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The Superlative God March 9, 2006

Posted by Tim in Religion.

Calvinism is the Christian doctrine popularized by John Calvin in the sixteenth century, central tenets being that of “irresistible grace” and “total depravity” – that God calls those who are to be saved, and thus being saved (or condemned) is through God’s decision alone; and that people are so evil in nature they would not otherwise be able to choose to believe.

Arminianism, the teachings of Jacobus Arminius, echoes the concept of “total depravity”, but teaches “resistible grace”, which tries to address the inherent issues of predestination in Calvinism. God’s saving grace is extended to many by God, but people have the free will to reject it.

If Calvinism is one end of the spectrum then Pelagianism is at the other. Pelagius, who lived in the fourth century, did not believe in an original sin that condemned man, but believed that man had the ability to choose good or evil for himself, without needing divine intervention. Sadly, his teachings were deemed heretical and condemned. Semi-Pelagianism still survives today and is the opposite of Arminianism – man decides to accept God, and God’s grace completes the process.

Another indirectly related doctrine that has recently emerged is Open Theism, which attempts to address the conflicts caused by the predestination that is taught in many doctrines. In Open Theism, God has not determined the future with certainty (an “open” future), but rather intentionally limits his omniscience so that humans have meaningful free will.

What I personally find most notable about these doctrines is not so much the arguments themselves but the motivations behind them. Calvinism paints a God in control of everything, and man helpless to overcome his own nature. Arminianism tries to absolve God of the condemnation of man, by painting man as the guilty party in rejecting God. Pelagianism reflects a belief in meaningful free will and responsibility, rather than humans who start off already helpless and condemned.

The controversy over Open Theism is interesting. It reflects the need of people to have a deity in control of everything, the omnimax God. There is even a book criticizing Open Theism titled Their God is Too Small. Open Theism in fact resolves many issues with predestination, but that is lost in the furore over the “limiting of God”.

If God knows everything about the future, then he cannot be all-powerful or have free will, because he cannot do things that won’t fulfil the future. If God knows what you need, what you will pray and whether he will choose to fulfil it, then there surely isn’t any point in praying.

I give this my own term, “throwing superlatives at God”. This comes hand in hand with making man as small, helpless, and evil as possible. It fulfills man’s need to have someone in control, but is full of flaws when you think about it.



1. Free Will Revisited « think it out* - February 21, 2008

[…] The root issue here is free will. In fact, the pastor adhered nearly exactly to an earlier post that I made, the Superlative God. […]

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