Category: Axioms of Faith

Fixing Calvinism but you might not like it

There may be a way of fixing Calvinism and the problems that Limited Atonement introduce but I do not think its supporters would like it at all. 

I wrote recently about what I see as the fatal flaw – a hamartia if you will – in Calvinistic doctrine. Today, I’d like to propose a way to correct it.

My problem with the forms of Calvinism (that I have encountered) are the variations on the doctrine of Limited Atonement. More specifically, the behaviour it seems to produce in its adherents. These doctrines that limit the atonement to only God’s elect that are exposed to doctrinal tests go on to fail at every turn.

Calvinism sets up as a core belief that Grace is irresistible. It has to wrestle with the fact that while Philippians 2:10 talks about every knee bowing at the Name of Jesus when very few actually seem to do so. This is where Limited Atonement comes in. It says that God only picks those of us he loves and wants to save – everyone else was born for hell. It is not exactly conducive to loving people unconditionally. Why love those God hates?

As I have indicated before, this can produce a spiritual smugness – “God likes me, but you He hates”. That little bit of the yeast of the Pharisees goes on to corrupt the whole doctrinal system, its believers, and the church as a whole.

The fix (but you might not like it)

The fix to this problem was prosed sometime around the start of the seventeenth century by Moses Amyraut (1596–1664). I’ve talked about this person before when I tried (and utterly failed) to accurately define Amyraldism. My mistake was in not understanding Moses Amyraut’s idea that we are all the elect; everyone will be saved in the end.

Clearly then, I do not understand this doctrine as well as I thought I did. However, it does provide a form of Calvinism that can exist without the Biblically questionable doctrines that God only wishes to save some of us. Of course, you then have to accept a doctrine of the eventual salvation of all mankind. A doctrine is more commonly known as Universal Salvation.

This much wider and more inclusive Calvinism is, at least, more internally consistent, and less at odds with scripture. It would require you to abandon any doctrine of eternal punishment in hell too. In short, it calls for a full dose of metanoia. Which is okay because a change of mind is a vital part of repentance. Something we Christians should be comfortable with.

I am undecided about Calvinism but this way of fixing Calvinism at least leaves it doctrinally coherent.

Testing Doctrines: Limited atonement

In this post, I will try to apply the Testable Doctrine Theory to the doctrine of limited atonement.

Testable Doctrine Theory is an idea I put forward that says that a sound doctrine should be able to stand up to a series of tests and that only sound doctrine would pass these tests.

Limited atonement is the idea that Christ only died for some people and not others.

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Testable Doctrine – Pure Theory

fire

All doctrine should be testable doctrine – with this one idea we can create an axiomatic faith.

What is an axiomatic faith?

Axiomatic means something that is self-evidently true. So a faith (or more accurately a doctrine) is one which by its own evidence is true.

I am going to add in one external axiom (unquestionable truth) that something can only be true if it is not false. I’ve talked before about the idea of agnosis – that we cannot know everything. This is an extension of that. Each doctrinal idea can be considered true (sound doctrine) only in the absence of evidence against it.

Think of axiomatic faith as the result of a court hearing. A single idea fails if the prosecution can provide reasonable doubt. Where there are competing doctrinal ideas only those ideas that are likely to be true on the balance of probabilities shall be taken as true. In other words, we seek a doctrine that is the least likely to be false or at least fatally flawed.

A scriptural basis for testing doctrines

In 1 John 4:1 we are urged to diligently test everything so as to avoid false prophets. 2 Peter 2:1 tells us to expect not just false prophets but false teachers too. Likewise, 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 says to test all prophets. 1 Corinthians 14:29 says that a few should speak and everyone else must weigh what is said.

Acts 17:11 holds those that check the scriptures to see if what they were told was true in very high regard. In a similar way, 2 Timothy 4:3-4 warns against believing things simply because we wish them to be true.

Tested as with fire

Each doctrine can be exposed to a number of testing fires. Each designed to ask the same question – is this a true (and sound) doctrine?

The fire of scripture

Using Axiom Zero – that scripture is good for establishing doctrine – the doctrine to be accepted must be the one with the best fit with scripture. That is to say, doctrine with the least scripture that could potentially contradict it.

One approach to applying this fire is to list all scriptural passages that address the topic of doctrine and then assess if that passage on its own (but within context) supports, is indifferent to, or disputes the doctrine. The doctrine with the best support and least conflict passes that test.

The fire of reason

This is an idea I first expressed when I introduced the Axioms of Faith. Having passed the test of being rooted strongly in scripture a doctrine must also be examined to see if it is reasonable.

This test acts as a check against concluding wildly irrational and foolish notions because they can be deduced from a specific reading of scripture. Established axioms can, therefore, be used as a reasoned test of doctrine.

The fire of existing doctrine

Doctrine can and perhaps should be tested against other doctrines. A doctrine that is internally consistent but at odds with other dearly held doctrines highlights only that one or more doctrines is in error.

Therefore, should a doctrine fail in this comparison, both doctrines must be re-examined. This cycle must continue until such time that all existing doctrine are consistent with each other.

Other reasonable tests

Other tests of doctrine, such as listed here, might include a comparison to the teachings of the early church, spiritual discernment, fruit, prayer, the origin of doctrine, relevance to spiritual growth, and comparison to long-standing traditions and practices of the church.

The ideal doctrine would pass through all these tests unscathed. At the very least, it should pass most and bring the remainder into reasoned testing.

Axiom zero: All scripture is good for establishing doctrine.

For the purpose of this blog, we shall take as a given one single axiom. An axiom zero, if you will.

All scripture is good for establishing doctrine.

This axiom is based on 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.”

Everything else that I write here is based on the assumption that this is a self-evident truth.

By taking it as a given that scripture can be used to understand scripture and form doctrine we bypass a lot of logical and doctrinal gymnastics attempting to get ourselves to the same point. Or, in other words, you have to trust something and I am happy to trust scripture.

The Axioms of Faith

An enquiry into doctrine using both reasoning and scripture.

In an attempt to develop a clear and systematic understanding of scripture (internally and externally consistent) I have, over the years, found myself questioning and examining foundational principles of doctrine. With each re-evaluation, I have had to revisit many assumptions and found that while some doctrines were strengthened by this process others were fatally undermined.

This state of constant flux was no way to study.

I have found it useful to start from the very beginning, with few if any assumptions and build upwards from there. While I state that I am starting with only a single assumption (that scripture can be used for establishing doctrine, 2 Timothy 3:16-17) I have no doubt that I bring to this study my own theological and cultural assumptions (as anyone would).

What is an axiom and why would I want one?

An axiom is a statement that is so evident or well-established, that it is accepted without controversy or question.

Well-founded doctrinal axioms are, therefore, useful tools for examining our faith and exposing our own flawed thinking and unreasoned assumptions. In this, establishing axioms – that is, points of agreement which are beyond question – we lay a foundation for a reasoned examination of scripture.

I am not interested in being right. I am interested in what is true.

When a doctrine is in conflict with a doctrinal axiom we must carefully consider if our axioms are flawed or if our doctrine is flawed. While it is technically possible to make great efforts to explain away the conflict with special cases and complex additional doctrines, what we are at risk of doing is simply saying that we are determined to be right regardless of what is true.

To avoid such proud attempts, the axioms presented here (in this blog) will be built carefully, one upon another. So that each branch grows from a good root. If you disagree with the case I make for a given axiom then you should reject it and all axioms that rest upon it.