Calvinism and Deism

One of the major sections of Reformed Protestant Christianity is Calvinism. Named for John Calvin, it has its roots in a theology that started soon after the Reformation and has been a major developing theology ever since.

There are five unique elements to Calvinist theology. Predestination is the one we will take a brief look at. In this theology, God has foreordained who will be saved. It is debated the exact when of the declaration (before or after the fall), but there is a plan along this line. The point of this is sovereignty. How can an all powerful God be if he has not ordered salvific history? It is a good question. Though I am part of the Arminian side of the Reformed tradition, this question does baffle me.

One thing I have noticed in Calvinism is a lean to Fatalism. Fatalism says that what fate has been given to is unaltered by the decisions you make. This is not true. Throughout the Scriptures, God interacts with decisions in an intimate way. Fatalism creates an impersonal God that cares nothing about personal decision.

A major view that says God is impersonal is Deism. Deism teaches that God place the world into motion, but made it in such a way that it would run itself. This meant for the Deist that God created the universe, but would not intervene. God made a great plan, but it is unfortunately an impersonal plan. If Calvinism heads in this direction, it will not fit with Biblical Christianity’s view that God is active in history.

Developing a good Calvinist theology means not getting Christian Theology mixed up with an alternative theology. Going to Fatalism and Deism will not help us live in Christian hope. Looking at John 3:16 and the teachings of the Gospel accounts teaches us that God incarnated to human form. God, even if he made plans like a Calvinist would teach, he still must be involved. God decided that he would hear the cries of His people and got involved. God, if he foreordained the events of History, only does it in response to the cries of his people. If God is fulfilling a plan he made before the world began, it has to be because the plans are full of His promises of salvation and rescue. Isaiah 54:10 teaches that God’s will remain faithful even in the worst chaotic event imaginable to the human mind. The point of theology is to study who God is, but that means that we must focus on God’s Love for us, even if sovereignty is a concern.

What is your view of God’s plans? Do you think he is distant and watching things run? Is he that distant and unloving? Or is he acting in love, fulfilling his promises in the here and now?

 

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8 thoughts on “Calvinism and Deism

  1. “A major view that says God is impersonal is Deism. Deism teaches that God place the world into motion, but made it in such a way that it would run itself. This meant for the Deist that God created the universe, but would not intervene. God made a great plan, but it is unfortunately an impersonal plan. If Calvinism heads in this direction, it will not fit with Biblical Christianity’s view that God is active in history.”

    I think this paragraph will confuse a lot of people. For one, the meaning of “personal” is strange. When people speak of a personal God they normally mean a God that is a person rather than an impersonal force. Deists certainly can believe that God is a person as well as Christians do. In fact Christians often seem to de-personalize God more; that is make hims some impersonal blob due to Aquinas’ theology that he has no form which ridicules the notion of Jesus sitting at the right hand of God as if “God is spirit” means “God has no form” despite the apostles seeing a clearly human-formed Jesus walking on water at night and saying “It is a spirit!” which shows a spirit can have form and that “God is spirit” means only he is not corporeal but not that as spirit he has no human form, no right hand for Jesus to sit at. But thanks to Aquinas, most Christians have an impersonal God in the sense that he is a formless blob and not a person.

    In Deism then I would say its not that God is “impersonal” but that he doesn’t scrip each person’s life individually. In other words, Deism is the absolute rejection of fatalism. This is why I find it strange that you are actually claiming that the fatalistic element found in Calvinism came from Deism! The fact is quite the opposite: Deism was created to get away from Calvinistic fatalism. The best way to eradicate the notion of predestination and fatalism is to assert that God doesn’t meddle with anyone’s personal life, that its all up to free will. Deism took this path to get as far away from Calvinism as it could. So you should not blame Deism for Calvinism’s fatalism: you should blame Calvinism for Deism’s rejection of the idea that God intervenes in this world!

    • I think you misunderstand. I am saying that Calvinism, if not moderated by good theology, can become a form of deism. This is also not a historic observation as much as a modern observation.

      Also, Deism is heresy by saying that God is never active and that He will not enable us to make the good decisions. It goes against the Church’s teaching, even before Aquinas.

      • Calvinism can’t become a form of Deism because Deism is the exact opposite of Calvinism: Deism is not just that God is not active in the world, and some Deists indeed think he is somewhat active: Deism is that the most important thing in the world is freewill. Its not “God created the world and then went on vacation” but more like “God created the world, gave us freewill, and then and only then dared go on vacation.”

        By contrast, Calvinism is more like the idea that God is a robot following a script or programming who then creates a bunch of other robots who follow a script that he writes. So the Calvinist god could be said to, following his pre-programmed script, create all us mini-robots and then go on vacation, leaving us to follow the script he wrote for us. But this is nothing like Deism for two reasons: (!) Their god is a robot. (2) Their god created robots.

        I know Calvinists will get in a huff that I say their god is a robot, but they love to dictate to their god “unless you do X, you cannot be God” as if they are going back in time and programming their robot god. “For God to be Almighty” saith the Calvinist “he must use all the power he has at every moment.” That means, of course, since he has the power to take away freewill, he must. But this is nonsense, and this is dictating to God what he must be: this is the Calvinist programmers going back in time and programming their robot god. The real God can be almighty and yet CHOOSE not to use every bit of his power, or to not always use a particular power at every moment, because He has freewill; the Calvinist god neither has freewill, and therefore cannot give freewill to his creation: both their god and their humans are robots.

        “Also, Deism is heresy ” I would say Calvinism is too because it denies freewill entirely and makes both human beings and God into robots.

      • You make a good point that both are theologically and philosophically different as classically defined. That is why I think it is based on one element of both that can be a common thread. God is distant in Deism and can become distant in Calvinism. So, once again, I am not making a historical argument but a modern pragmatic argument that is in some ways separated from historicism.

        I also think you need to take a second look at Calvinism, since it’s hard to define and has different shades. Some are hyper-calvinist and others tend to venture into free will territory on some level. Baptists are a good place to find examples of both. I would take a look at Sinclair Ferguson since I believe he is one of the better of Calvinist Theologians. I sense you also have had a negative experience of Calvinism and on their behalf I apologize for that. The truth is that a good Calvinist is all about God’s rescue and how we get to participate in that great plan, although I would disagree with some specifics.

        You take a little too much liberty at calling Calvinism heresy. I would take a look at the Augustine vs. Pelagian debate and see what the Church came to call heresy. I think you’ll be surprised that it found itself in the middle of the two with a slight lean towards Augustine, though not completely saying the same thing as Augustine. Also, read Calvin closely because he can sound different than some popular Calvinists sound today.

      • “You take a little too much liberty at calling Calvinism heresy. I would take a look at the Augustine vs. Pelagian debate and see what the Church came to call heresy.”

        The council of Orange came to condemn not only the position that one can save themselves without grace, but also Augustine’s position on predestination (i.e. Calvinism). Calvinism is more than simply rejecting full Pelgianism: it rejects full Pelagianism but also tacks on a Manichean absolutist predestination. Anyway, “heresy” and “orthodoxy” are not absolute concepts but differ by denomination, and each denomination has the right to label any other heretical without the need for some kind of universal consensus. Calvinists are always calling Aerminians heretics, so why not return the favor? But that is certainly not my motivation: Calvinism simply is heresy: it is Gnosticism pure and simple. It may not be docetic (or at least not exactly in the same way) but the key thing in Gnosticism is not really docetism. They key thing is Gnosticism is really predestination and its attacks on freewill.

  2. There is a variation of Deism called Pandeism, which reconciles elements of Pantheism and concludes that our Creator became the Creation itself, our Universe, and all things are within and of it; it experiences our mode of existence through us, and all of our spiritual beliefs and experiences are simply manifestations of its power channeled through the imaginative minds of mankind.

    • That is fascinating. I’ve never heard that combo of beliefs until now. I tend to argue that Christian belief is more specific to Christ who became human and became part of His own creation. However, he is also God and maintains separation at the same time. Does Pandeism fall in a Christian spectrum, eastern religious spectrum or elsewhere. Thanks for making us aware of this belief and look forward to hearing back from you.

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