Reformed Jesus, Merely a Prop?

A key verse often cited as evidence of the Calvinist interpretation of the concept of election and predestination is the berakah in Ephesians 1:3-6. It reads like this:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will– to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

Given the supralapsarian metrics of this passage, as we align it with the the petals of the TULIP some questions arise. The notion of some being chosen (elected) before the creation of the world while others are simultaneously selected for reprobation via God’s sovereign decision forms the very center of Calvin’s theological framework. It is important to note that the order of the selection chooses from among humans who have yet to be stung by the poison of sin, since the Fall has yet to be authored by the Father. In other words, they are yet to become totally or even partially depraved when their unconditional election occurs.They are already Saints, consecrated and set apart according to Sproul (Ephesians, 24.) When the Lord is cruelly and viciously sacrificed on the tree, it is an already foregone conclusion that the expiation (atonement) will apply only to those selected pre-creation. It logically follows then that the eternal status of these blessed few does not require their assent, nor can it be denied except by the Sovereign who decided it.

Calvinist W.J. Seaton (The Five Points of Calvinism) comments on the limited application of the sacrifice of Christ.

Christ died positively and effectually to save a certain number of hell-deserving sinners on whom the Father had already set His free electing love.

Note again that these “hell-deserving sinners” were created by God for the express purpose of being such. Why then is the sacrifice of Jesus necessary? If the Elect are holy and blameless from and for all of eternity then, it stands to reason, the Fall was orchestrated simply to provide the means to condemn those not selected for sanctification. It becomes merely a symbolic act in the predestined history of the World, necessary to further the story for which the conclusion is already known. If the Elect are claimed holy and blameless, why does God allow them to be stained by sin (Rom 5:14)? Because sin is in the world (at His permission and only eternally affecting those who are elected to perdition), God demands propitiation. His Holiness requires that atonement comes only from an equally holy sacrifice. Thus, the Christ must be the sacrifice. But the righteousness that He imputes, (cf Rom 5:17) is it needed by those already considered from eternity past to be holy and blameless? Does this doctrine not belittle the cross?

Why then was the Cross necessary? To show His love to those he has already given His eternal promise to? To demonstrate His sovereignty or power to all the rest whom He has left powerless to affect their eternal condemnation in Hell? In light of the order of elements above, Jesus become just a prop in the play, not really necessary but used to further the plot. Or, as Robert Reymond suggests, God does not see the men He creates as men but as sinners because His decretal system is not sequential but, simultaneous. However this process is enumerated, does it not hold true that God creates humankind knowing that they are a) going to sin because he created them that way with the ability (will) to walk counter to His commands and b) that some of them are created specifically for the purpose of being destroyed?

There are so many questions…does Calvin offer any answers?

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3 thoughts on “Reformed Jesus, Merely a Prop?

  1. Hiya Pastor,

    The Father has yet to imagine the fall?

    Is this open or process theology under which we are working?

    I would have agreed with you if you had stopped before “because” in your a) section at the end. The idea that he created them with that ability is importing philosophical constructions which fit your presuppositions, and it does not at all come from the text which you cite. Now, certainly Calvinists throughout the ages have done the same, but that doesn’t change what it is: eisegesis.

    As well, as you began to address earlier, the tassw (even a nice, c’mon-little-sinner tassw) and more importantly the oudeis in John 6:44, when looking through the lens of the first 11 verses of Ephesians, makes salvation impossible without God’s purposeful activity. And I actually don’t think we disagree on this point. However, you absolutely must import a limitation on the three omni’s, or the relative qualities of God, because an eternal God, using the inside and outside of time concepts that the bible uses, necessitates God knowing that people who will come into existence via his creation would be condemned. In your formulation, to make him what you might feel to be more pastorally sensitive (that’s why Greg Boyd says what he says, I don’t actually know this about you, I am just speculating) he must not know the future. He must not see what is coming. And in fact, the cross would end up being God’s umpteenth attempt to have his people get it together, not the fullness of time, just a well-I-guess-I’ll-try-this.

    Here is my chief issue, in your formulation, especially with the importation of God’s not-nearly-omnipresence in your assertion that he doesn’t know xyz, Christ’s sacrifice IS only a gesture with only possible consequences, not certain. Christ redeemed nothing, he only, oh pick your bad salvation analogy, bought a ticket that you have to cash. Christ came back from the dead and crossed his fingers. I know that that is a caricature of what you have written, but in the light of your title for this post, in the formulation of the cross which you give Jesus was a spin of the wheel, a cast of lots, a raffle with God’s being just the prime item at risk. He had credited righteousness to persons who were clearly undeserving of it prior to Christ. If the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of his sheep was not a foregone conclusion, how could a just God declare unrighteous persons to be righteous? He is worse than a prop, he is a tool for gambling, a method by which God plays the numbers.

    I think that both our points of view God has, what we as humans would feel to be, unpleasant characteristics. However, my friendly challenge to you is that both your view point and mine both have God creating people knowing that they will be condemned. But in Augustinism/Calvinism/Reformed Theology/whatever it is certain that some won’t be condemned and in yours that certainty is absent, which doens’t fit with the promises made throughout the bible to those who are truly his people spiritually, as in an Ezekiel 36/Jeremiah 31 sense. And more than people going to hell being the chief potential loss, God being impotent is the greatest potential loss.

    What do you think?

  2. Jason, we’ll put the little open theism dig aside for now. I’m certain you meant to put a smiley behind it since nowhere in anything you have read by me indicates that I am an advocate of either. The purpose of this little posting was to examine the repercussions of the core Calvinist belief in unconditional election and the notion that logically follows of predestination. I regret that my writing did not make this clear. But let’s go to your chief issue:

    Here is my chief issue, in your formulation, especially with the importation of God’s not-nearly-omnipresence in your assertion that he doesn’t know xyz, Christ’s sacrifice IS only a gesture with only possible consequences, not certain. Christ redeemed nothing, he only, oh pick your bad salvation analogy, bought a ticket that you have to cash. Christ came back from the dead and crossed his fingers. I know that that is a caricature of what you have written, but in the light of your title for this post, in the formulation of the cross which you give Jesus was a spin of the wheel, a cast of lots, a raffle with God’s being just the prime item at risk. He had credited righteousness to persons who were clearly undeserving of it prior to Christ. If the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice on behalf of his sheep was not a foregone conclusion, how could a just God declare unrighteous persons to be righteous? He is worse than a prop, he is a tool for gambling, a method by which God plays the numbers.

    I’m going to chance this and say that you meant to write omniscience in your first sentence here. In the Calvinist view, God has full knowledge present/past/future (using human time analogies) and is taking no chances whatsoever. He therefore is creating humans which he originally cited as being ‘very good’ with the full knowledge that they will be an affront to His holiness and that ultimately some will be condemned to a horrific eternity with no opportunity to affect the outcome. This makes God the author of both righteousness and sin. Since His grace is irresistible, those created as Elect cannot sin sufficiently to change this designation nor can the Condemned believe enough to change sides. Christ becomes the method by which the righteousness is ultimately imputed but God could have just as easily dismissed this requirement. The Calvinist notion of election comes without the requisite responsibility that is written throughout the Scriptures (Gen 18:19, 1 Sam 2:28, Col 3:12).

    On to another point where you state:

    I think that both our points of view God has, what we as humans would feel to be, unpleasant characteristics. However, my friendly challenge to you is that both your view point and mine both have God creating people knowing that they will be condemned. But in Augustinism/Calvinism/Reformed Theology/whatever it is certain that some won’t be condemned and in yours that certainty is absent, which doens’t fit with the promises made throughout the bible to those who are truly his people spiritually, as in an Ezekiel 36/Jeremiah 31 sense. And more than people going to hell being the chief potential loss, God being impotent is the greatest potential loss.

    I’m not sure where my point of view was on display in this piece but I can agree with your statement “both have God creating people knowing that they will be condemned.” Yes, my Father does create people knowing that some are headed to perdition. Your next sentence, however, leaves me a bit puzzled since nowhere do I say that there is a chance that NO ONE will be saved. The Bible is clear in stating that some will be and some will not and I certainly do not dispute that so maybe you can help me to understand your point a bit better.

  3. Hiya,

    Sorry it took so long for me to get back.

    I cut and pasted the substance of the quote at the top and then changed it into a question. I don’t know where the quote is now.

    I understand that you thought I actually meant omnipresence, because the idea is not limited by time, but I actually meant what I wrote. Yes, nowhere do you say that no one will be saved, but, within your formulation, God’s lack of knowledge of what we see as “future” in terms of ‘elect” or “saved” or whatever, combined with the fact that the fall and its effects must have been unseen by God prior to creation, makes God appear to have dropped the ball multiple times

    Which was my reason for the first question, which was only half tongue in cheek because, as you say, nowhere do you align yourself with those guys or those ideas. However, does seem that there is considerable reasoning within the body of both your post and your response which line up with the substance of the openness guys, though, again, nowhere do you say such a thing. Let me explain.

    It seems to me that what you say about God’s action in history, creatively, redemptively and just generally upholding, involves God not knowing what is coming next. For instance:

    “God does not see the men He creates as men but as sinners because His decretal system is not sequential but, simultaneous.”

    I wouldn’t even say simultaneous, because that still is a temporal distinction applied to an eternal being, but that’s me. But here is my bigger point, and where I think, implicitly, you do state your position: That if it is a challenge to our understanding of God that he would see us as sinners from any perspective, namely in this circumstance from before creation, then, again, one or all of the three relative attributes of God must be muted in order to account for God not seeing us as sinners but as men without sin, pure and undefiled. God’s perspective, or ability, or both is necessitously limited in order for him to have insufficient foreknowledge of that which he was “about” to create. In other words, God didn’t know that we would sin, and God didn’t know that the cross would be at all necessary. The fall was God caught napping on the job, and the cross was a big reflexive mop-up, a really big Harvey Keitel from Pulp Fiction, cleaning up messes that other people made.

    “But the righteousness that He imputes, (cf Rom 5:17) is it needed by those already considered from eternity past to be holy and blameless? Does this doctrine not belittle the cross?”

    I actually think that it seems clear from Romans 5:17 that people are not declared righteous by God apart from, as the rest of the verse reads, through the one Jesus Christ. But this, too, is known from before his creation, and if it is not, then God is only reacting, and thereby, limited in some way.

    As a summary, the salvation of the elect is a foregone conclusion only because God is eternal in knowledge and efficacy, and the power of the cross is not bound by time. It seems that in order to make the cross significant in your formulation, then God must have not seen this mess coming and put the Death of Christ on the cross together as a last shot at saving people. And even then, if even the concept of election exists, it exists only if people play ball. Which means we do the final deed. Which means salvation is not from the Lord, only the possibility of salvation is from the Lord, we actually finish the job ourselves. We are co-redeemers.

    If God’s eternality is a problem, and his omniscience or omnipresence is necessarily an unpleasant impediment to understanding the fall as something that God didn’t see coming, then God is necessitously shrunk in order to allow him to be kinder in our eyes, or more respectful of what we see as our rights and our sentience.

    I hope that summarizes my assertion. And I am interested in further clarity achieved between us, and not me just to show up and blab, so I am excited to continue.

    Thanks for your reply.

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