In my first post in the series on Arminianism and Calvinism, I suggested that at the heart of Calvinist theology is the desire to preserve the glory of God as the sole cause of salvation and that the heart of Arminian theology is the desire to preserve the faithfulness of God to his own relentless love for every one of his creatures. I then raised the question of whether the priorty of God’s heart is his own glory or love? Or, do we have to choose?
I appreciate the Reformed emphasis on God as the sole cause of salvation–God alone initiates and grounds our salvation and we do not contribute one iota to the merit of redemption. I, too, want to preserve the glory of God in a way that excludes human boasting. At the same time I appreciate the Arminian emphasis on the love of God that desires the salvation of every human being. I think both of these emphases are on target.
The problem is the correlation of these two emphases. How do we conceive their relation? With due respect to my Calvinist friends whose heritage I deeply appreciate, the fundamental problem with Calvinism is that it ultimately exalts the glory of God over the love of God. God is ultimately more concerned about his glory than he is loving every human being. To me that is an ego-centered God who is willing to leave some in damanation so that he might be glorified. I know this needs explanation. So here goes….
According to the Reformed understanding of election, God elects some out of his love to the praise of his glory and leaves the others to their own damnation. The love of God serves the glory of God in such a way that only a few are loved while others are unloved since they are left in their sin. To be sure their damnation is their own; they sinned. But God choses not to save them. In other words, he chooses not to love them. Why does he not love them? Why does he not love all of them? The fairly standard Calvinist response is that God shows his justice and holiness for the sake of his own glory. God, then, is more concerned about his glory than he is their salvation.
This means–amazingly–that God is more ego-centered than he is other-centered. He loves the world, but only in a limited way. He must love the world in such a way that his glory has priority since his glory demands that he execute justice upon part of his creation. He does not save all because he must display the glory of his holiness and justice. He does not save all because he does not love all.
This is my fundamental problem with Calvinism. It turns the gospel story on its head. The gospel is other-centered rather than ego-centered. The gospel story is about God’s love for his creation–all his creation. It undermines what I take to be one of the fundamental truths of Scripture–God’s love for his creation, for all his creation. To be sure, Calvinists would argue that God does love; he loves his elect but only the elect. [I am using "love" here in a salvific sense since it is difficult for me to think of God loving those whom he willingly allows to be damned when it would only take his own decision to save them.] Yet, his holiness and justice also means that he refuses to choose to elect all so that his glory might be displayed. He leaves many in damation because of his glory. That, to me, is an ego-centered God who exalts his own glory over the love of all his creation.
I know this characterization of Calvinism’s implicit theology is rather harsh. I don’t intend it as such. As I have said, I think there is lots of common ground between Calvinism and Arminianism, there are emphases in Calvinism that I embrace and appreciate, and the hearts of my Calvinist friends are pious, loving and holy. But the system, I believe, leaves us with a God whose ego is greater than his love.
I would offer a different alternative. I believe the glory of God is his delight in loving his people; the glory of God is the pursuit of a people for himself as he calls every human being into relationship with himself. The glory of God is the triune fellowship in relation with the human community. God displays his glory by loving his creation–all his creation and seeking relation with every person in his creation. He enjoys his glory by being in authentic relation with those who respond to his love. The glory of God is loving community; it is other-centered and finds its joy (delight) as being-in-relation. There certainly is a dimension of the glory of God that involves his holiness and justice. God manifests this glory against sin but, I think, he would rather enjoy communion with his people in the relationship as the manifestation of his glory. The Calvinist God willingly chooses in terms of his own will alone to allow his creatures to damn themselves for the sake of his glory rather than electing them to salvation out of his own will alone.
The joy of the triune community is, in part, that the Father loved the Son before the creation of the world. This is the glory of the triune God. It is being-in-relation. This is now the glory of God in redemption. It is being-in-community with his creation as he loves the world, pursues every human being, and pours his love into the hearts of those who believe. From the Arminian perspective, this being-in-relation is mutual and reciprocal though God takes the initiative and is the enabler of the relationality itself. Being-in-community is the relation of mutual enjoyment by mutual choice.
Much of that Calvinism could affirm as well, but the dividing point is that the Calvinistic God choses to damn some for the sake of his own glory by leaving much of his creation in their sin. That is a different definition of glory than being-in-relation and the delight of community. And this is the crux of the difference between Arminianism and Calvinism.