Monday, July 18, 2005

Why Five Points Can't Explain It All

In his introduction to John Owen's masterwork The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, J.I. Packer explains rather eloquently that the "five points" of Calvinism are not a sufficient explanation in themselves of all that Calvinism is:

In the first place, Calvinism is something much broader than the ‘five points’ indicate. Calvinism is a whole world-view, stemming from a clear vision of God as the whole world’s Maker and King. Calvinism is the consistent endeavor to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of his will. Calvinism is a theocentric way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God’s own word. Calvinism, in other words, is the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible—the God-centered outlook which sees the Creator as the source, and means, and end, of everything that is, both in nature and in grace. Calvinism is thus theism (belief in God as the ground of all things), religion (dependence on God as the giver of all things), and evangelicalism (trust in God through Christ for all things), all in their purest and most highly developed form. And Calvinism is a unified philosophy of history which sees the whole diversity of processes and events that take place in God’s world as no more, and no less, than the outworking of his great preordained plan for his creatures and his church. The five points assert no more than God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism, as such, is concerned with the much broader assertion that he is sovereign everywhere.

Packer further laments that the five points have hurt the Calvinist cause by making it appear as though it were mainly negative: Limited Atonement:

Then, in the second place, the ‘five points’ present Calvinistic soteriology in a negative and polemical form, whereas Calvinism in itself is essentially expository, pastoral and constructive. It can define its position in terms of Scripture without any reference to Arminianism, and it does not need to be forever fighting real or imaginary Arminians in order to keep itself alive. Calvinism has no interest in negatives, as such; when Calvinists fight, they fight for positive evangelical values. The negative cast of the ‘five points’ is misleading chiefly with regard to the third (limited atonement, or particular redemption), which is often read with stress on the adjective and taken as indicating that Calvinists have a special interest in confining the limits of divine mercy. But in fact the purpose of this phraseology, as we shall see, is to safeguard the central affirmation of the gospel—that Christ is a redeemer who really does redeem. Similarly, the denials of an election that is conditional and of grace that is resistible are intended to safeguard the positive truth that it is God who saves. The real negations are those of Arminianism, which denies that election, redemption and calling are saving acts of God. Calvinism negates these negations order to assert the positive content of the gospel, for the positive purpose of strengthening faith and building up the church.

My hope is that Packer's introduction will be helpful to those who are wary of Calvinism and Calvinists. In my own experience I have seen two common reasons for this wariness: (1) Out-of-balance portrayals: the doctrines were explained to them by slash-and-burn types who congratulate themselves for being "intellectual" enough to accept Calvinism, or a prejudicial treatment by a pastor or professor or Bible teacher, (2) A lack of information: an individual's own only slight exposure to the doctrine's of sovereign grace has left them with a baseless distaste for what seems to be extra-biblical, or at least unnecessary.

I believe this piece by Packer, if read with an open mind, can be of great help in dispelling some of the misunderstandings.

To read the entire piece, click HERE.

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