Monday, January 17, 2011

The Introduction to "The God of Calvinism" (and Mr. Ruggiero's biography of Calvin)

As we continue our review of, "The God of Calvinism," we come to the introduction. The introduction begins by framing the position that Louis plans to take:
I made the decision to research this subject in March 2003, shortly after I debated Reformer James R. White on the subject of irresistible grace. As a result of delving deeper into the major doctrines of Calvinism during my study, I have concluded that neither Calvinism, nor what most people take to be its alter ego, Arminianism, is true.
At first I was going to say that he must not have studied Calvinism very well, if he thinks that Arminianism is Calvinism's alter ego. Then, I realized that the book does not identify any editor. This is just an example of Mr. Ruggiero saying something he doesn't mean. Mr. Ruggiero means that Arminianism is thought to be the polar opposite of Calvinism, but he has said "alter ego," which means that the two are different manifestations of the same thing. Similar to Louis' parenthetical "(this one no exception)" which omits the "is" and yet appears both in the "Why You Should Read This Book" section and on the back cover, this is an error that a skilled editor could have prevented. Nevertheless, one realizes that publishing Christian books is often not a very lucrative endeavor, and so we will simply have to deal with Mr. Ruggiero's statements as best we can understand them.

The introduction contains its own introduction and then a summary of each of the chapters and parts of the book. There are three parts and fifteen chapters altogether. The first part begins with a chapter on the Trinity and divinity of Christ. Then there is a chapter in favor of prevenient grace, a chapter against Total Depravity, and a chapter in favor of synergism. The second part addresses the remaining points of the five points of Calvinism. It also includes a chapter that aims to criticize the Reformed doctrine of the universality of God's decree of providence, particularly with respect to the sinful acts of men. The third part contains several chapters aimed at addressing "Replacement Theology."

Lord willing, we'll address Mr. Ruggiero's arguments as they come up. From a rhetorical standpoint, his comment that Reformed theologians "blatantly reject" prevenient grace was interesting. We do reject the doctrine of prevenient grace.

It was also disappointing to see that on the topic of Total Depravity, Mr. Ruggiero alleges that Reformed theologians hold that Man is born "utterly depraved," although that terminology suggests a position that Reformed theologians would reject.

There's a conclusion to the introduction section, titled "And so..." which deals with what the impact of the book is supposed to be. In this section, we see the sad and blasphemous nature of the work.
The perspectives of God offered by Reformed theology depict a capricious, selective, arbitrary, unilateral entity who decrees sin, withholds salvation from the majority of mankind (for did He not say that the way was narrow and few would find it?), and in His singular agency disdains a relationship with mankind which involves in any way man's response from his own heart. Such a God would, in this author's perception, be a monster, and to paraphrase George MacDonald: Should there be such a God, it would be dishonorable to worship Him.
The point of this review is not to judge Mr. Ruggiero's heart, but if we were to judge Mr. Ruggiero strictly based on what he said, it appears that he has blasphemed God (calling him a monster) and has declared worship of God to be dishonorable. That's a very serious concern - and something that Mr. Ruggiero should probably rethink, at least because he believes Calvinists to be Christians - if not because of what Scripture says.

We commented on the ad hominem approach presented in the previous section, and we see it again at the conclusion of the introduction section. Mr. Ruggiero writes:
While this book hopes to present you with clear evidence from Scripture as to the deficiencies in Calvinist doctrine, conduct your own test. Consider those you know who embrace this teaching. If it is true (i.e. if it has power to cause its adherents to become more like Jesus), you should see clearly demonstrated in their lives the qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
As I previously noted, this ad hominem approach is logically invalid. I've met nice people and mean people of almost every persuasion. I've met extremely kind Muslims, I've met extraordinarily nice Mormons, and some of the sweetest old ladies you'll ever meet say their Rosaries in Latin because that's how they memorized them. None of that establishes the truth of their doctrines.

Of course, all those who profess to be Christians should take this kind of issue to heart. We should seek to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (i.e the result of the Spirit's work in our life):

Galatians 5:22-26
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.
And again:

Ephesians 5:8-10
For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.
Notice that these are the fruit of the Spirit. Not necessarily the fruit of holding to correct doctrines, but the fruit of having the Holy Spirit in one's life. That doesn't mean that everyone who is a nice person has the Holy Spirit, but rather it is what should blossom in the life of every Christian, and should particularly be evident in the lives of those who were the opposite before they were saved by the power of God's grace.

The introduction section ends, but there is one more piece of prefatory material, namely a brief biography of John Calvin. John Calvin's death comes at the end of the first page, with the second and third pages dealing with the appearance of Arminianism.

Mr. Ruggiero goes on to claim that there are many varieties of Calvinism and then states:
Because of this, there are times when Calvinists accuse non-Calvinists of misrepresenting Calvinism. Most of the time, however, the non-Calvinist is simply responding to someone else's own personal brand of Calvinism.
Hopefully we will have few occasions to accuse Mr. Ruggiero of such misrepresentation. However, when we do, we will be careful to see whether he is simply critiquing a view of other Calvinists or whether he is simply not correctly representing the Calvinists he is allegedly responding to.

Of course, no non-Calvinist biography of Calvin would be complete without a mention of Servetus. Ruggiero refers to Calvin's "(documented) history of bitter hatred and persecution of those who disagreed with his beliefs." No footnote accompanies that sentence, oddly enough, although the paragraph's last sentence cites the New Encyclopedia Brittanica, volume 10, 15th Edition, p. 654, which appears to be the entry on Servetus.

A much better biography of John Calvin can be obtained freely on-line (via Google Books) both for on-line reading and download as pdf or e-book (link). That biography is written by someone who actually knew John Calvin.



Jim said...

Just a note, a bit unrelated but something that this post reminded me about:

Mr. Ruggiero called into The Dividing Line during one of the shows in the last couple of weeks. I was disappointed in the way that Dr. White handled his call.

Though Louis didn't articulate his point well, I thought the same thing (that Louis was trying to say) when I read the relevant section of "The Potter's Freedom." That is, Dr. White insists that Arminians are wrong to argue that Pharaoh hardened his own heart BEFORE God "confirmed" him in his position, because before all of this happens, God tells Moses that He will harden Pharaoh's heart.

While I disagree with the Arminian interpretation (and I agree with Dr. White's), I think Dr. White's criticism at this point is unconvincing, since the relevant passage can be interpreted from an Arminian perspective as God predicting what He will do in confirming Pharaoh in his position.

Ryan said...

I reckon Dr. White is a little tired of Lou riding the same hobby-horse he has been for as long as I can remember, as though Calvinism hinges on the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. I know I am.

Jim said...

Ah. Didn't know that was a hobby horse for him. I follow Dr. White on and off so I'm not familiar with the history there.