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Monday, May 14, 2012

Calvin, Creation and Original Sin.

It has happened in debate in Comments Sections of this blogspot and has happened in discussion with people who have been through or who have been on faculty of Moore Theological College - the theological seminary of the Episcopalian Diocese of Sydney. They say that man is so depraved by original sin that Apostle Paul's conviction of man rendered at Romans 1:19-20 cannot be interpreted to say that man can see anything of the invisible qualities of God in Creation. Consequently, it is their contention that evangelism should not involve pointing to the Creation as a means to arouse the attention of man toward God i.e. Natural Theology.

The asserted basis for their argument is Calvinist doctrine. However, my reading of Calvin's work does not reach the same conclusion.

Recent reading has reaffirmed my perception of the position of Calvin and the errant reading of him by those inhabiting and flowing out of Moore Theological College.

Contributors to The Banner of Truth Journal are as Calvinist and Reformed as you can get. An article by Donald MacLeod in the February 1968 edition of that publication entitled Misunderstandings of Calvinism II sub-heading Total Depravity offers a fair representation of the traditional rendering of Calvinistic doctrine. I provide an extract herewith:

"The impression is often given that in its exposition of human sinfulness Calvinism has painted an absurdly overdrawn picture. 'Total depravity, as commonly understood, means that we are sinful and nothing else - utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil.' The incredible picture is drawn in pure black.'66 J. S. Mill pushed this to the extreme of suggesting that on the Calvinistic view, 'Human nature being radically corrupt there is no redemption for any one until human nature is killed within him.'67

These are but ill-informed caricatures. The portrayal of man as wholly and absolutely evil, redeemed only in the destruction of his nature, is as abhorrent to Calvinists as to any. This is clearly brought out in the following words of Thomas Chalmers: 'There is a way of maintaining the utter depravity of our nature, and of doing it in such a style of sweeping and of vehement asseveration, as to render it not merely obnoxious to the taste, but obnoxious to the understanding . . . Let the nature of man be a ruin, as it certainly is, it is obvious to the most common discernment that it does not offer one unvaried and unalleviated mass of deformity.'68 That no man is absolutely depraved; that all men are not equally depraved; that in human history there is much that is admirable [self-sacrificing patriotism, altruistic domestic love, brilliant achievements in art and science] - these things have been frankly acknowledged. The divine image in man, although marred, has not been obliterated.

One detail is of special importance in this connection - the insistence of Reformed theology that man, even fallen man, possesses an ineradicable awareness of God, a sense of dependence and of responsibility. 'That there exists in the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God Himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of His Godhead ... a sense of Deity is inscribed on every heart.'69 This has a distinct bearing on Evangelism and Apologetics, providing a point of contact between the gospel and the natural man. Professions of agnosticism and atheism are not to be taken at their face-value: rather, the evangel is to be addressed to the innate religiousness and the native theism of man

The line run by many associated with Moore Theological College is not the position of those who have, in the past, adhered to Calvin's Institutes.

How could so many with links to Moore Theological College so misunderstand Calvin yet assert resolutely to the world they uphold Calvinistic doctrine? Is it because they wish to disassociate themselves from the Deism prevalent in the Church when people such as William Paley espoused Natural Theology? Is it because they have been shaken by the 'seeming' defeat of Samuel Wilberforce in his use of Design argument in debate with Thomas Huxley in the 19th Century?

I have come to the conclusion that one or more of those propositions may apply in anyone individual but a deeper problem is at work. It is associated with their departure from Calvin on another matter - on the doctrine of Creation.

Time and time again they are exposed, as leaders in the Episcopalian and Roman Catholic Church in Sydney have of late been exposed, to having a doctrine of Creation and Fall unhinged from the rest of the Word of God. Being aware of their shortcoming in this aspect of doctrine they lack confidence to engage in serious discussion on the Bible and Science. Not only so, they have built a defence which excludes any consideration of Natural Theology as a tool in evangelism and are quick to dissuade others from this resort. To shore up their defence they depart from the Apostle Paul and John Calvin to the point of asserting things of them that neither said but still declaring they, themselves, are Apostolic and Calvinist in doctrine.

Biblical Creationists have heavyweights such as Apostle Paul and John Calvin on their side in their approach to evangelism so long as they declare the whole gospel of Jesus Christ in opportunities our Lord gives them to bear testament to Him. That gospel commences with the doctrine of Creation and reaches fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God in the Person of the Son.

Sam Drucker


66 Macintosh, The Christian Experience of Forgiveness, p 64

67 Op. Cit., p119,

68 Commercial Discourses, p 10, Cf. Laidlaw, The Bible Doctrine of Man, p228:

'While the Scripture statement is so strong in asserting a corruption of man's whole
nature, and in assigning that corruption to the centre and fountain of his moral
life, and while the force of that statement is vainly sought to be evaded or softened down, yet the Scripture asserts no corruption, depravation or destruction of his natures, faculties, or powers as such . . . while man since the Fall can do no good in any divine relation, his natural and civil actions may be correct and virtuous.'

69 John Calvin, Institutes, Vol 1: p 43


Mark Henderson said...

"How could so many with links to Moore Theological College so misunderstand Calvin yet assert resolutely to the world they uphold Calvinistic doctrine?"

But Sam, do the SA actually uphold Calvinist doctrine? I once wrote to The Dean of Sydney asking how the SA could permit/encourage Arminian theology calls to conversion (eg the Billy Graham crusades and contemporary decision theology) while at the same time holding to an Augustinian/Calvinist interpretation of the 39 Articles. It was an honest question, not pre-judged on my part - I really wanted to know how the SA resolved this apparent contradiction in their theology. I didn't receive an answer, which left me to draw my own conclusions, which tended in the direction fo the SA will do "whatever it takes" to get the people in, setting theological principle aside to do so.

sam drucker said...

Mark, the Arch has previously indicated he was converted via the '59 Billy Graham Crusade. I don't know the situation with his brother, the Dean.

I expect they would have a soft spot for such mission strategy for that reason.

I think your comment is a little 'tongue in cheek' because we both know that the Diocese, at large, is inconsistent with Calvin of Origins as well.

For my part, I wish to let the world know via exposure, that in spite of declaring themselves Calvinist in doctrine many in the Diocese pick and choose just what doctrine they hold. Likewise they pick and choose what they are prepared to retain despite what has been orthodox ie Reformed, interpretation of Scripture.

Such inconsistency is the root of declension.

Sam Drucker

Mark Henderson said...

Yes, there is clearly a lot of inconsistency in the SA. I have no doubt that inconsistency in regard to fidelity to confessional statements is at the root of declension in many church bodies.

sam drucker said...

Mark, yes it is as you say.

Last night I read a terrific, thought provoking essay on "Revival in History" written about fifty years ago and it touches on the same point you make.

I really think others need to read the essay but I will have to wait until I have finished dealing with the London Plague/Fire essay.

I will sneak in a short quote from R. L. Dabney tomorrow.

Sam Drucker

Mark Henderson said...

Look forward to it, Sam.
Btw, Dabney is an interesting historical figure, being a sometime chaplain to Confederate General "Stonewall" Jackson during the US Civil War as well as an example of a penetrating theological mind of Presbyterian cast. Needless to say I don't agree with his views on race - which prove a good example of the fallibility of otherwise generally orthodox theologians.

sam drucker said...

Mark, bear with me while I finish off the Plague in London.

Sam Drucker

sam drucker said...

Mark, BTW, I agree with respect to the need for love and regard for all our brothers in Adam.

Sam Drucker

John said...

Sam & Mark,

Tough love i.e. with a big stick!

sam drucker said...

John, you wouldn't want to say that to a friend of mine who criticizes parents who, on rare occasions, hit their children for punishment purposes.

Sam Drucker

John said...

It's the proverbial big stick, you know, like the proverbial glass house and equally proverbial stones.

sam drucker said...

Hmmph! You lot are in increasing number.

Sam Drucker