I have recently had the pleasure of going through an 11-point set of accusations against Calvinism by Mr. Jay Dyer. He has responded to several of the posts in my series and directed me to other posts that he has written that he thinks are relevant to the issues under discussion. The Jay Dyer Index provides a full set (at least I believe it is full) of the relevant posts in this interaction.
As one of the commenters on Mr. Dyer's blog indicated, Mr. Dyer is not your average Romanist. This is true on several levels, but the most relevant levels are those connected to having an Eastern Orthodox background and being a "Byzantine Rite Catholic" these days, as well as previously having been associated with a Reformed church. More than that, Mr. Dyer has clearly spent a lot of time reading and studying the issues, and cites not only to the teachings of the Ecumenical Councils (though he pretty much sticks to the first seven - perhaps a hangover from his EO days) but also the some of the church fathers (particularly those of the East - perhaps another artifact of his journey).
These things place Mr. Dyer in somewhat of a unique position, which both makes reading his material interesting, but also reduces the value in addressing his position. That is to say, because his views are so unique, they are interesting, but a response to them is pretty much just a response to Mr. Dyer. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if some of Mr. Dyer's accusations get repeated, especially by people who are simply looking for a cattle prod with which to zap Calvinists, even though they themselves do not understand Mr. Dyer's methodology or arguments. In this respect (the desire to label Calvinism a heresy) I think Mr. Dyer is more creative than others, but not completely unique.
So, perhaps a further response is justified. After carefully reviewing all of the material that I've identified at the Index post linked above, I think I may have identified a number of core issues that are at the heart of Mr. Dyer's criticisms of Calvinism. I will try, in this post, to identify those issues and provide a suitable response. Mr. Dyer's postings have been voluminous, and I apologize in advance that I will not be providing specific citations to his comments in support of the items I identify. I do invite Mr. Dyer to provide a response (at his own blog) to this, in the event that he feels I have mischaracterized his position.
1. Luther Was Not a Calvinist/Systematic Theologian
Mr. Dyer in several places makes reference to Luther, as though Luther were a Calvinist and/or a Systematic Theologian. Neither of these is correct. Although Luther had many powerful insights, and though Luther did a lot to aid the awakening of Europe to the truth of the Scriptures, Luther was neither fully Calvinistic nor systematic.
2. Question in Responses to Accusations is Calvinism not Romanism
Mr. Dyer seemed to have the impression that my responses were directed to showing distinctives of Calvinism in contrast to Romanism. Although each of the responses had an "accusation redirected" section, those sections were the only ones dealing specifically with Romanism. Just because Rome presents a false gospel doesn't mean that every aspect of Roman theology is necessarily wrong. There are certainly points of at least apparent formal agreement between Calvinism and Romanism, where Romanism embraces the truth. Thus, when (in my responses) I state the Calvinist position, this may or may not be accepted by Rome. That's not the point: the point is that Calvinism's position is the Scriptural position. If others agree, great.
3. Monergism Means God Alone Saves
A few times Mr. Dyer seemed to rely on a sort of play on words to suggest that monergism, the doctrine that God alone saves, is equivalent to monothelitism, the idea that Jesus had only one will. There's no logical connection, however, just a verbal similarity. Mr. Dyer nowhere (that I could find) presents any good reason for making this jump, and this sort of analysis via play on words is not a valid criticism.
4. Paul Says It - We Believe It
In a couple of instances, Mr. Dyer seemed to take issue with the fact that I quoted Paul. For example, Paul says
Romans 8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
Ephesians 2:3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
Mr. Dyer seems to treat my quotation of these passages as implying what he perceives to be a Manichean view of God. If so, however, Mr. Dyer's issue is not really with me, but with Paul.
In fairness, I should point out that Mr. Dyer does elsewhere rely on things that Paul says, so Mr. Dyer is just being obtuse or inconsistent here. What Mr. Dyer doesn't do, however, is get beyond a reaction to expressions like "sinful flesh" and "by nature the children of wrath" to explain what he believes Paul means, and how he think that what Paul is saying differs from what Calvinists believe. In other words, the combination of exegesis and application isn't there on these texts.
5. Atonement Issues
Mr. Dyer seems to have a number of issues relating to the atonement. In Mr. Dyer's criticisms of the Calvinist position, the issues connected to the atoning work of Christ on the cross arise repeatedly. Nevertheless, it is not clear whether Mr. Dyer himself has a clear understanding both of the necessity and manner of Christ's atoning work. For Mr. Dyer, the emphasis seems to be (as with remaining writings of a few of the Early Church Fathers) more on the incarnation itself than on the atonement. There does not seem to be a "sacrifice for sin" concept present in his explanations regarding the saving work of Christ. This is an unfortunate gap in Mr. Dyer's theology, and may be one of the sources of his objections, though it is not made explicit in his critiques.
5a. In the Atonement, the Trinity Had One Purpose
Mr. Dyer repeatedly makes the claim that (in effect) if Jesus suffered the wrath of God on the cross for the sins of the elect, this implies that Jesus' divine will was somehow separate from the Father's divine will. There is, however, no logical link. Christ suffered the cross and the wrath of God voluntarily. Not only was there no disunion in the divine will over this, the Son and the Father were of one purpose, will, and intention in the cross. Christ's human will was made subservient and obedient to the divine will, which is one reason we can refer to the death of Christ as the "passive obedience" of Christ (though that label is not the most useful).
In short, there is no merit to the claim that the Calvinist view of the atonement implies a severance of the divine will. Mr. Dyer appears simply to assert this, and does not provide a supporting argument or explanation to back it up (although he makes a vague reference to "legal imputation"). There's no logical reason why Jesus would have to have a different will in order to experience the wrath of God on the cross on our (the elect's) behalf, nor for legal imputation to take place. Quite to the contrary, it is the unity of the divine will that is important to show that Jesus' death for our sins was not unjust, since he voluntarily offered himself on our behalf.
5b. Invalid Appeal to Perichoresis - Confusion of Persons
Mr. Dyer further objects to the Calvinistic doctrine of the atonement based on reference to perichoresis: the eternal mutual indwelling of the persons of the Trinity. It seems as though rather than properly affirming the relationship of the persons of the trinity, in trying to criticize Calvinism Mr. Dyer is flirting with Sabellianism, as though there were no distinction between the persons (though, of course, Mr. Dyer is not a modalist).
Mr. Dyer appears to believe that the Calvinistic view of the atonement necessarily involves a termination of perichoresis, but he provides no real argument in support of this contention. Mr. Dyer frequently refers to the expression "cut off" but the Calvinistic position is not that the Son was removed from the Trinity, but that he was crucified, died, and was buried - and continued under the power of death for a time.
6. Relation of Human Nature to Salvation
Another central problem that seems to crop up is the relation of human nature to salvation. Mr. Dyer seems to have a confused idea (or at least his comments are confused or confusing) about the way in which human nature relates to salvation. It is people (individual people) that are saved, not "human nature" as such. Salvation is about turning away the judgment of God from individual people, which people are consequently referred to as "saved."
There is an important relation of human nature to salvation, and this was highlighted in Anselm's Cur Deus Homo. The basic issue is that it was necessary that a human being be punished for sin. The blood of bulls and goats was insufficient. Furthermore, that human being had to be undeserving of the punishment himself. Finally, the human being had to be of such great personal dignity as to, by his death, satisfy justice for all those whom God wished to save. Thus, Jesus took on human nature: that is to say, he became a man, even while still being God. Thus, he was and is, God and man, in two distinct natures and one person, as he will be forever.
6a. By Nature, Children of Wrath
The fall brought about a change in mankind, such that all men under Adam's headship are, by nature, depraved in their spiritual faculties, so that they love darkness rather than light. They are, as Paul describes it, by nature children of wrath. This is the natural state of man, after the fall. One thing that saving grace does is, in regeneration, that it begins to restore the spiritual faculties of man. Man begins to love God rather than hating him. This is a restoration of man's nature. The restoration begins in and continues in sanctification. In glorification (upon death or translation), the restoration is complete, and (one might say) gloried man is better off than Adam was before the fall, since the glorified man will not sin.
It is unclear from Mr. Dyer's remarks whether he simply does not understand these Scriptural doctrines, or whether he objects to them. For example, Mr. Dyer alleges that Calvinism teaches that "nature" is inherently evil. This is misleading at best. Fallen human nature is depraved, but not human nature in the abstract.
Mr. Dyer seems to treat human nature as though it were a thing. Such that (in his view) when we say that in the fall human nature became depraved, we are referring to this "thing" of human nature being corrupted, as opposed to the manifestation of the concept being corrupted (as is the actual position). If we meant what Mr. Dyer said, the idea of human nature being restored wouldn't make much sense - the concept of the restoration of human nature, in an individual, only makes sense from the standpoint of a concept of human nature with individual corrupt manifestations, rather than from the standpoint of a "thing" that stands alone.
6b. Christ's Human Nature Not Corrupted
There are a number of odd things that Mr. Dyer suggests regarding Christ's human nature. For example, Dyer asserts that Christ assumed "universal human nature." While this is not necessarily wrong, Mr. Dyer emphasizes "universal" to the point of apparently suggesting that the manifestation of human nature in individual people cannot suffer the effects of the fall in terms of depravity, or that if it does, then Jesus two must necessarily similarly be depraved to be truly human.
This is nonsensical for two reasons. First, Mr. Dyer himself realizes that Jesus did not have original sin (which all men after the fall have at birth, save Christ alone) or concupiscence (proclivity to sin). This is one way in which Jesus is just like the rest of humanity, but without experiencing the spiritual effects of the fall.
A second reason that this is nonsensical is Mr. Dyer's recognition that grace alters nature. That is to say, Mr. Dyer appears to recognize that God's grace can transform the nature of a man. Mr. Dyer even refers to deification/divinization which - at least to a degree - relates to this concept. If, however, any improvement in nature rendered the person outside of humanity, then we would cease to be human if we experienced grace. This, however, is an absurd outcome.
Consequently Mr. Dyer's allegation is demonstrably false. Jesus can take on human nature in a pure form, without the depravity introduced in Adam's heirs by the fall, while still being as truly human as Adam was before the fall.
6c. Jesus Was Raised For of Our Justification
Mr. Dyer seems to suggest that Jesus' nature inherently needed to die and be "raised/deified." This is a very strange claim. Jesus' death was for our sins. Jesus did not die because it was intrinsic to his human nature, but because the wages of sin are death. Jesus was raised by the Father because our righteousness had been accomplished and the Father was satisfied with the work of Christ.
Jesus' humanity was not itself deserving of death. He took our sins upon himself. Thus, from his birth he suffered (though he did not deserve to suffer), he was humbled (though he deserved to be exalted), and he was eventually cruelly killed (though he deserved life). These things he did to satisfy God's justice and liberate us from the deserved judgment for our sins.
7. Confusion of Nature and Person
One accusation that Mr. Dyer makes is that Calvinism confuses nature and person. Actually, though, it appears that the shoe is on the other foot. Mr. Dyer himself seems to confuse person and nature, or at least to confuse the relation of nature to person.
In particular, Mr. Dyer doesn't seem to appreciate that certain things that Christ did, he did "as man" or "with respect to his humanity." This is simply a necessary consequence of the fact that humanity can do some things that divinity cannot. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. In contrast, man is body and soul, he is finite, he had a beginning, and he can change.
This is actually an important issue, particular with respect to responding to the errors of Islam. Muslims seem to make a similar in respect to the Incarnation. They will make comments to the effect that when Jesus relieved himself, are we claiming that God was sitting on the toilet?
The answer to be given to these sorts of objections, as well as to Mr. Dyer's objections, is that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. Nevertheless, Jesus was omniscient and eternal in his divinity, not in his humanity. Jesus' humanity had a beginning and Jesus' humanity changed. Jesus was born as a baby, and he grew in stature over time. God (as divine) was never a baby and never grows. Jesus, as man, was hungry and thirsty. As God, Jesus did not need anything.
Many more examples could be given. The point, however, is that although Jesus had two natures, not everything about each nature is communicable to the other nature. Thus, Jesus was conceived in his humanity, not in (or as to) his divinity. Jesus is eternally divine. Before Abraham was, Jesus was the I AM. Jesus created the world and all that is in it. But Jesus condescended to take on human nature: he became a man.
The fact that there are incommunicable aspects of Jesus' humanity does not convert Jesus' human nature into a separate person. Mr. Dyer, however, seems to think that it would - and seems to assert that it would, without providing any supporting reasoning or argumentation to demonstrate it.
I hope that this post answers all (or virtually all) of the points that Mr. Dyer has raised in response to my series. I trust that I have fairly characterized his criticisms, but welcome his comments (via his own blog) if I have mischaracterized them. Calvinism doesn't fall into (or logically lead to) any errors with respect to the Trinitarian relationship or the person of Jesus Christ. The reason that it does not is that it is a system of theology properly derived from Scripture, and Scripture is an infallible rule of faith (the only one we have today).