so, they are elect and you were the preordained instrument in their salvation that would have occurred no matter what.

    Why not skip the destructive elements of the process and simply affirm the beliefs? A tu quoque response won’t wash with me for several reasons. First, I think it’s a weak foundation to base your own methods on the methods of a religion you consider deceptive and false. Second, Mormonism does not devote specific efforts to refute other religions. There are times when missionaries do affirm that LDS beliefs are correct whereas other beliefs are not correct. This does not amount to “counter-cult” dirt-digging efforts, however, nor is it foundational to the proselyting method.

    Aaron said #26:

    God has essentially told the world to believe in his Son, that eternal life is received on the condition of faith. But he has unconditionally chosen to grant that the condition of faith to the elect.

    I completely reject this view. As long as we can trade proof-texts I would point to John 3:16, but even more to the neglected verse following, the great 17:

    16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
    17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

    [Hey, looks like rameum used the first of the two verses as well!]

    #28 Ray:

    “Penultimate” means second to highest, rather than the intuitive “most important.” I learned this on the bloggernacle by misusing it as well!

    Comment by BHodges — May 11, 2009 @ 9:29 am

  54. Blair, I think Ray was using the mor-mon definition where pen-ultimate means more-ultimate.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 11, 2009 @ 10:06 am

  55. BHodges, 53: You quote Aaron and then say that you “completely reject this view.” I asked about the same quote in 45 but I’m not sure I’m understanding Aaron. A little help?

    Comment by BrianJ — May 11, 2009 @ 10:11 am

  56. BrianJ,

    The answer is that it is not a typo in #26, it is self-contradictory nonsense. Calvinists use the magical hand-wave approach of calling it “mystery” when such self-contradictory nonsense is pointed out.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 11, 2009 @ 10:26 am

  57. OK, here’s a transcription of Aaron’s monologue from 43:48 to 47:55:

    I’ve thought about giving a Sunstone presentation someday, a provocative one, that, entitled perhaps “God’s Intra-Trinitarian Self-Centeredness as the Most Watershed Difference Between Historic Protestant Christianity and Mormonism.”

    And it’s the idea that God does everything, absolutely everything, ultimately for His own glory. And He is in a passionate pursuit to see that He is honored and seen for all that He is. So, for example, in the Romans 9 passage I read earlier, He has set aside objects of wrath and he has set aside objects of mercy. And for example in Ezekiel 36 He says “What I’m about to do is not for your sake it’s for my own sake, the sake of my name, the sake of my praise,” and the most stark passage I can think of on the entire issue [noise in background, "sorry Aaron" etc.]

    One of the most stark passages that I can think of in the Bible, the most, the starkest passage that I can think of on this issue is Isaiah 48:9, 10 and 11, God says: “for my name’s sake, I defer mine anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver. I have tried you in the furnace of affliction for my own sake, for my own sake I do it. For how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.”

    So everything Go is doing- and this is part of, when I really like to talk to people about how integrated worldviews fit together, and so, I mean I don’t really like to take one little sliver, or piece or part of Mormonism and sequester it and talk about it alone. I like to see how it fits within the larger worldview, and in historic Christianity this all-sufficient God, who has always been fully God, who has absolutely never has sinned and who has always been all-powerful and all-knowing—it’s very fitting that the purpose of His life for His creatures would be to enjoy Him and to glorify Him and to praise Him and to love Him, in the context of community.

    And it’s all the more fitting that the fall be seen as an infinite offense against His glory and His majesty, and deserving of infinite, eternal punishment.

    And it’s all the more fitting that salvation for God’s people would be of such a manner that He gets all the credit and He gets all the glory, and the people who are saved enjoy giving Him all the credit and Him all the praise.

    And it’s all the more fitting that the afterlife would be the ever-increasing enjoyment of God and knowledge of God in the context of community.

    So that’s what I…but Calvinism really breathes even more than historic Arminianism, which I do think shares a big part of that worldview, but Calvinism just takes it to I think to its good extreme and it says that God does absolutely everything for His glory and salvation’s designed so He gets all the glory, so, I mean this is one part where I think Mormons and Christians really—Evangelical Christians- really need to talk about is that, you know in Mormonism it seems like, at least traditionally, is that God wants spirit children who can experience the same kind of worship that He has experienced. And can experienced the kind of praise that He’s experienced. And that He is not demanding that all creatures in the universe worship Him alone. But that He is, you know He only has, expects an appropriate worship from only His particular spirit children, but his spirit grandfather would receive glory from another set of spirit children. And so that’s just totally foreign to this idea in historic Christianity where you have this one God who is all-sufficient, who has everything that He has intrinsically and eternally. And that He alone gets all the glory.

    (At this point Geoff said this is an example of where Mormons would appeal to mystery in that we don’t really know what these things entail as far as spirit children, etc. Mormonism still teaches one God, but multiple persons in one God, just like “historic” Christianity. Geoff goes on to call Aaron out for talking to regular lay members and asking them questions that catch them off guard, etc.)

    If Aaron believes this issue is the watershed, I believe he should go ahead and explicate it early and often to the best of his ability. What I do not understand is why Aaron feels he must attack, criticize, sometimes ridicule, and contradict Mormonism in is his protestations at Temple Square.

    Comment by BHodges — May 11, 2009 @ 10:31 am

  58. Just a quick insert of a comment to say thanks to all on this strand. I’m being both enlightened and entertained. Carry on! Please!

    Comment by Clean Cut — May 11, 2009 @ 10:33 am

  59. I also want to echo the general condemnation of Aaron Shaf’s blog, where he claims the rules are intended to keep things on topic and avoid personal attacks. I was “moderated” on Aaron’s board, preventing me from posting more than a few times a day (I think the limit was between 1 and 3 times). However, no such restrictions applied to the myriad of folks criticizing my position, but I could not respond. That blog is a piece of garbage, is my point.

    Comment by BHodges — May 11, 2009 @ 10:36 am

  60. If that is a “personal attack,” by the way, I invite Geoff to go ahead and dispense with it or edit it or whatever.

    Comment by BHodges — May 11, 2009 @ 10:40 am

  61. Blaire, I don’t think you have much of an idea of what I personally do on a regular basis at Temple Square, so I’m not going to delve into a long self-defense.

    I really do appreciate the transcription, and I’d love to have a broader discussion about the issue of God’s intra-trinitarian self-glorification, something that is not unique to Calvinism (it is largely affirmed and celebrated in much of Arminianism too) but is especially exemplified in Calvinism. Even the few Arminians who wouldn’t agree with the Edwardsean bent would still agree that God has a special kind of divine glory that he does not share with any other being, and that the ultimate purpose of life is to enjoy and glorify the one God of all reality.

    I’ll try to answer some above questions later, but for now back to work…

    “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36),

    Aaron

    Comment by Aaron — May 11, 2009 @ 10:51 am

  62. By the way (regarding complaints about moderation at MC), Tim over at his blog also found it counterproductive to delve into Calvinism on this blog post. He wanted the rabbit trail stopped, and that was fine. I respect for that.

    Comment by Aaron — May 11, 2009 @ 10:59 am

  63. Ha! Now there’s a shocker: Calvinist anti-Mormons who find it highly productive to “delve into” Mormonism find it counterproductive to delve into Calvinism.

    I think Jesus had a word for that… hypocrites!

    (Hey, if I were a Calvinist I would want to keep my theology secret too)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 11, 2009 @ 11:16 am

  64. Aaron,
    That’s right. So, Tim expressed his desire and all participants complied. Much better than arbitrarily changing the rules.

    Comment by John C. — May 11, 2009 @ 11:20 am

  65. #61 Aaron:

    Blaire [without the "e," actually], I don’t think you have much of an idea of what I personally do on a regular basis at Temple Square, so I’m not going to delve into a long self-defense.

    To the contrary, I think I have a pretty good idea of what you do at Temple Square and elsewhere. While I do not know all of your tactics and approaches I have observed you enough to see common threads. I have been paying specific attention to you since we met in Manti a while back (you did not recall the exchange, nor do I believe you recall it now). I subsequently posted some analysis on a message board which caught your attention and you rejected my simplistic caricature of your tactics. I resolved to be more specific and accurate with my depictions of street preachers, making efforts to understand their approach as well as their methods.

    So I have observed your street preaching a minimum of 4 times in person, for longer than 5 or 10 minutes at a time. I have listened to conversations you have had, I have read your posters. I have read your message board posts where you describe particular approaches to people who leave them temple and seen you express your satisfaction that you appeared to embarrass a husband in from of his wife, who looked concerned as they walked away that your questions about Elohim and Jehovah in the temple ceremony were something to worry about. I’ve seen you make light of psychiatric medication at the expense of Mormons without any regret or shame when you were called out on it (and also shown that your reasoning behind the ridicule was severely flawed, not to mention offensive). I’ve watched your video in which you approach people and ask if they think it possible that God was a sinner at some point.

    What I am saying, Aaron, is that I believe I do have “a pretty good idea” of what you do at Temple Square.

    Comment by BHodges — May 11, 2009 @ 12:01 pm

  66. #53 – Catching up. I was using “penultimate” in its proper meaning. I classify the Intercessory Prayer as Jesus’ most important sermon, even though it’s recorded as a prayer.

    Oh, and the Intercessory Prayer also refutes Calvinism.

    Comment by Ray — May 11, 2009 @ 12:23 pm

  67. Aaron, if you’re going to hold up Tim at LDS/Ev Conversations as an example of inter-faith dialogue then…yeah, you should. Tim is great example and a swell guy.

    Geoff: no, somewhere there is a typo. Nevermind self-contradiction, it makes no grammatical sense: “…to grant that the condition of faith to the elect.” Too many articles, or a missing verb. I’m not trying to nit-pick, but this detailed look at Calvinism is pretty new to me so I’m trying to get it right.

    Comment by BrianJ — May 11, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

  68. Ah, I’m glad I mentioned it to get the clarification, Ray. Thanks!

    Comment by BHodges — May 11, 2009 @ 12:37 pm

  69. Blair, I apologize for the misspelling of your name.

    Just to give you a glimpse into how off you are, I rarely even street preach at Temple Square, and mostly tract and converse. Street preaching is usually more appropriate for large events with lots of people. And I infrequently take the video camera out. As far as being “satisfied” about embarrassing people, I don’t buy into your colored interpretations.

    “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24)

    For once I’d like to participate in a sustained theological conversation with internet-defenders of Mormonism without it turning into a personal roast.

    Take care,

    Aaron

    PS Haven’t forgotten about answering some of the above Calvinism-related questions.

    Comment by Aaron — May 11, 2009 @ 12:40 pm

  70. Aaron: I refer generally to your activities as “street preaching” or “protesting”, not just when you are using your loudest voice and standing on a milk crate. Because of the general approach I have heard you use on several occasions, I see you as first attacking a religion and then trying to replace a religion. Thus, a protestant. In good Mormon tradition I’ll even lug in a C.S. Lewis quote, and this one is certainly not wrested from context:

    “I think we may accept it as a rule that whenever a person’s religious conversation dwells chiefly, or even frequently, on the faults of other people’s religions, he is in a bad condition.”
    -C.S. Lewis (Collected Letters Vol. 3 p. 209).

    I agree with Lewis, and heartily so, on that point.

    As far as being “satisfied,” it would be difficult to find another interpretation based on your own gloating about it online after the fact. That’s what I am talking about.

    This isn’t a personal roast. If I wanted to call you a jerk or something I would. But I don’t. You seem amicable enough. Instead, I have addressed your methods based on my own personal observations. I don’t consider an attempt to politely describe a person’s behavior as an attack, as much as an attempt to call a spade a spade.

    Comment by BHodges — May 11, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

  71. “Ha! Now there’s a shocker: Calvinist anti-Mormons who find it highly productive to “delve into” Mormonism find it counterproductive to delve into Calvinism. I think Jesus had a word for that… hypocrites!”

    Very good observation Geoff. Oh, the irony.

    Comment by Clean Cut — May 11, 2009 @ 1:06 pm

  72. Lucifer’s final request was that the glory be his alone – that he not be required to share the glory with those he would return to the Father.

    Comment by Ray — May 11, 2009 @ 1:13 pm

  73. 3. Tell them they must accept Christ
    4. If they do so, they are elect and you were the preordained instrument in their salvation that would have occurred no matter what.

    Doctrine 4 here is a corruption of Calvinism called “eternal security”. No orthodox Calvinist would dream of claiming that a confession of faith is a reliable indication that one is among the elect.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 11, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

  74. BrianJ, delete the word “that.”

    Aaron, we have had sustained discussions which have come to some finality on multiple issues. In each case I know of, the discussion has sustained itself until we both agreed that your position does not make sense, but it is, nonetheless, what you think the Bible teaches and so you are sticking to it. For example, you previously said:

    Regarding your philosophical objections to ex nihilo, I won’t pretend to have good philosophical answers for you. I don’t know. Speaking honestly, my belief in God’s definite foreknowledge has more to do with a simple trust of who I see him for in scripture than it does with a serious philosophical evaluation of the implications. (here)

    or, on Adam sinning in the first place you said:

    The scripture seems silent on this, so I don’t have an answer. I think the question is also valid for Protestant adherents of libertarian free will, since it is simply extraordinary and amazing that a person created in a pristine condition, enjoying the Garden of Eden and a personal relationship with God, would even think about not trusting the God who just created them and the world they live on. It’s baffling. (here)

    The same thing happened in your conversation with Geoff this time. In my experience from listening to you and Geoff discuss theology, the primary disconnect is that we demand that our theology ultimately make sense, and you demand that your theology ultimately match your understanding of the Bible. Of course, you want your theology to make sense and we want ours to match the Bible, but when push comes to shove we go different directions on this fundamental point. Let’s not pretend we’ve never gotten to a conclusion on any substantive points.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 11, 2009 @ 1:56 pm

  75. Incidentally, I think your wanting to base things in the Bible is in some ways laudable, but at the same time deeply problematic. Since everyone is trying to base their teachings on the Bible and lots of sincere followers of Christ read the Bible carefully and end up with very different conclusions on what it means (even Romans 9), you end up basing your faith on the fact that you have the correct interpretation of the Bible and everyone else has the wrong one. There is an element of hubris that I don’t think can be avoided. In the end, it boils down to the idea that you are smarter than everyone else. I find that to be a very shaky foundation.

    By contrast, I am not banking on being smarter than anyone else. I am going on what God has told me personally and individually. I expect God to judge me based on my efforts to follow my conscience and his guidance. I expect him to judge you based on your efforts to do the same. I appreciate the epistemological humility afforded by my approach.

    Comment by Jacob J — May 11, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

  76. Jacob: the primary disconnect is that we demand that our theology ultimately make sense, and you demand that your theology ultimately match your understanding of the Bible

    Well said.

    When you combine that with the exegetical hubris required for Aaron’s position it is yet another reason to not insist the Bible is inerrant (and particularly not insist one’s interpretation of the text is inerrant). Of course Aaron and his friends take this so far that I would describe it as Bible worship. But we have discussed that before.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 11, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

  77. the primary disconnect is that we demand that our theology ultimately make sense, and you demand that your theology ultimately match your understanding of the Bible.

    Brilliantly articulated.

    Comment by BHodges — May 11, 2009 @ 2:37 pm

  78. I’m iffy on our doctrine ultimately making sense (in any sort of greek rational way), but I also believe that God doesn’t demand that we believe a long list of things (just a short one). It may make more sense if we leave out all our speculation and assumptions.

    I’m also a little more of a divine command theorist than all ya’ll (not to Aaron levels, but a little more).

    Finally, Aaron, I’m the one always making personal attacks at your expense. Please don’t mistake my distaste for you as being a general mood. All the rest of these folks seem to have a higher tolerance for you than I do. Also, I’m going to lay off for a bit, as I am being a bit too mean, I think.

    Comment by John C. — May 11, 2009 @ 4:11 pm

  79. I’m iffy on our doctrine ultimately making sense

    Some versions of our doctrine don’t make any sense John. But I reject those versions for a lot of the same reasons I reject Calvinism. I’m fine with accepting that there are plenty of mysteries but I don’t like to see Calvinists calling nonsense “mystery” and I don’t like to see Mormons do it either.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 11, 2009 @ 4:16 pm

  80. #63 Geoff J ~ Ha! Now there’s a shocker: Calvinist anti-Mormons who find it highly productive to “delve into” Mormonism find it counterproductive to delve into Calvinism.

    Are you implying that Tim at LDS & Evangelical Conversations is anti-Mormon and/or Calvinist? He claims to be neither Calvinist nor Arminian (though he starts from the Arminian side)—see this comment here, and I certainly wouldn’t ever brand him an anti-Mormon.

    He shut down the Calvinism discussion because it was getting tangential to his OP. He’s the OP. He’s kind of allowed to do that.

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — May 11, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

  81. Jack,
    I think Geoff was referring to Aaron, not Tim.

    Comment by John C. — May 11, 2009 @ 6:07 pm

  82. Geoff,
    I think it makes sense to God and that it might therefore make sense to us eventually. There are things about mortality that don’t make any sense to me as a mortal, so with that I have chosen to just roll with it.

    Comment by John C. — May 11, 2009 @ 6:09 pm

  83. I get that everyone thinks Aaron is a “Calvinist anti-Mormon,” John. It’s the plural (“Calvinist anti-Mormons who…”) that raised my eyebrows.

    My apologies in advance if I read you wrong though, Geoff.

    Comment by Bridget Jack Meyers — May 11, 2009 @ 6:36 pm

  84. Jack — Yeah the way I wrote that comment sort of connected Tim unfairly to the accusation.

    John — I’ll probably post on the distinction between mystery and nonsense some time. One example of nonsense that is pretty popular with Mormons still is the idea that real free will and an fixed future are compatible. I think we should shun logical nonsense in our theology just like I think Calvinists should scrap their entire theology for being full of the stuff.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 11, 2009 @ 7:10 pm

  85. Just out of curiosity, are there any articles from Mormon authors engaging John Piper specifically?

    Comment by Seth R. — May 11, 2009 @ 7:30 pm

  86. Seth,

    I have looked around and the only thing I have seen is Blake mentioning Piper here:

    http://heartissuesforlds.wordpress.com/2007/01/12/blog-exchange-2-with-blake-ostler/

    Ostler apparently doesn’t directly reference Piper in vol. 1 or 2 according to his Mormon Thought indexes.

    Comment by BHodges — May 11, 2009 @ 9:03 pm

  87. I’m iffy on our doctrine ultimately making sense

    To the extent that is true our doctrine is wrong. The first rule of truth is non-contradiction. The idea that anything that irresolvably contradicts itself is true makes all thought, language, and rationality meaningless. Sounding brass, tinkling cymbals – all form no substance.

    Mormonism, in particular, was founded on that very precept – that if a doctrine doesn’t make any kind of sense then it is probably worthless. If Joseph Smith didn’t have that instinct he would probably have become a life long Presbyterian (Not to knock Presbyterianism).

    Comment by Mark D. — May 11, 2009 @ 10:06 pm

  88. I must be predestined to not give a rat’s patoot.

    Comment by Mark N. — May 12, 2009 @ 12:03 am

  89. Mark D., I don’t believe Mormonism was “founded on that very precept.”

    Comment by BHodges — May 12, 2009 @ 7:13 am

  90. BHodges beat me to it. I often see this kind of “foundational claim” made to support a particular point of doctrine—the most famous is the Book of Mormon keystone philosophy. It’s really just an appeal to authority; if you don’t believe this one point then you can’t believe anything else.

    Comment by BrianJ — May 12, 2009 @ 7:51 am

  91. Geoff, Jacob: Okay, so re-reading Aaron’s statement with Jacob’s correction still has me asking what Aaron believes:

    1) Everyone is told to have faith, and if they meet that condition of faith then they can be saved; some people, however, are “elect,” which means they are guaranteed to have that faith.
    2) Everyone is told to have faith, but only some people will ever be allowed to have enough faith to be saved.

    For the purpose of the OP, #2 is totally problematic, but #1 is not: it makes sense in that paradigm for the elect to preach to the non-elect.

    (I realize that it’s kind of strange to ask Mormon anti-Calvinists to explain what an anti-Mormon Calvinist believes, but…)

    Comment by BrianJ — May 12, 2009 @ 8:00 am

  92. I’m not sure I understand your question BrianJ. Are you asking if 1) is accurate above? I’d say that it is missing the assumption that everyone is completely evil and depraved by nature and that no one can choose to have faith no matter what preaching they hear. In Calvinism God either chooses to make someone have faith or not — attaining faith is not ultimately instigated by effort or merit on their part.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 12, 2009 @ 8:15 am

  93. Mark D,

    I very much agree with your #87. While Blair and Brian are free to quibble with your “founded on that very precept” wording I think it is obvious that one of the problems Joseph Smith sought to solve in turning to God was the problem he saw all around him of self-contradictory theological nonsense. I certainly don’t believe for a second that Joseph would have been content to have us wallow in self-contradictions as some seem more than satisfied to do in the church.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 12, 2009 @ 8:50 am

  94. Geoff: ahh, that’s right, I need to go read more about Arminius (et al). Does a Calvinist (even a “soft” one) allow someone to reject God’s grace? or is the choosing entirely God’s?

    A different sort of question: Aaron and the Bunnies approach me about my Mormonism; I respond that God already told me that I am not one of his elect; now what? I suppose if I’m already destined to be demon-bait, they might as well ridicule me now and make my life here hell as well. Seems fair enough. ;)

    On Mark D’s point: I’m just not sure that Joseph prayed because of “self-contradictory theological nonsense.” He saw contradictions between religions—each interpreting a verse a different way—but did he see contradictions within a given church? I see him going to the grove to ask which of the churches was correct—if he was bothered by each church’s internal contradiction, then he wouldn’t even consider joining any of them.

    Comment by BrianJ — May 12, 2009 @ 9:35 am

  95. …which is not to say that Joseph didn’t “grow into” an anti-contradictorian….

    Comment by BrianJ — May 12, 2009 @ 9:37 am

  96. BHodges (#89), In the formal sense of founding, I agree. In the informal sense, I don’t think it is easy to deny that the appeal of comprehensible common sense religious doctrine wasn’t a major factor in the rise of Mormonism, a factor which remains to this day.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 12, 2009 @ 9:39 am

  97. err, “was a major factor”

    BrianJ, I believe it would be relatively easy to establish that, e.g., Joseph Smith preferred Methodism over Presbyterianism due the the former’s lack of the incomprehensible Calvinist dogma of the latter.

    As far as the problems of Methodism as well, case in point is the denial of modern day revelation, an assertion which makes no obvious sense whatsoever.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 12, 2009 @ 9:45 am

  98. BrianJ: Does a Calvinist (even a “soft” one) allow someone to reject God’s grace?

    Not according to the “Irresistible grace” part of the classic explanation of Calvinism — TULIP.

    Total depravity
    Unconditional election
    Limited atonement
    Irresistible grace
    Perseverance of the saints

    Aaron and the Bunnies approach me about my Mormonism; I respond that God already told me that I am not one of his elect; now what?

    They assume you are lying because they don’t believe in present day revelation like we do.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 12, 2009 @ 10:00 am

  99. They assume you are lying because they don’t believe in present day revelation like we do.

    Wait, then how does Aaron know that he’s one of the elect (see #26)? More contradiction?

    Also, the wiki article mentions that neo-Calvinists are somewhat opposed to the U in TULIP, but it seems to me that the U naturally flows from the T, L, and I.

    (Thanks again for entertaining my questions!)

    Mark D: “don’t…deny…wasn’t” “err, was” You used enough negatives that I read you right the first time. {smile} I see from your response to BHodges that you did not mean the founding in as strict as sense as I read it; I agree that non-contradiction was clearly important during early rise of Mormonism (and still is).

    So, despite that I think we agree on your first point, I’d be interested if you can make a case for Joseph thinking in these terms in his “15th year.”

    Comment by BrianJ — May 12, 2009 @ 11:08 am

  100. BrianJ: Wait, then how does Aaron know that he’s one of the elect (see #26)? More contradiction?

    You’ve asked one of the baffling questions I was hoping to answer in the last two posts. Since I believe we all have robust free will, see comment #22 for my theory on the subject. (Namely, Calvinists make assumptions about the works a saved person would do and consciously or subconsciously mold their lives after that image in order to feel saved.)

    Comment by Geoff J — May 12, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

  101. Brian J, I don’t have immediate access to the kind of documentary evidence necessary to establish that as a fact, unfortunately, and it might well be impossible.

    I think the fact that Joseph Smith at a relatively early age preferred Methodist teaching over that of the Presbyterian denomination that most of the members of his own immediate family belonged to is highly suggestive.

    The other thing that comes to mind is the following quote suggesting long time familiarity with the teachings of both denominations:

    “The doctrines that the Presbyterians and Methodists have quarreled so much about – once in grace, always in grace, or falling away from grace, I will say a word about. They are both wrong. Truth takes a road between them both, for while the Presbyterian says “Once in grace, you cannot fall”, the Methodist says “You can have grace today, fall from it tommorrow, the next day have grace again, changing continually.” (DHC 6:249-54, TPJS 339).

    Joseph Smith then goes on to make a scriptural argument against the Presbyterian position. The Methodist position he describes might be extreme, but it is similar in both form and substance to our teachings about losing and regaining the Spirit.

    In nearly all practical respects, Church doctrine has taken the Arminian position in preference to the Calvinist position, wherever they differ. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor were all Methodist or Methodist leaning prior to becoming Mormons. Of any person prior to Joseph Smith, the teaching of John Wesley most resembles the doctrines we maintain to this day on a host of subjects.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 12, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

  102. Orthodox Calvinism maintains that one is never completely sure that he or she is among the elect. Good works, confession of faith, etc. are merely evidentiary indicators. If anyone falls away, it is an indication that they never were elect to begin with.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 12, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

  103. If anyone falls away, it is an indication that they never were elect to begin with.

    Often, a version of that phrase is unfortunately leveled at people who leave the LDS Church. {sigh}

    Geoff: I of course read your #22 already—and every other comment on this thread—but didn’t realize the full implication of it. I hope you’re seeing that you have to tell me something multiple times before I get it. Thanks.

    Comment by BrianJ — May 12, 2009 @ 2:02 pm

  104. #97 MarkD:

    In the informal sense, I don’t think it is easy to deny that the appeal of comprehensible common sense religious doctrine wasn’t a major factor in the rise of Mormonism, a factor which remains to this day.

    I still see your view as being too reductionist. For instance, some of the earlier apostates left after seeing the innovative nature of things that didn’t seem to conform with their earlier “rational” understanding of things (see Whitmer for example). Thus, joining up based on “rational” grounds can lead to bad consequences like disappointment and disillusionment, or stern and inflexible dogmatism. Drawbacks to this “rational” approach. That these drawbacks to the rational approach exist demonstrates (to me at least) the complexity of the issue and does not allow rationality to represent the foundational point, intrinsically or extrinsically.

    To clarify for Mark D and Geoff, I do not mean to underplay the more rational approach to religion manifest in the restoration through Joseph Smith. I believe the Saints were (and are or should be) often seeking something of a “rational faith.”

    However, I also believe that in Mormonism there has been plenty of room for all the “line upon line-ing” that has been going on as well. Recall the idea that obedience often takes precedence over full understanding. We see this mentality in scripture, sermons, diaries, etc. (‘Why are you sacrificing to the Lord?’ ‘I know not, save the Lord God commanded me,’ and all this “after many days.”)

    Sure we want to understand things and be consistent, and certainly religious confusion over doctrines played a part in Joseph going into the grove, going through the Bible, asking God about various things, etc. (though as BrianJ mentions, I am not sure I see much stewing over internal contradictions at that point, MarkD’s comments on methodism notwithstanding). But there are also things we don’t currently understand, and things Joseph didn’t fully understand, either. By proving contraries truth is made manifest, but this is not necessarily like a gum ball machine where you put in a penny and get a treat every time.

    Like BrianJ said:

    I agree that non-contradiction was clearly important during early rise of Mormonism (and still is).

    In short, I would see the “foundational” aspect of rationality as representing only one half of a paradox that is still playing itself out in the life of Latter-day Saints.

    Comment by BHodges — May 12, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

  105. Blair,

    I think rational is the wrong word to be using. What I am talking about is better described as non-self-contradictory or internally consistent.

    Saying we will be resurrected could easily be called irrational after all.

    I don’t think anyone is disputing that Joseph was up to more than seeking an internally consistent and coherent theology. But there is also no question that doing so was one of his goals. WE need only look at the D&C and question after question JS brought to God trying learn enough to have things make some sense. (See section 19 for an example of an internal contradiction being toppled.)

    Now if we are only quibbling over the word “foundational” then there isn’t really much of a disagreement here at all.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 12, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

  106. Geoff, you’re right on; it’s really too subjective to make a solid argument either way, it seems. I know what you mean about internal consistency, etc. being important, but I do think there are instances where things do seem to contradict and are still retained (JS struggled with plural marriage and adultery, for instance, it seems).

    Comment by BHodges — May 12, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

  107. The only requirements I have maintained is that religious doctrine make sense and not have any irresolvable contradictions. Precepts we do not understand very well may be proven to be in error to some degree or another. Precepts that contradict each other we can be sure are false or misleading in some fundamental respect without further investigation.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 12, 2009 @ 5:20 pm

  108. The conflict between plural marriage and adultery could be resolved in any number of ways without logical contradiction. I don’t think anyone seriously maintains that God cannot grant dispensations to his own laws, if he has any reasonable justification for doing so.(*)

    The type of contradictions I am speaking of are some set of propositions that cannot obtain in any possible world. Classical theism seems to maintain a rather large number of them with regard to the attributes of God, although centuries of work have gone into resolving them in one manner or another.

    For example, it is a scandal in classical theism to assert that anything we do affects God in any way. That is certainly consistent standing alone, but it is hardly consistent with numerous passages of scripture, so much so that classical theists tend to result to formalized double talk to explain the contradiction.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 12, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

  109. Well said Mark.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 12, 2009 @ 6:27 pm

  110. Thanks Geoff.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 13, 2009 @ 8:15 am

  111. I think the common Mormon view that God has infinite foreknowledge contradicts significantly with LDS thought on agency. Were it foundational for Mormons to have a systematically consistent theology I think this would have merited much more attention than it has thus far. I think most Mormons would agree that having a sound theological base is a good thing, but whether this translates into actual effort is a horse of a different color.

    Comment by BHodges — May 13, 2009 @ 9:20 am

  112. Well I guess I will add a couple thoughts.

    First to Aaron’s assertion about vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy: 2 Peter 3:9

    9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is alongsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should bperish, but that all should come to repentance.

    If the Lord is willing that all should come to repentence it seems strange that he is actually unwilling to save everyone.

    On the Subject of consistency with Mark D. I think it is a nice goal to be completely theologically consistent but I also think this ideology can lead to the over-correlation we saw with McConkie. On minor things it may be better to let contradictions stand.

    Comment by TrevorM — May 16, 2009 @ 8:46 am

  113. TrevorM, you stole my initials. What will I do now?

    #111 – Sometimes I wish a sound theological basis were more important in the Church as well…

    On another note, after listening to the podcast between the Shaf-inator and Geoff, it appears to me that Aaron repeatedly skirts the issue. I can’t really think of a time when he actually answered one of Geoff’s questions in a straight-up-here-is-your-simple-answer way (like Geoff was asking for). He simply reverted to appeals to scripture to back up his interpretation.

    So, I guess what I am trying to say is that I am with Geoff. Going back to the issue at hand, why even bother with missionary work if you are a Calvinist?

    And, what is “instrumental difference” in the way that Aaron is employing the term? If the Calvinist god is truly omnipotent, and has predestined the unchangeable ends, than (hypothetically speaking, of course) it wouldn’t make a difference if there were no anti-any-religion folks at all. Whoever God wanted to save would still be saved, and whoever he wanted to damn would still be damned. Trying to defend that statement from a Calvinist point of view makes my head spin.

    ALSO, (I have a lot to say today…) Calvinism seems to be awfully similar to a sort of unitarianism/universalism of religions. Technically speaking, you wouldn’t really NEED to even be a Christian to be saved (or damned), because that would place prerequisite status on having the right beliefs in order to be saved and thus deny and contradict what Aaron stated previously about having faith because you are saved instead of being saved because you have faith (which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either).

    PS, anyone going to the FAIR conference this summer?

    Comment by trevor — May 16, 2009 @ 2:27 pm

  114. TrevorM, I certainly think that there was a method behind BRMs theology, but systematic rational theology most certainly wasn’t it. I think BRM and JFS2 were the pre-eminent “evangelical” Mormons where by “evangelical” I mean they followed the same general approach to the scriptures as many other conservative 20th century evangelicals, clearly studied their writings and were heavily influenced on certain points of biblical interpretation.

    The other term I would give to BRM/JFS2 theology is “neo-absolutist”. Some people say “neo-orthodox” where orthodoxy is understood to be classical theism. Needless to say, I don’t think this is net forward progress, but nonetheless neo-absolutism is extremely influential in certain quarters of the Church, notably CES, and is a close mapping to LDS theology prior to 1835 (with certain fundamental additions of course).

    Comment by Mark D. — May 16, 2009 @ 9:57 pm

  115. I might add that the problem with theological absolutism is that it leads in only two directions – one is back to timeless mighty fortress of classical theism, and the other is to the very crisis that prompted Calvin in the first place. Roughly speaking an omnipotent God who acts in time, who can change his mind, who makes decisions and so on cannot also be the ultimate basis of goodness without making goodness a completely arbitrary concept. Calvin’s resolution was hyper-sovereignty, which to first approximation is “make a virtue of what others see as a problem” – a resolution that works pretty well in a world without free will.

    I am pushing my limit here, so all I will say is that LDS neo-absolutism has all the problems that prompted the 15th century theological crisis, except worse. The upside is that relative incoherence is moderated by a good deal of common sense, in classic LDS (and to a lesser degree Arminian) fashion.

    Comment by Mark D. — May 16, 2009 @ 10:25 pm

  116. Well put, Mark D.

    Comment by BHodges — May 18, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

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