Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Is Calvinism a Heresy?
Catholic Christianity vs. Calvinism
A few weeks ago we discussed the nature of heresy and used Calvinism as an illustration (see Through the Bible, Week 7, Applied to Heresy). Orthodox and Catholics believe Calvinism is heretical and most Protestants (and Anglicans) do not. Some of you have asked me to help you understand the Catholic position and why they would view Calvinism as heretical. A good entree into the thinking of Catholics on this subject is the following quote by Peter Kreeft, a Catholic Philosopher who teaches at Boston College.
Peter Kreeft has distinguished the historic Church's soteriology (doctrine of salvation) with that of Calvinism by saying, "it is the Godfather, not God the Father, that makes you an offer you can't refuse." This memorable observation gets at why the Church has historically viewed Calvinism as a heresy: it's doctrine of God is deviant. The idea that Kreeft is highlighting is that God is not a sovereign who acts like a Father, but rather the eternal Father who acts sovereignly. His reign is characterized by his nature, which is revealed most fully to us in the life of his Son (who we know only did what he saw his Father doing).
Though I am sympathetic with this viewpoint, I still think it is too un-nuanced. Many heirs of Calvin view God primarily as Father and only secondarily as sovereign. This can even be argued for Calvin himself (who is less "Calvinist" than many of his heirs). Not all Calvinist confuse role with person. For them, the person of Jesus remains a clear window into the divine nature. We will discuss this further in future posts when I discuss some of my favorite Calvinist theologians.