Monday, January 14, 2008

Calvinists and Arminians in a hole

I thought it would be interesting to share a little analogy I used to describe the different kinds of Christian soteriologies to my son. Let me tell you a story about a man in a hole in the ground. He's in the hole partly because he was born there (for his mother and father also lived in the hole, and in fact they were born there as well), but also partly because he enjoys it down there. Sure, it's inconvenient sometimes; and sometimes it's embarrassing. A person in a hole does not generally enjoy being seen by other people in that state, even other people who are in the hole themselves. It's true, there are some other people in the hole that the man is proud to be seen in the hole with: he even sometimes exaggerates the depth of his own hole to seem "bigger" or "cooler" in the eyes of the other people in the hole.

However, he knows deep inside that he was not made for that hole; that there's a loving Person right outside the hole, who wants him out of the hole to live alongside Him in the light. So, in his better moments - which are fleeting and only there in the first place because the Person outside gives them to him anyway - he wants to leave the hole. Not that he wants to yield his rights to the hole and follow the Person outside, or even to have his filth fully examined in the dreadful light of day: he has no desire to do that. It's simply that sometimes the inconveniences of being in the hole makes him wish to be outside it. How does the man in the hole understand how he might be saved? It all depends on his theology:
  • The Pelagian says that the Person outside is just standing there, waiting for him to come out. It's up to him to claw his way up out of the hole using any means at his disposal (good works, morality, etc.) But, of course, the hole is far too deep for that, so again and again makes it a little way up the wall, but always falls back to the bottom again.
  • The Semi-Pelagian says that the Person outside will reach down and grab him, but only after he crawls most of the way out of the hole himself. The Person outside wants to save him, but the problem is that His arms are just not long enough to reach down and grab him. So, he tries to claw his way up far enough so the Person outside can reach him, but unfortunately can't make it that far. He too falls back down into the hole.
  • The Arminian says that the Person outside can in fact reach down and grab him and save him, but has too much respect for the man's desire to stay in the hole to do it. Therefore, He reaches down and holds His hands out, but doesn't grab him; He dangles His hands mere inches above the man's nose. But the man does not really want to accept help from the Person. Being lifted out of that hole would mean surrendering all his pride; and he simply - at his better moments - wants to be outside the hole. There's such a thing as getting more than you bargained for! So he does not grab onto the Person's hand.

    However, the Person sometimes inexplicably stops respecting the man's free will and change the circumstances of the man's life - alters the other people and things in the hole - so the man then wants to grab onto the Person's hand and be saved. The man's a little fuzzy on how changing the people around him is not violating their free wills; but he's thankful that the Person did it. Unfortunately, once he's on the surface, the Person still lets him have his unregenerated free will, so if he's not very careful, he'll decide the hole really was not that bad, and slip back down into it, necessitating that the whole process starts over again.
  • The Calvinist believes that the Person can reach down and grab the man. However, the Person will not grab the man as long as the man still desires to be down there, as long as he still does not want to surrender his hole to the Person. But thankfully, since the Person outside the hole made the man, He knows the man's desires, and is able to change them. This should not be shocking: He generated the man and his desires in the first place, so why can't He re-generate them now? So, the Person reaches down, and changes the man's desires; once the Person does this, the man reaches up and grabs the hand of the Person reaching down for him. The man is pulled up, not with any merit of his own, not even that he made the Right Decision and chose to be saved; only thankful that the Person outside changed him from the inside out.

    The man is slightly troubled by one problem, however: the Person outside does not save everybody from their holes, when clearly He could. However, the man realizes two things. First, the Person is respecting their free wills and leaving them in their holes - because that is where they truly desire to be. Sure, they complain sometimes, but given the alternative (living a life with their desires for the hole surrendered to the Person) is even less desirable: the hole is the lesser of the two evils in their minds. Second, the man realizes that there may be some reason for the Person to leave people in their own holes that he may not grasp 100%. And he is not shocked by this. After all, down in the hole, the man knows that his thinking is futile and his foolish heart is darkened. The Person outside is not only much wiser, but His own thinking is not futile. Certainly part of the reason why the Person does not save everybody - though in one sense He certainly desires to do so - is that He wishes to demonstrate His justice as well as His mercy. But, beyond that, the Person obviously has other reasons that the man will not fully know until he is living in the ultimate light of day with the Person.

    The man simply accepts that, thankful that the Person has chosen to pull him from his hole.
You'll note that I did not say anything about what I've called semi-Calvinists or semi-Arminians, those who usually call themselves "moderate Calvinists" or "Calminians." This is because I am increasingly coming to believe that they do not actually exist. But that will take another article to explain.


orthodox said...

Pelagians are not born in a hole. As neutral moral agents they can get in and out of the hole whenever they like.

Semi-Pelagians do not need to "crawl most of the way out". Rather they have the freedom to decide to want to get out, and then a ladder is dropped down to them.

The Arminian has the ladder dropped down even before he wants to get out, with signs saying "this way out".

The Calvinist hole has someone at the top rolling a dice. If it comes up snake-eyes, someone comes down, and injects you with happy-syrup that makes you want to be out of the hole, whereupon he is transported out. If you didn't get snake eyes, you are left in the hole to rot.

Gary Bisaga (aka fool4jesus) said...

Thank you for your comment. We're in agreement about (at least) one thing: I should have made the difference clear between the true position of the people and their beliefs about it. You are correct that my analogy breaks down a bit when it comes to the reality of the hole vs. the reality of how they get out of it. I really should have said "the Pelagian *thinks* he can do such-and-such, etc. I came into this assuming that the Biblical model of us being "dead in our sins and trespasses" was really true, not just an opinion.

It reminds me very much of the old joke about the gravestone of the atheist that said "here lies an atheist, all dressed up with no place to go." To which C. S. Lewis replied, "I bet he wishes that were true."

It's somewhat the same thing here.
You are assuming the nature of the hole is based on the theology of the person. But that cannot be true, at least if theology is anything real and objective. The fact is that you and I are born in the hole, and we live there, whether we admit it or not. The question is, how do we get out of it?

Your bitter Calvinist illustration shows, I am afraid, a complete lack of understanding of Calvinism. (Why does Calvinism attract such a hateful response from the unregenerate and many of the regenerate alike?) First, the dice analogy is poor because although we don't know what He has chosen, He has certainly not done it capriciously. What Christian can doubt that God's decisions are the right and true ones?

Second, your so-called "happy syrup" consists of God putting our wills back where they ought to be, where they were designed to be from the beginning. If you want to call that "happy-syrup" I guess that's your right, but I'd hoped for something a little more thoughtful.

Finally, it is true that the unregenerate are left in the hole to rot, but never forget that's really where you want to be, and you would resist any effort of God to pull you out of there in that state. This seems to me not a very minor point.

orthodox said...

You can argue that the dice analogy is unfair, but since it appears to us on earth to be without a reason of any more import than dice, it seems pretty good for an analogy. I could have perhaps said that the guy at the top decides which to pull out based on which would make him look most glorious. And he leaves those in the hole that he doesn't personally care about. I guess that would be more Calvinist.

If we're using an analogy of people in a hole that don't want to get out, I don't see anything misleading about happy syrup. Perhaps we could say Prozac if we want to be more up-market.

Yes, the unregenerate are left in the hole to rot because they want to be there, and cannot but conclude otherwise. Thus the need for someone to come down and force some happy syrup on them.

Is my analogy really that "hateful and bitter"? Or is your analogy rather sugar coated? In your analogy the person at the top of the hole "respects the free wills" of those he doesn't save, as if that is a wonderful thing. But yet you don't curse God for intruding on your own free will, rather you praise Him for it. So respecting these free wills isn't such a great thing. And if it isn't a great thing there is no need to sugar coat it.

And were your analogies really that fair? According to you in the Arminian case, God "inexplicably stops respecting the man's free will". But if we compare Calvinist election to the inexpicability of dice, it is hateful and bitter? In the Arminian case it is not inexpicable, it is explicable by God's making an effort to change the person. Trying to convince them does not violate their free will any more than my saying something to you violates yours.