Seven Point Calvinism

My friend Chris asked me last night whether I was a 7 point Calvinist. I had never heard the term before, but apparently John Piper is one. Read the article for a brief summary of his two extra points – “double predestination” and “the best of all worlds”.

Double predestination is probably an unhelpful name for what is a logical outworking of predestination. If God has chosen some, then it follows that he has not chosen others – he would hardly be unaware of the consequences of his own choices. However, as the default action for a just God is to punish sin, is it really necessary to speak of God as specifically choosing people for damnation?

An analogy may help. If I walk through a subway in London and I see five homeless people, and I give £10 to one of them, I have chosen to show kindness to that one person. But have I chosen to reject the other four? In one sense yes, but I would not describe the incident by in those terms – e.g. “I saw five homeless people today and decided not to give anything to four of them”. The choice was to deviate from the default action of simply walking on by. Similarly I would not say “I saw five homeless people today and decided not to offer a room to any of them”. The best description of the incident is the choice I made, not the countless choices I could have made but didn’t.

Point 7 – “the best of all worlds” (sounds like what these people who claim to believe in both Calvinism and Arminianism are trying to achieve) seems a reasonable thesis to hold, but how exactly we could be sure of this I don’t know. It fits well with Piper’s assertion that maximising his own glory is God’s priority (see Wink’s post at Parableman for some critical reflection on this idea). It makes the “best” world the one that best achieves this end, rather than judging what is “best” by standards that would more naturally come to mind – (e.g. least suffering, most beauty).

I suppose in one sense I agree with Piper on both points. But I don’t feel the need to elevate them to join the 5 points of Calvinism. In fact, I would argue that not all the five points of Calvinism are as fundamental as each other. Once you have accepted unconditional election as a given, perseverance of the saints, irresistible calling and limited atonement are simply logical deductions (limited atonement also presupposes a particular theory of the atonement). Total depravity just explains to us why the election had to be unconditional for any to be saved.

But as I discussed with Harun last night, perhaps some are predestined to be Arminians, while others choose to be Calvinists.

10 thoughts on “Seven Point Calvinism

  1. Some people, predominantly Arminians, use the term ‘double predestination’ differently, to refer to something that most Calvinists believe to be heresy. I don’t remember offhand what that is, but it came up in the early Calvinist-Arminian debates. In modern times, there’s still a division between those who think God predestined both groups in exactly the same way, which I think I explain in a comment at the post by Wink why that is unlikely given Paul’s grammar in Romans 9. As you say, denying those things doesn’t mean there isn’t some sense in which God’s choice guarantees the damnation of all not chosen, which is indeed entailed by the five points of Calvinism. No one can accept the five points without accepting the sixth one at least in that sense.

    As for the seventh, that’s got a rich tradition. Gottfried Leibniz famously made the claim, and Candide ridiculed him for it, but it basically showed how drastically Candide had misunderstood what Leibniz meant. The Jansenists Antoine Arnauld and Nicolas Malebranche (the Jansenists were an Augustinian Catholic order that Blaise Pascal was also part of) both dialogued with Leibniz on the matter and concluded that his views weren’t as extreme as they had thought. I think any reasonable reader will conclude that Leibniz is right in the Augustinian tradition.

    You’re right that scripture doesn’t flat-out say that God’s actual plan of salvation in this history makes for the most complete and perfect way God could have done things, but people like Leibniz and Jonathan Edwards (where Piper really gets it from) who say this sort of thing consider it basically a logical implication of God’s goodness together with God’s omnipotence the same way most Calvinists think of the moderate double predestination view as an immediate implication of the five points.

  2. Discussing ‘possible worlds’ is a bit out of my philosophical depth. Is there just one possible world, or a finite number, or a countably infinite number or an uncountably infinite number? Is there a world identical to this one but where I have blue hair? Could there be one where 2+2=5? Piper’s 7th point raises these types of question for which most people have no answer.

    But we could easily think of four possible worlds:
    1. There is no fall and no atonement necessary.
    2. There is a fall, but everyone is condemned. No atonement takes place.
    3. There is a fall, atonement is made by Jesus, but only some are saved.
    4. There is a fall, atonement is made by Jesus, and all are saved.

    Christians often ponder why options 1 and 4 didn’t turn out to be “best”, but comfort themselves that 3 seems better than 2.

    While on the subject of possible worlds, Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane probably consitutes biblical proof that there was no possible world in which atonement for sin was made without the death of the Son of God.

  3. Most people do have answers to exactly those kinds of questions.

    A possible world is generally taken to be any consistent and complete set of propositions. There would be a world that’s intrinsically just like this one but you or your counterpart (philosophers disagree on whether you can be in other possible worlds) has blue hair. There is virtually no disagreement on this issue (only on whether it’s really you).

    2+2=5 is logically impossible, so no possible world would have that. Almost no philosophers have disagreed with this. Descartes is probably the only major exception, and everyone else just thought he was nuts to suggest that 2+2 could have been 5.

    My co-blogger Wink thinks God could have made atonement another way, but I’m with you on this. I think scripture is clear on that.

    Romans 9 shows that Paul struggled with 4, but he seems content to assume that God knows what he’s doing, which suggests that he believes 3 really is better than 4. I don’t know of any scripture dealing with 1, but the same remarks by Paul might be extended to that.

  4. Mark-

    I dug the analogy for double predestination. well put. You are making the best of all worlds theory a little bit too complicated with all the blue hair talk. All it means is God is working all things for his maximum glory. Heaven, Hell, your breakfast tommorow, are all being sovereignly orchestrated by God for his maximum glory. It’s the best world because God is about his glory and is going to maximize it.

  5. Hi Collin,
    Thanks for the comments. I guess the issue I have with going too far down the “best of all possible worlds” line, is that it could lead to fatalism. We’re supposed to be outraged at the presence of evil & suffering in the world, and long for it to be gone. Glibly declaring this to be the “best possible world” is open to very serious misunderstanding. I believe the new heavens and the new earth will rightly be called the “best possible world”. But of course, yes, I do believe that God is working all things for his glory, even the things we do not understand.

  6. Hi, I know I’m coming to this late. But I was on 7-pointing, and you came up first on google.

    I think the relevant point in the best-possible-world question is in your definition of “world”. If you define “world” (kosmon, in greek) as “all there is, physical, spiritual, and so on, in all time” which I strongly believe to be the biblical view of the word, then you cannot distinguish the future heaven and earth from the present, fallen state of the kosmon from the future glorification as a different “possible world”. One comes, chronologically, before the other, and they both exist within God’s created order. Therefore, a World in which man was created, then fell and some were/are redeemed to the glory of God, and then later the judgment (“final shakedown”) occurs to the glorification of some and pain of others, is certainly the best possible world, for God would not (and clearly does not!) have it any other way.

  7. Regarding your statement that all of the five points are not equally critical, I would suggest that eash is only a perspective on one point — God saves sinners. Each of the five points is merely a viewpoint on this basic issue.

  8. “If I walk through a subway in London and I see five homeless people, and I give £10 to one of them, I have chosen to show kindness to that one person. But have I chosen to reject the other four?”

    As a classic Arminian, I believe that God is omnipotent, ‘mighty to save’. Jesus said when he ascended he would draw everyone to himself, and Paul declared that the grace of God, ‘that brings salvation’, has appeared to everyone. Is your God skint, Mark?!

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