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When Old Tics Die Hard

A favorite pastime hereabouts is reading The Banner. It’s the biweekly magazine of the Christian Reformed Church, originally known as the True Dutch Reformed Church and the ancestral church of your Editor on both sides of the family.

The Christian Reformed Church started out as a Calvinist body of the most robust sort. Today it’s basically, judging by The Banner and other sources, a wannabe liberal Protestant entity. That’s not said with derision, but with a certain compassionate understanding. After all, it’s pretty hard to stick with high Calvinism when its most distinguishing tenet is that God predestined people (probably most people), before the foundations of the world, to the eternal torment of Hell — that God is (how else can we say it?) merciless, unjust, and capricious. If you’re predestined to Hell, you can repent all you want, you can accept Jesus into your heart a thousand times, you can solemnly profess your adherence to Calvinist theology, but you still go to Hell.

To be sure, classical Calvinism has its merits, notably its emphasis on the sovereignty of God, which Christians living in a humanistic culture can easily lose sight of, such that they come to see the Bible as containing “human thoughts about God,” as the pithy Karl Barth bemoaned, rather than “divine thoughts about men.” But when a person’s faith (not to mention his works) can have no bearing whatsoever on whether he is saved, the Calvinist take on the sovereignty of God becomes a virtual reductio ad absurdum.

Classical Calvinism has historically proved itself to be highly unstable, indeed evanescent. Most converts to Unitarianism historically were people born into Calvinism and horrified by what they were supposed to believe. (Yes, there are options other than Unitarianism available, but another key feature of classical Calvinism is hostility to Catholicism — with Eastern Orthodoxy not even registering on the radar screen).

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