Monthly Archives: March 2008

Theology and the Slave Trade

I was recently reading the blog Ancient Christian Defender. The author Jnorm888 had a provocative post entitled Was Jonathan Edwards a racist?

It is a well known fact that Edwards was a proponent of slavery, and owned slaves himself. Unlike many contemporary slave owners, Edwards did not will freedom to his slaves upon his death. Due to Edward’s position on slavery, there is some division in the African American community today on whether or not he is a person worthy of being honored.

Jnorm’s post triggered some questions in my mind: Did the Calvinistic assumptions of Edward’s theology contribute to his support of slavery? How did prominent Calvinists of the era approach the issue slavery, and how did prominent Arminians address the issue? Was there a difference in their approaches?

I think a difference can be demonstrated. In short, Calvinists of the era were more likely to support the institution slavery, and Arminians of the era were more likely to support abolitionism. For example (Calvinists) Edwards and Whitfield both supported slavery, while (non-Calvinists) Wesley, Asbury, Wilberforce, and Finney all advocated abolishing slavery.

There were some notable exceptions to the examples above – John Newton (author of “Amazing Grace”) was a Calvinist and also an abolitionist. And over time many Calvinists joined the abolitionist movement. In fact Jonathan Edwards Jr fought against slavery. However, it is noteworthy that many of “trail blazing” abolitionists were from Non-Calvinist backgrounds, and argued against slavery using Arminian theological concepts.

When one looks at the two theological systems, this makes sense. Calvinists focus on the sovereignty of God. Part of that focus is a belief that the world is the way it is because God wants it that way. Thus on the issue of slavery a Calvinist might reasonably argue that slavery is ordained by God and gives Him glory.

Arminians focus on the love of God for all. God cares about each and every person. Each person is of great value, because he is created in the image of God. Thus on the issue of slavery one would expect an Arminian to advocate for the freedom of all, because every person is valuable, and every person is loved by God.

We see this Arminian heart in the abolitionist writings of John Wesley. Notice how he used Arminian concepts of God to advocate on behalf of the slave (bold mine):

O thou God of love, thou who art loving to every man, and- whose mercy is over all thy works; thou who art the Father of the spirits of all flesh, and who art rich in mercy unto all; thou who hast mingled of one blood all the nations upon earth; have compassion upon these outcasts of men, who are trodden down as dung upon the earth! Arise, and help these that have no helper, whose blood is spilt upon the ground like water! Are not these also the work of thine own hands, the purchase of thy Son’s blood? Stir them up to cry unto thee in the land of their captivity; and let their complaint come up before thee; let it enter into thy ears! Make even those that lead them away captive to pity them, and turn their captivity as the rivers in the south. O burst thou all their chains in sunder; more especially the chains of their sins! Thou Saviour of all, make them free, that they may be free indeed!
(Thoughts upon slavery, 1774)

Notice how Wesley’s arguments against slavery flow directly from his Arminian understanding of God:

  • God is love
  • God has mercy on all
  • Jesus “purchased” slaves with his blood
  • Jesus is Savior of all
  • Jesus wants us to be free

Arminian Theology is more friendly to the cause of the downtrodden, and Wesley demonstrates why here. God loves us. We all have value because we are made in the image of God. Jesus died for all. We ought to be free. These assumptions impact how we treat others.

This Arminian friendliness to the downtrodden seems to apply to other issues as well. We can see differing approaches in Calvinist/Arminian theology regarding:

  • the value of women
  • compassion for the poor
  • love for the homosexual
  • the death penalty
  • prison reform
  • reasons for going to war
  • the treatment of “heretics”
  • race issues

There is even a recent example on the issue of race: Apartheid. Apartheid in South Africa is a clear example where Calvinist theology was used as a method to promote racial division. Between 1652 to 1835 a large number of European Calvinists settled in South Africa. They became known as “Afrikaners” or “Boers”. They imposed Apartheid upon South Africa, and used their Calvinist theology to justify it. Apartheid was not dismantled until 1994, and then only after great pressure from the international community.

It is my firm belief that Arminian Theology is more friendly to the state of the lost and downtrodden.

May God continue to give us compassion for all. Let us be the salt of the earth. May the world see in our lives the light of Jesus, and praise our Father in heaven. May our understanding of God be a help and hope to the world, instead of a hindrance.

Links of interest:

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Informative post on Emerging and Emergent Church

C. Michael Patton of “Reclaiming The Mind Ministries” has a very interesting series on the Parchment and Pen blog entitled Would the Real Emerger Please Stand Up?. He explains the difference between Emerging and Emergent. Lots of good info, and he has cool charts like this:


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Audio Link: Ergun Caner – Why I Am Predestined Not to Be A Hyper Calvinist

Dr Ergun Caner, president of Liberty Theological Seminary (a Southern Baptist Seminary) speaks on the topic of “Hyper Calvinism”, and why he’s not a hyper Calvinist. The passage he preaches from is 1 Timothy 2:1-8. Caner defines a hyper-calvinist as one who believes in reprobation, infant damnation, has an apathy towards missions, and is against public invitations to accept Christ.

I’m guessing that Caner is probably a 2 or 3 point Calvinist himself, so he would not consider himself an Arminian. His main beef with Calvinism is no doubt -L- limited atonement.

Dr. Caner is a great speaker, he gets fired up. He has a heart to preach to the lost. If you believe Jesus died for everyone, you will LOVE his message. :)

Audio Link: Thomas Road Baptist Church April 9, 2006

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The Minister’s Daughter

by John Greenleaf Whittier

In the minister’s morning sermon
He had told of the primal fall,
And how thenceforth the wrath of God
Rested on each and all.

And how of His will and pleasure,
All souls, save a chosen few,
Were doomed to the quenchless burning,
And held in the way thereto.

Yet never by faith’s unreason
A saintlier soul was tried,
And never the harsh old lesson
A tenderer heart belied.

And, after the painful service
On that pleasant Sabbath day,
He walked with his little daughter
Through the apple-bloom of May.

Sweet in the fresh green meadows
Sparrow and blackbird sung;
Above him their tinted petals
The blossoming orchards hung.

Around on the wonderful glory
The minister looked and smiled;
“How good is the Lord who gives us
These gifts from His hand, my child.

“Behold in the bloom of apples
And the violets in the sward
A hint of the old, lost beauty
Of the Garden of the Lord!”

Then up spake the little maiden,
Treading on snow and pink
“O father! these pretty blossoms
Are very wicked, I think.

“Had there been no Garden of Eden
There never had been a fall;
And if never a tree had blossomed
God would have loved us all.”

“Hush, child!” the father answered,
“By His decree man fell;
His ways are in clouds and darkness,
But He doeth all things well.

“And whether by His ordaining
To us cometh good or ill,
Joy or pain, or light or shadow,
We must fear and love Him still.”

“Oh, I fear Him!” said the daughter,
“And I try to love Him, too;
But I wish He was good and gentle,
Kind and loving as you.”

The minister groaned in spirit
As the tremulous lips of pain
And wide, wet eyes uplifted
Questioned his own in vain.

Bowing his head he pondered
The words of the little one;
Had he erred in his life-long teaching?
Had he wrong to his Master done?

To what grim and dreadful idol
Had he lent the holiest name?
Did his own heart, loving and human,
The God of his worship shame?

And lo! from the bloom and greenness,
From the tender skies above,
And the face of his little daughter,
He read a lesson of love.

No more as the cloudy terror
Of Sinai’s mount of law,
But as Christ in the Syrian lilies
The vision of God he saw.

And, as when, in the clefts of Horeb,
Of old was His presence known,
The dread Ineffable Glory
Was Infinite Goodness alone.

Thereafter his hearers noted
In his prayers a tenderer strain,
And never the gospel of hatred
Burned on his lips again.

And the scoffing tongue was prayerful,
And the blinded eyes found sight,
And hearts, as flint aforetime,
Grew soft in his warmth and light.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)
American Christian and Abolitionist

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Audio Links: Dr. Norman Geisler

Here is a sermon from Dr. Norman Geisler (author of the book Chosen but Free) where he explains why his is not a Calvinist. Geisler is enjoyable to listen to, and he explains the problems with Calvinism in terms that are easily understood by the layman. He gives a number of good analogies.

Geisler take a “moderate” position, so he would likely not describe himself as either a Calvinist or an Arminian. However, he is sympathetic with Arminians on all points except Perseverance of the Saints.

Here is the link: Why I Am Not A 5 Point Calvanist.

Unfortunately the link is in Real Player format, so you can’t download it to a portable player.

(Update: Here is an mp3 link on the firefighters.org site.)

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Audio Links: Iron Sharpens Iron debate

Iron Sharpens Iron (a Calvinist leaning radio show) is running a five day debate entitled: “The DOCTRINES of SOVEREIGN GRACE: Biblical Truths or Dangerous Fallacies”. There are mp3 links available on the site.

Opposing Calvinism is DR. F. LaGARD SMITH author of Troubling Questions For Calvinists .

Defending Calvinism is DR. LAWRENCE W. CARRINO, founding and Senior Pastor of Grace Gospel Church.

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No Security in Calvinism

Upon first glance one of the appealing aspects of Calvinism is the doctrine of Eternal Security, or the “P” in TULIP — “Perseverance of the Saints”. This is the concept that if you are one of the elect, you cannot lose your salvation. You will certainly be saved. This concept seems great on the surface, but there are some underlying problems with it.

First, Calvinism discourages the unsaved from seeking God, because Calvinism classifies individuals into one of two categories – the elect, and the non-elect (reprobated). If you believe that you are one of the reprobate you will never seek God’s mercy. Why put your trust in a God who has determined to damn you? This error prevents people from trusting in God, because it distorts God’s character. If you are one of the reprobate, you are without help and without hope, you CANNOT be saved. Or so says Calvinism.

A second concern: you may think you are saved, but actually be damed. You may have the “false hope” spoken of by Edwards, Calvin, and others. It may seem to you that you are saved, and God may even indicate this to your spirit. But God by his inscrutable council has the right to give you false hope and damn you in the end.

A third concern: This doctrine takes away the joy of the believer – a flip side of the “false hope” doctrine. A believer may actually be saved, but think that he is not. This poor believer spends his life in terror of God’s judgment, even though he is covered by the blood of Jesus. The enemy of our souls is more than happy to tell us the lie that God doesn’t accept us. Calvinism lends itself to the lies of the enemy, because we all fail God in some way. If we fail God, Calvinism says we must not have ever been a believer in the first place.

Thus in the Calvinist system there is no security. No one can ever really know if he is saved or not.

Calvin says there are two types of call: The general call (which goes to all) and the special call (which goes for the most part to the elect). According to Calvin even those who have received the “special call” might not be saved in the end. Calvin says that it may well be that God is only giving them temporary illumination, and will justly forsake them at a later point because of their ungratefulness (bold mine):

There are two kinds of call. There is the general call, by which God invites all equally to himself through the outward preaching of the word-even those to whom he holds it out as a savor of death, and as the occasion for severer condemnation. The other kind of call is special, which he deigns for the most part to give to the believers alone, while by the inward illumination of his Spirit he causes the preached Word to dwell in their hearts. Yet sometimes he also causes those whom he illumines only for a time to partake of it; then he justly forsakes them on account of their ungratefulness and strikes them with even greater blindness.

So the general call is worthless. It doesn’t save save anyone. It only provides the “occasion for severer condemnation”. And even the special call provides no security, because God can “justly forsake” those who have received the special call.

Contrast the view of Calvin with what scripture says: The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are Gods children (Romans 8:16). And: if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10) Scripture teaches that we can be secure. If we believe, we will be saved. And the Holy Spirit testifies to us that this is true.

We can have faith in Jesus, trust that He is good, and trust that He has no hidden agenda. But Calvin says no, you can’t trust God. God -could- just be messing with you and will justly forsake you at a later time.

The end result is that the Calvinist has no security because he cannot trust the heart of God, and cannot discern the council of God. The Calvinist can’t trust the heart of God because God has a secret agenda. The Calvinist can’t discern the council of God, because God might not intend for him to be saved in the end. In fact God may be temporarily illuminating the Calvinist now as “the occasion for severer condemnation” down the road. And this “severer condemnation” is the right of God (so says Calvin).

In conclusion, this Calvinistic doctrine takes away the joy of the Christian, and it takes away the hope of the non-Christian. This system lends itself to the lies of the enemy who wants all to believe that they have no hope, and contradicts scripture which clearly states that God desires all to be saved.

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